ACC Basketball

Know Your Opponent: Belmont Bruins

Taylor Barnette

The Virginia Cavaliers wrapped up their second straight outright regular season title, dominating yet again. Thanks to a stunningly efficient Pac-line defense, they swept through their non-conference foes, four times holding an opponent under 40 points in a game. A rough 10-minute stretch against Duke handed them their first loss of the season, but they rebounded nicely with three straight wins over tournament teams (UNC, Louisville and NC State).

Even when they lost Justin Anderson, the ACC’s most lethal three-point threat, they kept winning, eventually wrapping up the regular season title with a game to spare. They lost to Louisville in that final contest, but the game was meaningless, so few paid attention.

As the one-seed in the ACC Tournament, the Cavaliers took care of business against Florida State, but then were upset in the semifinals by North Carolina. Despite a 29-3 record, Virginia was not able to hold onto the one-seed in the NCAA Tournament, in part to losing two of three to end the year, but also based on the fact Justin Anderson wasn’t close to 100%.

They ended up landing in the East Region as the 1-seed and will face…

WHO: Belmont
CONFERENCE: Ohio Valley
RECORD: 22-10
RPI: #105
BPI: #150
KEN POM: #146

ADjO: #63
ADjD: #251

HOW THEY GOT HERE:
Belmont dropped their opener to Wright St, but proceeded to win their next seven, although the most impressive win was over Middle Tennessee and that’s not so impressive. However, they would drop four of their next five, struggling to stay competitive against VCU, but kept it tight against Butler.

In conference play, they won seven of nine, before dropping three straight. At 7-5, finishing first in the East bracket of the Ohio Valley conference had to feel like an afterthought. However, they ended up getting revenge against both Morehead St and Eastern Kentucky, two teams they just lost to and finished the regular season riding a four-game winning streak. At 19-10, 11-5 in the conference, they were second in the East, yet Murray State was the heavy favorite.

They won their quarterfinal match up with Eastern Illinois by 33 points, but beat Eastern Kentucky by one. In the conference title game, they ended up winning it when Taylor Barnette, formerly of Virginia, nailed a game winning shot to send the Bruins to the Big Dance as a two-seed.

STARTERS
G – Reece Chamberlain
G – Craig Bradshaw
G – Taylor Barnette
F – Amanze Egekeze
F – Evan Bradds

BENCH 
G – Caleb Chowbay
G – Austin Luke
F – Holden Mobley
F – Jeff Laidig
F – Nick Smith
C – Mack Marcer

Okay Virginia, I hope you like the taste of threes. The Bruins are one of the better shooting teams in the country, fifth overall in eFG, fourth in 3PA/FGA, as over 50% of their shoots will be from behind the arc. They’re 42nd in 3P%, but are actually second in 2P%. The fact is, teams try so hard to stop the deep ball, it opens up so much space inside for big man Evan Bradds (who hits a stunning 69.3% from the floor).

From deep, pay attention to Craig Bradshaw. He’s first in points on this team (18.1), hitting 42% of his 185 three-point attempts. He’s one of three players who has put up at least 145 treys. Taylor Barnette leads the team with 208 tries from beyond the arc, hitting an effective 40%.

The problem for the Bruins is, scoring is about all they do. They are ranked 250th or below in turnovers, offensive rebounds and getting to the line. They also get a ton of shots blocked, so the strategy is simple…take a lot of shots.

On the defensive side of the ball…who am I kidding. This team doesn’t play defense. Belmont is 271st in eFG, they don’t force turnovers, they don’t rebound and they don’t block shots. In fact, according to Ken Pom, there are only two worst defensive teams in this tournament.

FINAL THOUGHT
It really is a contrast of styles. The Bruins want to run and shoot, while Virginia wants to stall and defend. If Justin Anderson was looking for a good opportunity to remind his body how to produce points, he couldn’t have picked a better opponent.

Me thinks Belmont for the first time all season is going to get a taste of real defensive pressure. Some threes will go in, as Virginia will give some up, but that will only supply false hope. Look for Anderson to score in double figures (taking at least 10 shots), while Malcolm Brogdon dominates, while the Bruins struggle to not turn the ball over.

WORTHLESS PREDICTION: VIRGINIA, 78-56

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