The Byrd Cage

Posts Tagged ‘Battle of the Boulevard’

And We’re Off!

In Game Posts on November 21, 2014 at 12:28 pm


We are off and running in another Belmont Bruins campaign! As we all know, these non-conference/exhibition games show us things that we may never see again. Last year in the season opener at Lipscomb the Bruins had to gut out a sloppy win. They were adjusting to new defensive rules and no Ian or Kerron. It took time to readjust and all that season produced was an OVC Championship game appearance and an NIT Elite Eight.
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The Battle of the Boulevard: Take 131

In Game Posts on November 9, 2012 at 10:03 am

Belmont faces Lipscomb in their 131st matchup tonight at Allen Arena

If you wasted your time following the latter half of Lipscomb’s Men’s Basketball program last year , you’ll remember the team shamefully spiraling into the abyss despite a fairly promising start.  By the time the ASUN Conference Tournament got underway EIGHT PLAYERS had either left the team or had been suspended.


This included the suspension of Lipscomb’s two leading scorers: the country’s leading 3-point shooter (you read that right) Jordan Burgason, (violating school policies), and forward Robert Boyd (deemed academically ineligible). Milos Kleut, Zach Brown, Brett Stall, Stephen Hurt, Damarius Smith, and Marvin Williams also left or were suspended from the team.

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What If? Belmont A 13 Seed

In Game Posts on March 10, 2012 at 10:29 am

A 13 seed- again.  How wonderful would it be?

I have made it to every Selection Sunday celebration at Belmont University.  The Beaman Student Life Center is packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, camera-to-camera, Sodexho hot dog-to-Sodexho hot dog.  Sodexho brings out their semi-best catered food, and news crews crawl around the campus.  It is like a second, less sniper-rifled version of the Presidential Town Hall Debates.  In fact, CBS will be here according to Belmont’s official basketball website.  So, come one, come all Sunday.  Festivities start at 4 p.m.

But what would it really mean for Belmont to draw a 13 seed in the NCAA tournament this year?  Last year we drew the 13 seed and were up against a Wisconsin team that many eyed to be out in a first-round upset.  If my memory serves me correct, Dick Vitale even chose the Bruins in his bracket upset.  But it was not in the cards.  And as you will read below, Wisconsin and Belmont are in a similar position as last year.  Below are the 4-seed possibilities.

The Four Seeds


Maybe teams should be ranked by two of the following stipulations this year: have you played Kentucky? Did you beat Kentucky?  Tom Crean’s Hoosiers did actually play Kentucky this year (satisfying the first stipulation), and not only did they play them- they beat them (the second stipulation).  No other resume in college basketball boasts this quality win, and Indiana proudly stands at 11 on the RPI.  But in their first Big Ten tournament win in years, Hoosiers’ Senior Guard Verdell Jones III crumpled to the floor on an awkward jump stop.  The knee injury wasn’t good according to Crean, and the 25 minute, 7.5 points a game senior won’t see the Hoosiers through the tournament because of a torn ACL.  But while Jones’ injury is a tough one, freshman Cody Zeller is the story of the year for the Hoosiers.  This 6-11 forward posts over 15 a game with 6 boards and ranks 15th in the NCAA in FG% at .629.  The freshman is a beast and causes problems for any opponent inside.  The third most efficient offensive team in the nation, the Hoosiers combination of size and offense will guarantee a tough matchup for anyone.


With an adjusted tempo of with 58.9, Wisconsin ranks 344th in the NCAA according to Ken Pom in overall pace of the game.  Belmont averages 68.4, showing one of the key reasons that Belmont got lost last year when they played Bo Ryan’s Badgers.  Wisconsin slows the game tremendously, and for the run and gun type offense of the Bruins, game plans must be changed accordingly.  Senior Guard Jordan Taylor averages 14.6 points this year, down from 18 last year. And thankfully Jon Leuer (that guy who put up 22 points against us last year in the tournament) is now with the Milwaukee Bucks.  However, getting this Wisconsin team this year will still not be considerably easier.  The Badgers are hot, coming off a win against Ohio State and taking down Indiana on Friday, waiting for Michigan State today to prove they are ready for a deep tournament run.

Florida State

What can you say about the Seminoles?  They are 12-4 in the ACC with a record that shows big wins against North Carolina and Duke but some Ivy League losses to Harvard and Princeton.  This seems to be the best way to really sum up this team-  “Big wins, strange losses”.  Junior guard Michael Snaer puts up a respectable 14 points a game, but the Seminoles turn over the ball a shocking 1 out of every 4 possessions.  They rank almost last in this category in the NCAA at 330th.  But that is the BAD.  The GOOD is their defense.  Ranked in the top 20 in nearly every defensive ranking (efficiency, block percentage, etc…), the Seminoles are a team that can go deep or be beat based on the amount of turnovers their offense gives up.  The Seminoles face off against the Blue Devils at 2 p.m. in the ACC semifinals.

