Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Bruins Will Shoot for Rare Upset of No. 2 Seed

Belmont University, a Christian school in Nashville, Tenn. best known for its strong music program, has produced a number of famous country artists, such as Brad Paisley, Trisha Yearwood and Josh Turner.

But this afternoon in Winston-Salem, N.C., instead of making a name for themselves through song, the Belmont Bruins will try to impress a national audience with their performance in the Big Dance.

They face a heavily favored Georgetown team that has won 15 of its last 16 games, the most recent a 65-42 blowout over then-No. 12 Pittsburgh in the championship game of the Big East tournament last Saturday.

“I really don’t think anybody in the country is playing as well as Georgetown right now,” Belmont Head Coach Rick Byrd said on Monday.

Belmont (23-9, 14-4 Atlantic Sun) hasn’t exactly been struggling, either. The 15th-seeded Bruins have won seven games in a row and 10 of their last 11. In the championship game of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, Belmont defeated East Tennessee State 94-67 to earn an automatic berth in the field of 65.

The Bruins’ schedule, however, has not been anywhere near as challenging as the Hoyas’. They have not played any teams currently ranked in the AP top 25 and have only faced two teams from major conferences this season. Illinois beat Belmont 77-51 on Dec. 17 and Michigan State took down the Bruins 67-58 on Dec. 19.

No. 8 Georgetown (26-6, 13-3 Big East) has a 6-2 record against teams ranked in the top 25 in the latest AP poll.

Last season, Belmont qualified for the NCAA Tournament as a 15 seed and lost to second-seeded UCLA 78-44 in the first round.

Byrd, who has a 424-238 record in his 21 seasons at Belmont, said that the team and the coaching staff learned from their experience in the tournament last season and will bring a different approach to Thursday’s game.

“You just have to have higher expectations than we did a year ago,” Byrd said. “Even though you’re going to face a great team and you’re probably not going to win, you have to go into it thinking that it’s a game we can win. Our guys are going to expect more out of themselves individually than we did a year ago.”

“This year, the second time around, we’re going to try to compete at a higher level,” junior guard Justin Hare said. “We’re going to play hard and see what happens.”

Hare leads the team in scoring at 14.4 points per game and was named the MVP of the Atlantic Sun tournament for the second year in a row. Sophomore guard Andy Wicke, who shot a league-best 45.7 percent from beyond the three-point arc on the season, and 6-foot-10 senior center Andrew Preston were also named to this year’s Atlantic Sun all-tournament team.

Belmont’s second leading scorer, 6-foot-10 senior center Boomer Herndon, averages 10.9 points and 5.4 rebounds while playing just 16.6 minutes per game off of the bench.

The Bruins’ offense relies heavily on the three-point shot. They play a four-out and one-in scheme, rotating the ball around the perimeter and setting screens to open up shooters beyond the arc. They shoot 35.9 percent from three-point land as a team and rank 22nd in the country in three-point field goals per game, knocking down 8.8 per contest.

The Bruins are 13-0 when they shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc, but just 7-5 when connecting on less than 30 percent of their three-point attempts.

“They can put five shooters on the floor,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said Sunday. “They’re a very good shooting team. They spread you out and they can make shots. A lot like us, they are a balanced team, in that, I don’t have a stat sheet, but the scoring is spread around and so it’s one of those teams where you have to stay focused on each individual person.”

Both the Hoyas and the Bruins play stingy defense. Georgetown is sixth in the country in field goal percentage defense, while Belmont ranks ninth in the same category. But the Bruins have not faced a team with the Hoyas’ size and athleticism this season.

“After watching Georgetown, it’s hard to have high expectations this time around,” Byrd said. “I think we’ve got to be a little creative offensively and find different ways to get shots. On the other end of the floor it’s also a dilemma. I don’t know how you stop a guy as multidimensional as [junior forward] Jeff Green. And it goes without saying that Coach Thompson’s scheme offensively is difficult to defend against.”

In order for the Bruins to have a chance at pulling off the upset, they are going to have to hit their three-pointers at a high percentage. Against East Tennessee State, Belmont made 12 of 19 three-point field goal attempts in the first half, building a 19-point lead by halftime. But the Bruins’ poor three-point shooting against UCLA last year effectively doomed them, as they made only four of 19 three-point field goal attempts in the game and lost by 34.

Thompson said that the Hoyas will not overlook the Bruins.

“We have to play Belmont on Thursday and we’re not looking at the path – we’re looking at the next game,” Thompson said. “It’s worked pretty well for us thus far, taking that approach, so we’re not going to change that right now.”

“I feel like the first round is going to be tough, against Belmont,” Green said. “They have a pretty good team. They have a lot of great shooters. We just have to come out ready to play on Thursday.”

Thursday’s opening tip is set for 2:45 p.m. The game will be televised regionally on CBS.

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