Ticket Punched: Is this the year that Belmont scores an opening round upset?

Hey, remember Belmont?

Well, they're back in the NCAA tournament's field of 68, and despite failing to capitalize on a world of preseason buzz in the non-conference portion of its schedule, the Bruins figure to be just as dangerous to a higher-seeded opponent as they were a year ago.

After getting bounced in the first round for the fourth time in six years last season as a 13-seed by Wisconsin, 72-58, this looked to be the season in which Belmont potentially became a mid-major household name.

The Bruins lost by one to Duke to open the year, then got blown away by Memphis. Both were understandable losses. But they faded from the national radar after suffering three losses in four games just before Christmas to Middle Tennessee State, Marshall and Miami (Ohio).

Now, they're officially again worth keeping tabs on.

After upsets on the other side of the Atlantic Sun bracket provided Florida Gulf Coast as an unexpected title game foe for the Bruins, they overcame a 13-point first half deficit before running away with an 83-69 win.

It gives Belmont its fifth NCAA tournament berth in seven seasons.

When the brackets are announced next Sunday, who the Bruins get matched up against might determine what kind of shot they have.

If it's a guard-heavy team that loves to play an up-and-down brand of ball — Florida? Missouri? Duke? — they have the shooters to potentially make a game of it.

Between Kerron Johnson, Ian Clark and Drew Hanlen, Belmont has a backcourt that can push the pace with just about anyone, but the key for the Bruins in the NCAAs will be senior big man Mick Hedgepeth.

The 6-foot-9 forward has been up-and-down offensively this year, and last season in the NCAA tourney loss to Wisconsin had a tough time banging around with the Badgers' front line. He'll need to step things up on both ends for Belmont to have a shot at an upset early.

But they'll have a shot. And no one will be sleeping on them.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for RunRebs.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanmgreene.

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