Wichita State

The Shockers.  Wichita State is called the Shockers [insert witty March Madness quote here].  And it is, indeed, shocking to watch Wichita State’s Garrett Stutz go 4-4 from the 3.  Yes, from the 3 point line.  This doesn’t seem like a crazy stat at first until you realize Stutz is 7 feet tall.  He is a mobile 7 footer that made 6 three-pointers in a row between two games.  The Shockers out of conference schedule included UNLV, Temple and Alabama and came out of it 1-2 with a 19 point win against UNLV.  So what is it about this team that makes them a 4?  They rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency and in the top 20 in defense efficiency.  But the Shockers have some shocking (sorry) losses this year, namely Drake and Illinois State.  Granted, the Drake loss was in 3 overtimes and Illinois State almost beat Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference Championship game.  The Shockers are good all around and Senior Guard Joe Ragland leads the team with 13 points per game.  Ranked 5th in the nation in overall experience (2.51 years), the Shockers have the depth, teamwork, and maturity to make a legitimate run in the Madness.

The Dark Horse:  Murray State

In what could make an instant rivalry, Belmont could potentially draw future Ohio Valley Conference foe Murray State.  This one loss Racer team is lead by one of the best point guards in the country, Isaiah Canaan.  The Junior put up nearly 20 points a game this season and currently ranks in the top 20 in the nation in 3P%.  He is a beast.  But when you start to look deeply at this team, some people don’t think they could hang as a favorable seed.  In fact, Ken Pomeroy has the Racers ranked 44th.  For some perspective, Belmont is ranked 24th overall in the Ken Pom rankings.  The Murray State Racers are the wild card in all the Madness.  With three top-50 RPI wins over Southern Mississippi, @ Memphis, and St. Mary’s, you can argue this team either way.  In trying to find a weakness for this team, I attempted to simplify things.  “I’ll just crunch some numbers in their loss against TSU,” methinks.  “Limit Canaan.  That’s all you have to do.”  But it is not that easy.  Canaan dropped 31 points against Tennessee State in their only loss of the season.

First year head coach Steve Prohm leads a disciplined team that has done serious damage in their schedule, but has it been enough?  While it would infuriate me as a fan to see my team only lose one game and even be questioned as a top seeded team, the national conversation about Murray State has placed them from a 3 seed to a 6 seed.  The loss to Tennessee State showed a Racer team that practically gave up in the last two minutes.  If you saw the loss, you noticed a frantic, mistake-prone Murray State team that lost its cool under pressure.  Who could upset this team?

Belmont.  The guard heavy, three-point efficient, experienced, ready-to-win-its-first-NCAA-tournament-game team comes in hungry.  What would be better than an instant OVC showdown for the Bruins in the national spotlight?  I can’t think of anything.

What do you think?

-Brett McReynolds

Exclusive: The Byrd Cage Sits Down With Coach Rick Byrd

In Features on March 6, 2012 at 9:57 pm

I finally got to meet the man that everyone in Athletics called “Coach”.  As I walked into his office-which was covered with cut nets and trophies- Coach Byrd emerged from behind his large desk and extended his hand.  He asked me to sit at a smaller table and chairs where we could relax.  He didn’t want to be behind that large, executive desk.  He wanted to sit closer, get on my level, and I could immediately feel a genuine warmth and welcome from one of the best minds in the NCAA.  I wanted to get things rolling, to not waste his time, but he asked me about myself for about ten minutes.  We spoke about what I studied at Belmont and what I’m doing now.  I was a fan, with a little blog- but he treated me like a highly touted recruit or wealthy donor. I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one he did this to, and that this genuine quality is what kept him at Belmont- really caring about people.  The interview that follows was full of honesty from a man that exudes quiet resolve, discipline, and a warmth that is infectious.  What follows is my interview with the great man, Coach Rick Byrd.

Brett McReynolds:   Coach Byrd, you are one of only five active NCAA coaches with over 500 wins at one school.  You have clearly accomplished a lot at Belmont University.  What would you call your greatest accomplishment?

