The Byrd Cage

The Third Third: Analyzing The Rest Of The Season

In Features on February 8, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I read a quote from Ian Clark once, and I’ll paraphrase it liberally, that basketball is a game of runs. One team will do well for a time then the other will do well for a time. The trick to being successful is in understanding how to capitalize fully on the times your team is doing well, and how to manage effectively when your team is not.

The same strategy can be used in evaluating a season. With six games left in Belmont’s regular season, it appears that the Bruins have righted the ship from some mid-season struggles and are poised to finish the season on a winning streak heading into the conference tournament. However, not every run in Belmont’s season has been so rosy.

Let’s look back at the season, breaking it down into thirds. Belmont has 31 games on its regular season schedule so I’ll break it down to 10-10-11.

The first third included Belmont’s three toughest opponents (Duke, Memphis & MTSU) as well as the current ASun front-runner Mercer. From November 11th through December 15th Belmont was 7-3, splitting a series with MTSU (both on the road) and losing to then-#6 ranked Duke and then-#10 ranked Memphis in the first two games of the season. In my opinion, Belmont played its best basketball in the first ten games highlighted by wins over Middle and Mercer and an average margin of victory of 16 points in the season’s first seven wins.

 The second third of the season is where things began to break down. From a December 17th loss to Miami (OH) to an inexplicable loss to South Carolina Upstate on January 21st, Belmont managed a 6-4 record. On the surface, this doesn’t seem that bad as compared to the record in the first third of the season, however, the four losses, including Marshall and Lipscomb, came at the hands of much worse teams.  But during this stretch, Belmont played 6 games away. It’s also important to note that both Christmas and New Year’s occurred during the second third. The highlights of this portion of the season would be a win at Austin Peay, a soon-to-be OVC rival, and a win at home against Marshall, setting the series back to 1-1.

Ultimately, the middle-10 games have served to dictate the overall opinion of Belmont’s season so far. But five games into the final eleven game stretch, the Bruins may well be on the way to righting the ship. With five straight victories over ETSU (Belmont’s favorite road venue), Jacksonville, UNF, Lipscomb and Austin Peay Belmont goes into its second to last road trip of the season with an aim of reminding the Atlantic Sun why its crew has won four of the last six conference championships and why it deserves to jump to the OVC next season. I look at the six games, in order of importance as follows:

  1. Mercer (Feb 25) – The final game of the season in the same venue as the ASun tournament against the current conference leader. If Belmont and Mercer are still tied for the lead at this point, it could go a long way in determining how Belmont’s ASun tenure will be remembered.
  2. ETSU (Feb 18) – The Bucs always play tough in Nashville and a loss to ETSU would set Belmont way back.
  3. Upstate (Feb 20) – Another must win. Belmont can’t lose twice to any ASun opponent and expect to win the tournament.
  4. Stetson (Feb 13) – We already noted that Stetson is Belmont 2.0. The Bruins handled the Hatters once this season but still can’t sleep on the rematch.
  5. FGCU (Feb 11) – Should be a walk-thru game, but then again, Upstate should have been as well.
  6. Kennesaw (Feb 23) – The poor owls of Kennesaw. I expected this team to be better this year. Belmont should win easily.

Let’s also quickly look at Mercer’s remaining five games in order to try and ascertain where they might be on Feb 25. Mercer beat 1Kennesaw in Macon by 30, beat 2Jacksonville and 3UNF by 10 and 11, respectively, beat 4Lipscomb in Nashville by 7 and lost to 5Belmont in the Curb by 4.

If past performance indicates future performance, Mercer should wrap up 4-1. But this is the ASun we’re talking about. Mercer will have to be ready for Lipscomb – the Bison(s?) may decide to play well that day. The Bears should also watch out for Jacksonville and UNF. Both of those teams are improving greatly and judging from Belmont’s past, it’s tough to win in Florida late in the season.

-Matt Sherrill

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Agree?  Disagree?  Leave it in the comments for a good old-fashioned, Oxford-style debate.

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  1. I would not put the Lipscomb loss and the Marshall loss of the same level. As you may recall, Rick was suspended for the Marshall game after his eruption during the Miami (OH) game. Not to mention the Thundering Herd are currently the 4th best offensive rebounding team in the country. Not a good matchup. Also, that was a road game in which we had a last second shot to win that game that simply did not drop. Bad luck. Blowing a double digit second half lead at home to your most hated rival…? Thats a bad loss.

  2. Alright, I’ll buy that. I’ll give you the Marshall and Miami losses. But even if they’d won those games, the Lipscomb and USCU losses make that stretch the worse of the first two-thirds.

  3. I don’t know what to think about Mercer. Last year they were 15-18 and we beat them by 8 in the semi-finals AT their place. This year’s team is clearly better than last’s – that being said I think being able to play at Mercer in the last game of the regular season may work to our advantage although it seems totally RIGGED.

    Great post, Matt.

    • Belmont needs to lose that regular season finale at Mercer. It is dang hard to beat a good basketball team three times in one year. Considering the NCAA berth will go through Mercer, AT Mercer, should we be proactive and play the percentages? Maybe..?

  4. Love the season breakdown. It truly has been a year of runs. But even when we were 7-3, something didn’t feel right. I’ll venture to guess that had something to do with last year’s team and the expectations, but regardless, I think it took some time for the new rotations to gel and for the guys to get acclimated to a new staff. It has been a long time since we saw turnover at the coach’s end of the bench.

    I’d also like to comment on the losses. I think if you asked Rick if he had a chance to beat Marshall on a coast to coast lay up by Kerron in their place, he would take it in a heartbeat. They’ve lost 4 of 5 recently, but they’re a good team and Rick considered them the best team we’ve had the Curb maybe ever, or at least that’s what he told their coach after that game (read that on Marshall’s site game recap). The Miami loss should have never happened. They are currently 188 in Pomeroy’s rankings and 228 in RPI. That game is shrouded in mystery to me, especially since Rick got thrown out. Something weird had to be going on and I suspect the guys just didn’t show up and Rick was fed up with it. I don’t know how you blow two double digit 2nd half leads in conference. That blows my mind. I call it 3 bad losses (SCUS, Miami OH, Lipscomb) and two quality wins (MTSU, Marshall), though Marshall is doing their best recently to squash that.

    I am also excited about how these last few games have gone, specifically the Lipscomb and Peaynis games. Our defensive efficiency numbers are starting to look like last year’s defensive numbers and the offense is becoming more and more efficient, if that’s even possible.

    Great article Matt. Strong stuff.

  5. Kyle were you at that Mercer semi-final game last year? Part of the reason I was so glad that Belmont is leaving the ASun is that I think it’s a joke that the #1 seed should ever play the home team in a conference tournament – which is exactly what happened last year. Rudy – I may agree with you, although I really don’t want to. You said it’s “hard to beat a good basketball team three times in one year,” which I agree with. I’m not totally convinced that Mercer is that good. They beat Lipscomb and ETSU. They beat Georgia Tech, but didn’t Kennesaw beat the Jackets a year or two ago? I’m not saying they’re bad. I’m just not ready to declare them the class of the conference. That distinction still belongs to the Fighting Blake Jenkins(s?).

  6. Where are these photos coming from?

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