Belmont is used to playing in March. For the ninth time in the past 11 seasons, the Bruins are playing in a postseason tournament.
Of course, they’re much more familiar with the big dance.
The Bruins are making only their second NIT appearance in school history, as they travel to mid-major darling Green Bay. The Phoenix were a fan favorite of pundits to make the big dance, despite earning just a four-seed in the NIT. Belmont, on the other hand, hardly garnered a mention. Which is interesting when you compare their post-season resumes.
In fact, it’s kind of hard to tell them apart:
- RPI Ranking
Green Bay: 58
- Record versus top-100 (per BB State)
Green Bay: 4-3
- Conference Record
Belmont: 14-2 (OVC)
Green Bay: 14-2 (Horizon)
- Best Win
Belmont: at North Carolina
Green Bay: vs Virginia (Question: How did Green Bay get a home game against Virginia?)
While their resume’s may be the same, the path they take to get to their wins is a bit different.
Ohio Valley Conference fans know about Belmont’s guards: OVC Player of the Year J.J. Mann, and OVC second-teamer Craig Bradshaw. Green Bay has a spectacular guard of their own, 5’11 Keifer Sykes, the Horizon League player of the year. Sykes averages just north of 20-points a game, shooting 46% from the floor and 80% from the free-throw line.
But Green Bay’s not necessarily a guard oriented team. 7’1 forward Alec Brown and 6’9 forward Greg Mays both average double-digit scoring, and give the Phoenix something Belmont sorely misses: rebounding. Green Bay led the Horizon League in offensive rebounding this year. Belmont? 11th in the OVC.
The Phoenix also average more than seven blocks a game, and rank in the top-third of the nation in interior field-goal defense. Despite being guard-heavy, the Bruins two-point shooting percentage, 57.6%, is tops in the nation.
Despite their size, and the play of Skyes, Brown, and Mays, Green Bay’s offense isn’t dynamic. At 7’1, Brown presents the largest three-point threat, but the Phoenix as a whole score fewer than 20% of their points from behind the arc. By comparison, Belmont scores about a third of their points from deep. Turnovers have also been a concern at times.
As good as Belmont is offensively, (11th in the nation in offensive efficiency) the Phoenix are as good defensively. (24th nationally in defensive efficiency) There’s not really a weak link to the defense. Green Bay only allows teams to shoot 40% from the field, they pull down rebounds keeping teams to one chance, and they force a fair number of turnovers themselves.
The teams do have one like opponent: back in early December, Green Bay blitzed Tennessee Tech 76-49. The Bruins split the season series with the Golden Eagles.
If Belmont can score, on paper Green Bay could struggle to keep up. On the flip side, Belmont’s interior defense, which has struggled far too often, is about the get another big test.