Belmont Bruins (Last Year: 30-5, 19-1 in Atlantic Sun)
2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Mick Hedgepeth (Sr)/Scott Saunders (Sr)/Chad Lang (Fr)
PF: Trevor Noack (Jr)/Brandon Baker (Jr)
G/F: J.J. Mann (So)/Blake Jenkins (So)/Holden Mobley (Fr)
SG: Ian Clark (Jr)/Spencer Turner (Fr)/Adam Barnes (Jr)
PG: Drew Hanlen (Sr)/Kerron Johnson (Jr)/Reece Chamberlain (Fr)
Gone: G/F-Jordan Campbell, G/F-Jon House
With an experienced, balanced attack, the Belmont Bruins should once again be able to compete on a national scale this season. They return nine players from their 11-man rotation and will be an unstoppable force in their final year in the Atlantic Sun before moving to the Ohio Valley Conference.
Long-time head coach Rick Byrd has turned Belmont into a powerful low-major basketball program. Last season, the Bruins earned their fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in six years and were considered by many as a sexy sleeper pick before bowing out in the opening round at the hands of Wisconsin. With four starters back, a repeat of last year's 30-win season is not out of the question.
The Bruins were able to wear teams down with their depth last season as 11 players saw at least ten minutes per game with no player averaging more than 25 minutes a night. As a result, balance was a huge asset for Belmont with nine players averaging at least five points per contest on a team that finished 11th in Division One in scoring. That should once again be the case this season.
A huge part of Belmont's high-powered offense is their three-point shooting and the fact that almost every player on their roster is capable of knocking down outside shots. Leading scorer Ian Clark connected on nearly 43% of his triple tries as did backup point guard Kerron Johnson. Their ability to light it up from deep complements incumbent starting point guard Drew Hanlen who will act as the team's floor general. He brings great poise and leadership to the floor.
The biggest challenge facing the Bruins comes on the wing where they lose starter Jon House and key reserve Jordan Campbell. J.J. Mann will likely step into the starting role coming off a year in which he was named to the Atlantic Sun All-Freshman Team. Mann struggled shooting the ball last season but is capable of three-point threat. Redshirt freshman Holden Mobley and true freshman Spencer Turner will try to crack the rotation.
Everyone is back in the frontcourt which is a major advantage for Belmont. The Mick Hedgepeth/Scott Saunders center duo combined to average 20.7 points and 11.2 boards a game. Both guys were on the Atlantic Sun All-Conference Second Team even though Saunders did not start a single game. Redshirt freshman Chad Lang is a big body inside who provides Byrd with even more depth.
At power forward, Trevor Noack and Brandon Baker each saw minutes in the starting lineup. They fit their roles as physical, hard-nosed, energy guys but won't do anything to overwhelm you. Blake Jenkins brings some athleticism to the floor and can play either forward spot.
Outside of their first two games of the season, road contests at Duke and Memphis, Belmont will not really be tested this season. It won't be until tourney time when we figure out whether the Bruins have what it takes to finally get their first win at the Big Dance and see if they can officially put on Cinderella's slipper. With a deep, experienced team, nobody will want to see this team in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Player to Watch: Scick Hedgeders, C
Yes, I know there is no player who has that name on the Belmont roster but the center duo is a force inside, especially against Atlantic Sun teams that don't have the size to match up with Hedgepeth and Saunders. Their height inside forces teams to often double down in the post, which leaves the dangerous Bruin shooters free on the perimeter.