The Byrd Cage

Which Belmont NCAA Tournament Team is the Best?

In Game Posts on March 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Over the last six years it has been almost tradition to cheer for the one and done Belmont Bruins.  Each year our expectations rise a little bit more and we wonder if we’re ever going to be the next Gonzaga or George Mason.  So, how does this team stack up against tournament teams in the past?

Breaking Down Teams Categorically

Note: This Belmont team boasts the highest RPI (58) in school history due to their sub-200 strength of schedule.  Take that with a grain of salt when considering the following statistics.


The current Bruins team has by far been the best of all the tournament teams in this statistic.  They average 81.5 points-per-game, which is the most of the past teams, but isn’t out of the norm for any of these Rick Byrd coached squads.  The team that got shelled by UCLA in 2006 averaged 80.6 and last year’s 30-win A-Sun powerhouse averaged 79.7.  It hasn’t been unusual to see the Bruins in the top-20 in the nation in this category.  But what is different about this team is that they are 4th in the nation in points per possession and although they shoot a strong 37.8% from the arc, they are 13th in the nation with a 48.4 overall FG%.  This team has a better inside presence than last years team, which could come in handy if the 3-point shot isn’t falling. But if you want to know the best Bruin team with an inside game you have to look back to 2006 when the Bruins we’re scoring more than 50% of their points from inside the arc.

The verdict: This year’s Bruins are the best in their NCAA tournament history in overall scoring.  They are a more well-rounded scoring team we have ever had.  If they can push the score into the 80’s they may just have the offense to overwhelm any nationally ranked team in the country.



The Byrd Cage has always been extra critical of Belmont’s rebounding ability and historically this team has been a very average rebounding team.  Our best rebounding team we ever had was the 2007 team (with the Boomer), when they ranked 55th in the nation.  However, they were pitiful on the offensive boards (34% offensive rebound percentage).  What made last years Bruins team so effective was in their offensive rebounding, averaging almost 13 per game ranking them in the top 50 in the nation in that particular statistic.  The current Bruins team is mediocre at best in the offensive rebounding category.

The verdict: Second chance points are essential to beating teams that are better than you. Keeping the opponent from scoring pesky second chance points is what is going to keep Belmont in the game when they are trying to keep pace.  This could be a struggle.  If the Bruins can grab at least 14 offensive boards, they give themselves an excellent chance at winning historically.



Well, whoever it was that said “defense wins championships,” I hope they are wrong.  The 2012 Bruins are, plainly stated, bad defensively.  What made last year’s 30-win team a threat coming into the tournament was their ability to take away points.  They averaged a staggering, eye-popping, dehumanizing 19 turnovers per game, while this year’s team ranks towards the bottom compared to the other four tournament teams with 14.5.  Last year’s team also ranked 2nd in the nation by giving up only .89 points per possession.  This year’s team: .97 point per possession.  But this isn’t the worst we have ever had- remember that team that “almost beat Duke”? They averaged 1.01.

The verdict: Let’s just hope that we run into a team who ate whole sticks of butter for breakfast, because it’s going to be hard to stop any top-25 ranked team (remember Memphis).  However, if the 2008 team is any indication, anything can happen in the tournament. (Please note:  Article was written before Georgetown was drawn as opponent.  Stay tuned for our Georgetown previews in the days ahead)

Offensive Turnovers – I probably bang this drum harder than anyone and have taken some flack for it, but when I said that Blake Jenkins’ four turnovers against ETSU was a sign of bad things to come if gone uncorrected, I stand by the statement.  The cure for a bad defense is limiting chances for the other team.  This team is the best we have ever seen in that statistic.  Giving up just 12.4 turnovers per game, this year’s Bruins are excellent in ball-control.  If you compare that with our worst team we have ever sent to the tournament (in this category), the 2006 team gave up 16.2 TOPG and even last year’s 30-win team gave up 13.7.

The verdict: Ball control is perhaps the Bruins strongest attribute, and if they can keep their composure while being under the big lights of the national spot-light- they will win ball games.  But they have to be perfect!  If they give up more than 10 possessions we could be in for a long night. 



My All-Time Tournament Team

Editor’s Note:  This list is based on single season performances by players from the five tournaments teams, we invite your discussion.


Center – Boomer Herndon (2006)   14.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg

We all complain about how Boomer hurt the pace of his team, but like I may have hinted at above, he actually didn’t.  The Bruins averaged more possessions and more points per game than most of the other Bruin tournament teams with Boomer in the lineup.  His 7.4 rebounds per game in 2006 are almost 2 rebounds better than both Saunders and Hedgepeth this year.  Hate him or love him, that “UT reject” was our UT reject- just erase the line drive hook shots from the UCLA game out of your mind.

Forward – Shane Dansby (2008)  13.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg

If you saw this guy in class, you would know that he not only was an amazing offensive force on the court but he was also a fabulous texter, leading all Belmont students with 37 per minute.  But, in all seriousness, the Bruins have never seen a guy who could rebound and shoot like Dansby did in 2008.  He shot 51% from the field, but when you consider that he also 41 for 109 from the arc, that FG% looks even stronger.

Shooting Guard – Justin Hare (2008) 14.7 ppg, 91.8 FT%

Justin Hare will forever be immortalized for his clutch free throw shooting in A-Sun tournament.  No one on any of these tournament teams have gotten close to Justin Hare’s free throw shooting ability.  Mix in his smooth stroke behind the arc and you have a Bruin player who is one of the best ever.