Coach Rick Byrd:  First off, you know that’s a legitimate stat, but not nearly all of them are division one wins.  I think it’s a little… you know.. it’s not easy to win NAIA games- so I’m not saying it is less important.  But you know, first of all, I’m not the least bit comfortable talking about my accomplishments, but I think the most difficult thing is that we really came in and kind of, um, rebuilt.. what’s the right word?  It’s kind of like I had two jobs here at Belmont, one was an NAIA job, I came here the very March that Lipscomb won the [NAIA] National Championship.  So, your rival, and what you are going to be compared with, is the best in the business and you got to find a way to be competitive.  By the end of ten years we beat them six times in row and had our share of at least even success in the last five years against Lipscomb.  But I think going from NAIA to Division 1, and having the success that we have now enjoyed, has got to be sort of the cumulative greatest accomplishment of this program.   Because, a lot of people have tried it- I don’t mean people- a lot of schools have tried it- and it’s just not easy.  Wofford has been to the Tournament the last two years from the Southern, and they started this five or six years before we did.  There are many schools around, Tennessee Tech hasn’t been to the Tournament since 1963, there are a lot of schools around that don’t get to go at all.  And certainly a lot that have tried to make this move.  So, to make it to the tournament 5 times and win to win 5 regular season championships- in a relatively short time after going Division 1, is something we are proud of.

BM:  There were some high expectations for the team this year.  Starting off strong against Duke, the year seemed to begin on the right page, but some key losses against USC Upstate and Miami of Ohio, stopped the idea of a 30-win season.  How would you compare this team versus last year’s team?

CRB:  Well, i’ve spent most of this year trying to talk to our guys about not comparing it, because it’s, it’s a little unfair. 30-5 was a historic year.  And, all you had to do was look around to see that hardly anyone else did that, that year.  And hardly anybody ever does it.  Even though a lot of guys were back, our schedule was pretty obviously tougher.  Even though we started with Duke and Memphis on the road, the two games against MTSU and how good they were, and the two games against Marshall- the five game, ten day trip- four of them on the road was a challenge to say the least.  So, we lost the two games, and I mean, you didn’t mention the Lipscomb game at home, that was our worst loss.  The Upstate loss was bad because we were up 16, but anybody in the league who has tried to win at Upstate could tell you it was a tough one.  We should have won the game.  But you can look around the country and see the best programs, that’s why it’s impressive to see what Kentucky has done going 18-0 in the SEC, and what Syracuse has been able to do.  Usually even the best teams stumble every now and then.  And so, with what I think was a much more difficult schedule, I think 27-7 is not too far off from 30-4 this time a year ago.

BM:  That being said about the Duke game, can you elaborate on what Coach K said to you after the game?

CRB:  I remember the first time we played them in the NCAA tournament, but I don’t, I mean, recall.  I may have even talked first.  I don’t recall.  I think I said to him, “I guess we just can’t beat ya,” or something like that. And certainly his comments in the media room about our team were, I think, honest.  You always want to make people feel better, but I think they felt like they literally had not played bad, that they had to play good to beat a good team. I think we knew that night that we had the chance to be a really good team.  And, I got a couple of texts after the game, one text that said you aren’t just good, you are “Sweet 16” good.  I think that night reflected that we could be that good, but I don’t think our play in the last six weeks tells us that we can’t be that good.

BM:  Since Blake Jenkins started his first game against ETSU, the Bruins have gone on a 14 game winning streak.  Talk a little about the 4 position’s evolution throughout this season if you would.

CRB:  Yeah, you know that substitution was more about, “let’s find someone that can guard Adam Sollazzo”. He’s a big, penetrating point guard, and as we looked at video leading up to that game, he was totally the focus of their offense.  And, he’d end up scoring a lot of points if you helped on him too quickly, then he’d pick you apart.  I mean, we had clip after clip of guys getting dunks because their man helped too quick and he fouled the guy.  And so, we wanted somebody that would make his scores tougher in one-on-one, and we wouldn’t have to help off those other guys.  And Blake is long and athletic and a good defender on the ball, and he did a really good job that night.  Adam Barnes came in that night when Blake got tired or in foul trouble and did a good job on him.  And then later on, actually Ian did a good job in the tournament game on him. But that was the reason Blake started.  If we had started- they were playing four guards and a post player- if we had started Mick and Scott both, which was our starting line-up at the time, neither of them can guard Sollazzo, so we would have had a hard time guarding Sollazzo with anybody.  And it just didn’t make sense to even start the game- and I was struggling offensively with both bigs in the line-up.  It’s not how we play.  We play four out- one in.  I was struggling with a way for us to play while they were together.  And we did fine that way, but I think it has made us better.  Partly it’s because Blake has played well most of the time, but just going back to the four guys that can shoot… Now, you ask about the four position.  Brandon and Trevor pretty much shared that spot a year ago, and neither of them have had a decent shooting year, and when you play four out- one in, you’ve gotta have guys making shots.  And they both contribute in different ways.  This weekend Trevor came in against ETSU when they had two bigs in the lineup and did great, and Brandon didn’t play.  And the next night, when Gulf Coast’s 4 was more of a shooter, Brandon came in and did a good job defensively.  So we’ve used those guys more about match ups than who is playing better than the other one.

