2016-2017 Overall Rank: #83
Conference Rank: #1 Ohio Valley
Belmont was the team to beat in the Ohio Valley Conference last season and they ended up with the best overall record in the conference at 12-4. However, the Bruins were upset in their conference tournament opener by Austin Peay, who went on to win the entire OVC Tournament. That was a very disappointing overtime loss for Coach Rick Byrd and company. The Bruins had to settle for a trip to the NIT, where they lost in their opener at Georgia. But with four starters back, led by Evan Bradds, Belmont will again be the favorite out of the OVC to reach the NCAA Tournament. Bradds, a 6-7 senior, averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 rebounds last season and is the inside force for Belmont. On a team known for their great guard play and outside shooting ability, having a player like Bradds in the paint is huge.
2015-16 Record: 20-12, 12-4
2015-16 Postseason: NIT
Coach: Rick Byrd
Coach Record: 639-324 at Belmont, 731-379 overall
Belmont did lose one of those great guards though in Craig Bradshaw. As a senior Craig Bradshaw averaged 16.4 points and knocked down a team high 87 three-pointers. Bradshaw was the clutch shooter for the Bruins, but as usual, there should be players ready to step up and help fill the void. Still, Bradshaw was a special player. The only other loss is Jeff Laidig. He did play in 30 games, but averaged just 3.5 minutes per contest.
The three freshmen will not have to do much this year, but there is talent. Seth Adelsperger, a 6-11 center, redshirted last season. He is a good rebounder and a very good shot blocker. The addition of a shot blocking presence, especially one who can get up and down the floor as well as Adelsperger, will add a new dimension to the Belmont defense. Like Adelsperger, Michael Benkert is also an Indiana native who redshirted last season. Benkert is a scorer who can use his size to attack the basket and help out on the glass. The lone incoming freshman is Nick Hopkins. It is easy on this loaded roster to say Hopkins will not make an impact right away, but he was an absolutely amazing scorer in high school. At Fayetteville High School in Tennessee last year he averaged 33.3 points on top of his 6.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.3 steals.
Who to Watch:
Besides Bradds, the other returning starters are Amanze Egekeze, Taylor Barnette and Austin Luke. Egekeze will start beside Bradds again this year. The 6-8 junior is not a particularly strong rebounder, but he can stretch the defense with his outside shooting. Barnette figures to emerge as the team’s new top perimeter scorer after averaging 10.6 points per game for the second straight season. Barnette is basically a shooter though and somebody on the perimeter needs to attack the basket as effectively as Bradshaw did in 2015-2016. Luke had a breakout sophomore season and dished out an OVC high 6.3 assists per game. Luke is a decent scorer too. He connected on 39.2 percent of his three-point attempts and he could flirt with double digit scoring if there are enough shots to go around. Either way, Luke will be the guy setting up his teammates and leading this team on the floor.
The freshmen will certainly be in the mix for playing time, but Belmont also returns Dylan Winder, Kevin McClain, Mack Mercer and Nick Smith, all of whom averaged at least ten minutes per game last season. Winder is a big 6-7 sophomore who can do a bit of everything. Despite averaging just 18.5 minutes per game, he was second on the team with 4.5 rebounds. He is not the best pure scorer around, but he does have the size needed to attack the basket. McClain showed plenty of potential during his freshman campaign too and is a candidate to step into Bradshaw’s old starting spot. Mercer will again be a solid backup in the frontcourt after averaging 7.5 points per game last season and Smith is a big man who can stretch the floor with his outside shooting. With all of those weapons, Coach Rick Byrd will have the best team in the conference again. And this time around the Bruins will be ready for upset minded teams in the conference tournament.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Austin Luke, Junior, Guard, 6.2 points per game
Taylor Barnette, Senior, Guard, 10.6 points per game
Dylan Winder, Sophomore, Guard, 4.3 points per game
Evan Bradds, Senior, Forward, 17.6 points per game
Amanze Egekeze, Junior, Forward, 9.0 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 82.4 (12th in nation, 1st in conference)
Scoring Defense: 78.4 (312, 11)
Field-Goal Percentage: 49.5 (6, 1)
Field-Goal Defense: 44.1 (212, 4)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 10.6 (4, 1)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 36.3 (98, 4)
Free-Throw Percentage: 72.5 (72, 4)
Rebound Margin: -1.1 (230, 8)
Assists Per Game: 17.0 (10, 1)
Turnovers Per Game: 14.1 (297, 11)