As the season approaches, Mid-Major Madness will be taking a closer look at its preseason Power 15 teams.
13. Belmont Bruins
As long as Rick Byrd is rocking polo sweater vests in Nashville the Belmont Bruins will always be sniffing around our Mid-Major Power 15. Last year was supposed to be a bit of a down year for the Bruins after losing sharpshooter J.J. Mann but Byrd sent his team to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years with a huge upset over Murray State in the Ohio Valley title game. The Bruins were very much the cardiac kids at the OVC Tournament in Nashville beating both Eastern Kentucky and Murray State by one point each.
While must of last year's OVC storylines were consumed by Murray State a year ago the pendulum should swing back to the Bruins this year with a weakened Racers squad and a new sheriff in town at Eastern Kentucky. It's never a cakewalk in the OVC, a conference with basketball tradition as strong as anywhere, but it may be a year where the Bruins could march to a high win total in conference.
Craig Bradshaw will once again lead the Bruins after finishing third in the conference in scoring a year ago with 18.3 points per game. Bradshaw has certainly warranted a career that should be in the national spotlight as he's already scored nearly 1,200 points. Bradshaw's strongest performances also come in the Bruins biggest games as evidenced by his combined 50 points and 11 rebounds against Murray State and Virginia to close out the season a year ago.
Next to Bradshaw is junior Evan Bradds who took a big step as a sophomore to finish the season averaging over 14 points and 7 rebounds per game. Bradds bolstered a frontcourt that honestly doesn't have much star power when it comes to the four or five.
The absence of Reece Chamberlain has to be the biggest concern for Byrd this season. Not only was Chamberlain the maestro at point guard averaging 6 assists per night but he also played a key role rebounding in a rather weak aforementioned frontcourt. Not only do guys like Nick Smith, Amanze Egekeze, and Mack Mercer need to step up in the frontcourt but Byrd needs to find someone to handle the rock. Bradshaw can be the primary candidate but would the Bruins benefit more with him playing off the ball? Austin Luke and Jeff Laidig may be key figures if the Bruins really are worthy of a MM15 ranking this season.
We all know Belmont is among the nation's best at home but unfortunately the Bruins won't have that advantage very much during the first two months of the season. Fans in Nashville will only get to see four non-conference match ups against Western Kentucky, rival Lipscomb, Valparaiso, and a non-Division I opponent. On the road the Bruins will travel to Marquette, Arizona State, Lipscomb, Middle Tennessee, and Cleveland State. They'll also take part in the Legends Classic at Kennesaw State against the host Owls, South Alabama, and IUPUI.
The dates on the calendar to circle for mid-major fans are when the Bruins take on fellow MM15 powers Valparaiso (12/3,12/28), BYU (11/28), and Evansville (11/21). We'll obviously get an early gauge on exactly how good this Bruins team is and if they'll really blossom into the OVC power we expect them to be this season.