Shooting Guard – Drew Hanlen (2012) 48.1 3FG%, 3.8 apg, 3.4 rpg

Currently riding the Byrd Cage Bump (he’s been on fire since his interview, coincidence?), Drew Hanlen is one of the best 3-point shooters in the country this year.  With Lipscomb’s Burgason gone,  Nashville’s best shooter is old ‘Hoopin Hanlen’.  His other contributions of grabbing loose boards and distributing the ball well has shown a mature, clutch guard.

Point Guard – Kerron Johnson (2012)  14 ppg, 5.1 apg, 1.4 spg

I have been critical of Kerron Johnson all season, mostly because he has failed to live up to his “god-mode” 3 point shooting and defensive statistics from last year.  But, by the end of the season, Johnson has turned it around and has really settled into his role of passer, lane-driver, and pest on defense.

Sixth Man – Kerron Johnson (2011)   7.8 ppg, 2.7 apg, 2.0 spg

What made the Bruins so spectacular to watch last year was Kerron Johnson off the bench.  It has been our speculation at the Byrd Cage that perhaps Kerron Johnson’s numbers were slipping this year was because he was being overplayed.  When he was averaging just 18 minutes per game, he was scary good.  However, since the Lipscomb up-set he’s been on point and proving himself to be the true starting point guard of this team.


The Rank


1 – 2011 – One word- Depth.  Our defense last year was so lethal because we were able to press for an entire game.

2 – 2012 – A remedy for a bad defense is a dehumanizing offense.  Best offense we’ve ever seen.

3 – 2008 – Anybody else sick of the “Almost beat Duke” talks?  X-factor? Justin Hare on the free throw line (think of him as a country-western Steve Nash)

4 – 2006 – Pace, pace, pace, they’d wear you down and then B-is-for-Boomer would slap the ball in your face.  Just don’t ask him to post up with a sky hook.

5 – 2007 – It was really a transition year (pre-Renfro, pre-Campbell), that turned into a team that got scorching hot in the ASun tournament and rained fire on Johnson City beating ETSU by over 30 points in the championship.


-Steven Lefebvre

Love the list?  Hate the list?  Let us know in the comments!

  1. lol @ Boomer

    Renfroe > Kerron

  2. More specifically 2008 Renfroe > 2011 Kerron

  3. I’m in the Kerron is Better Than Alex camp, but I think Alex’s performance against Duke should earn him at least the sixth-man spot. I get why he’s not, but can we go KenPom and weight the numbers based on badassness?

  4. it’s a bummer we didn’t make the tourny in 2009 because Renfro 2009 has been the only bruin to be asun player of the year since 2006

  5. matt,

    if we’re weighing the numbers in terms of badassness it looks like this

    guard – henry harris 2008
    guard – henry harris 2007
    guard – henry harris 2006
    forward – this is belmont, forwards are for schools that like to walk down the basketball court
    center – some token tall guy

  6. I would take Hedgesaunders any day of the week. Either 2012 or 2011. Doesn’t matter. Those guys can play.

  7. I want Renfroe over Johnson. 08-09 Alex had 16.2 ppg 7.2 rpg 5.1 apg 2.1 spg. That about as many rebounds as Boomer had in 06. He also carried that team more than Johnson has had to. Johnson has been great this year but I’ll take Alex

  8. i don’t disagree and it might be the depth and versatility at that 5 position that might get us a win against gtown

  9. Also that pic of Kerron is almost as bad as the one of Mick cutting the net in ’11.

  10. Here’s what my list would be. It’s not based on any specific statistics, but I find that in my mind, my opinion is usually always right…

    Alex Renfroe
    – The most exciting player Belmont has ever seen.

    Kerron Johnson
    – Plays the point guard position better than anyone Belmont has ever seen.

    Justin Hare
    – The guy that should always have the ball in his hands down the stretch of any game.

    Future Blake Jenkins
    – I don’t think Dansby ever played to his potential and therefore is undeserving of being on the list. Unfortunately, there’s no other forward I can think of that would be deserving to be on the list, but Blake has the potential to be something that Belmont does not and will not see often. However, he’s not there yet, so I cheated and added his future self to the list.

    Mick Hedgepeth
    – 2010-11 version was best, but he has been the most all-around post player Belmont has seen. Boomer was horrid whenever he faced anyone that could even come close to matching him physically. If we would have seen Boomer in Hodzic’s final two years at Lipscomb, I believe we would have been just as ready to throw him away as UT was.

  11. I would also like to “still have ‘Big Mike’ on the bench” only for the sake of the chant.

    • Again Im with you on renfro but his best year was a nonqualifying year. And yes, jenkins in ’13 should be monster enough to get him a statue in the Maddox atrium.

  12. New poll:

    Who thinks that kerron photo is only good for troll fuel. God help us.

  13. Chalk me into the minority camp who truly believes Kerron is better than Alex “the Truth” Renfroe at the PG position. In essence he is a better creator, not as flashy and not as quick from a set position but a better guard for this offense.

    Main grievance, a Rick Byrd all tournament team really should have 12 members: Kerron, Drabin, Wicke, Jenkins, House, Belcher, Dansby, Sonn, Saunders, Dotson, Clark, and Barnes.


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