When Belmont moved to the Ohio Valley Conference a year ago, the benefits to the Bruins were clear: less travel, more geographical rivalries, and joining a basketball conference on the rise.
There are some drawbacks as well. The Bruins road to the NCAA Tournament became tougher, and the OVC is still likely to be a one-bid league for the immediate future.
Now that Belmont is in the tournament, there’s another drawback: now, they’re expected to win.
One of the reason the OVC is a conference on the rise is that after years of futility in March, the conference is on a four-year win streak. Since 2009, the OVC has won at least one NCAA Tournament game each year, making the round of 32 in each of the past three years.
That means for the past four years, the OVC members have gotten to split the money that comes from an NCAA Tournament win.
The Bruins are 0-5 all time in the NCAA Tournament. By this conference’s newly minted standards, 0-6 isn’t acceptable.
No pressure, guys. Although it might be a little bit late for that.
Pressure is mounting on Belmont thanks to guys like me writing stories like this, and the bevy of prognosticators picking the Bruins over the Wildcats as an upset waiting to happen. This year’s squad isn’t another example of a lovable mid-major trying to make it against the big guy. Expectations among media, fans, and I’d be willing to bet inside the locker room are as large as they’ve ever been.
To put it bluntly, this isn’t the Atlantic Sun anymore.
I could easily be accused, and likely will, of overstating things. Sure, no coach or athletic director, member of the conference, or even fans are likely to chide the Bruins if they fall as the 11-seed on Thursday. Rick Byrd will still be a fantastic coach, this team’s accomplishments will still stand.
But few will remember this team five-years from now. Need proof? Name the OVC team that went to the NCAA Tournament five years ago from the OVC, the last team to lose their opening game.
Have you figured it out yet? Or did you breakdown and look it up? It was Austin Peay, who fell by 20 to 2-seed Texas.
Belmont has had an outstanding year, there’s no denying it. The Bruins earned their highest seed in school history, Ian Clark broke the school record for points, and Belmont won one of the most competitive OVC races in recent memory. None of that goes away with a loss.
But make no mistake: With a loss, the season will be forgotten. Five years from now, Belmont’s dominating win over Ohio, winning at Standford, those thoughts will fade.
And it will simply become another year in which Belmont won the conference, and lost in the Big Dance.