March 16, 2011
Take a look at Belmont's gaudy 30-4 record this season, and it's not hard to see why the Bruins have emerged as the trendiest opening-round upset pick among teams seeded 12th or higher.
They won 16 Atlantic Sun games by 10 or more points. They pushed Tennessee and Vanderbilt to the brink on their home floors. And they drew a Wisconsin team that has bowed out of the NCAA tournament against double-digit seeds twice in the previous three seasons.
To get an idea of whether Belmont is a wise pick or fool's gold, The Dagger asked a coach whose team faced the 13th-seeded Bruins and one whose team faced fourth-seeded Wisconsin to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their former opponent. The coaches were granted anonymity to assure honesty.
An Atlantic Sun coach on Belmont:
1. "I definitely give Belmont a chance at the upset. Look at what they've done. They almost beat Tennessee twice on their home floor and Vanderbilt was a last-possession game. What did they win most of their games by in our league? Twenty-one, 22 points? They're a very, very talented team."
2. "The No. 1 thing when you look at Belmont is nobody plays more than 25 minutes a game. They have 10 guys that play 11 minutes or more, so their depth is extremely impressive. Their second five is as good as most starting fives in our league."
3. "They have very capable and very dangerous 3-point shooters, including the forwards. And because of that, [Mick] Hedgepeth and [Scott] Saunders have plenty of opportunities inside to play 1-on-1. Now the difference between our league and Wisconsin is Wisconsin has 6-foot-10, 6-foot-11 guys like them, so it won't be as easy for those guys to score. If I were Wisconsin, I'd try to take away the 3-point shot and take my chances with the bigs down low. We all know the 3-point line beats you."
4. "Ian Clark is going to make money some day. He's really, really, skilled. He's a great 3-point shooter, but he can go to the mid-range game and his runners and floaters are smooth."
5. "One thing they've done differently this year is they've pressed from start to finish. It's not a press like a Missouri press. They're just putting a guy on the ball to get you to pick up the tempo and to get your guys tired. That wears on you after a while. I'm sure they're going to try to get this thing to go up and down the floor because it's going to be tough to beat that Wisconsin team when it's a half-court grind-it-out game and they're screening the crap out of you on every possession."
A Big Ten coach on Wisconsin:
1. "There are a lot of people who see the possibility for an upset here, but I don't like the matchup for Belmont. I think it will be tough for Belmont to speed up the tempo just because Wisconsin's so good at taking care of the ball and controlling the tempo. If [Belmont's] not getting all those turnovers and they're still playing that style, it will be frustrating."
2. "[Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor] doesn't get as much credit because they're not a flashy team, but around the Midwest and around our league, everyone knows that he's the one who drives that ship. He's an extremely confident kid, and he's confident because he put the work in. He's improved his ability to score the ball. He's improved his ball handling. He's obviously phenomenal as far as his assist-to-turnover ratio. I think he's definitely underrated."
3. "For the most part, Wisconsin plays five guys at a time that can step out and make a shot. Especially with [Keaton] Nankovil being their best shooter, I think it's a tough matchup for a lot of teams, especially for a team like Belmont that's going to try to trap. They're going to leave someone wide open and no matter who it is, it's probably someone that can make a shot."
4. "To beat Wisconsin, your guys have to be able to make some plays against that packed-in defense. You're not going to turn them over. I don't think that's possible. You've got to be composed because you're in for a tight, physical game."