BM:  Speaking of Blake, how do you react when a player dunks?  Maybe it is just your general steely reserve on the court, but from a fan’s perspective it seems like you may think dunks are a nuisance.  Am I wrong here?

CRB:  I think, if you try to dunk it, and it’s a harder play than trying to score it with a layup or whatever the other option would be, if there is less chance of the ball going in, I don’t like it.  I don’t.  To me that’s a selfish play.  The same way that throwing a pass behind the back would be if the other way is more effective.  If I’ve got a great passer that can throw a behind the back pass in the right place at the right time, then that is okay.  You know, my job as a coach is for us to be as effective as we can be. And I have no problem with he, or Scott, or Mick or anyone else that can dunk it.  If it’s literally as easy or easier, I wouldn’t know [laughter]- whether its easier or not.  But, look, we’ve all seen in our lifetime a whole lot of dunks missed. And who knows whether it is going to be a one-point game or not.  That’s how we talk about every possession.  If you foul up on defense because you’re not focused and you give up a three-point shot, that is a three-point mistake.  If you’ve done the best you can and they run a good play and the kid makes a good shot, that’s one thing.  If you’ve lost your focus out there and make a mistake that gives them points, then it is the same thing as missing that dunk, it’s the same thing as missing that pass.  That’s what a coach does, he makes his team as effective as they can be.  I’m not really interested, I mean, I think our team is an exciting team, but if it weren’t I wouldn’t worry about it if it was good.  Does that make sense?

BM:  Yeah, that makes complete sense.

CRB:  Good.

BM:  Do you think the Lipscomb game is an important event to hold on to as we leave the A-Sun?

CRB:  Yes.  I think it is. You know, if I could have my own personal way we would never play the game again and it would be alright with me.  Because it is a game that creates a lot, at least for me, a lot of pressure.  It’s the game that everyone shows up for, that everyone puts emphasis on, and I wish that people felt that way about every game here.  I wish the students felt that way, I wish the alumni felt that way, I wish everybody wanted to come to every game we play in here.  It almost becomes a little irritating [laugh], you know what I mean.  Therefore, when we do have a bad game and lose to them, and our record has not been as good with them as it has been with anyone else in the league.  And then, I guess, it’s like the Alabama/Auburn football game. So many people put so much emphasis on that, and you can go 10-0, they don’t really care.  You lost to Alabama, or you lost to Auburn.  There is some of that with this game that I don’t enjoy.  But our plan is to play in both places, two games each year.  I think if you have got a game that creates that much interest, a non-conference game that can fill your gym in both campuses it would be crazy not to play the game.

BM:  Speaking of Lipscomb, what is up with “Bisons”?  Do you think the grammatically incorrect mascot name is a reflection on the institution’s educational priorities, or was it just an initial slip by a really bad editor?

CRB:  They’ve changed it though, didn’t they?

BM:  Well, they are trying to change it.

CRB:  They have, everything they use on their website is Bison.  It’s no longer used as “Bisons”.

BM:  Well, right. [laughter]

CRB:  It sounded like their explanation was, was… kind of murky… “Well, we’re not really changing it.. but”.  So I don’t know… [smirking]  It’s certainly [laughter], it’s certainly not any of my business as a basketball coach, although my dad was a sportswriter, so it’s important to get things right.  You know what, here is what I think; I think it is entirely up to them to call their team whatever they want to call it.  We changed from the Rebels to the Bruins one time.  So, you know, if they want to become the “Fighting Bison” they want to become the, you know, it’s up to them [laughter], I don’t know.  But you know, one of the best signs that our student section ever had was, “Bisons Is Not A Word”. It’s something I’ll always remember seeing.

BM:  March Madness is almost upon us.  People are, of course, speculating on who Belmont would draw.  Who would you rather play out of these four teams: Michigan, Marquette, Georgetown, or Baylor?

CRB:  None of the above.

BM:  [Laughter]

CRB:  You know, it would be crazy for me to let you put that in there [smirking], because it is amazing what people find.  I would literally, you know, we are so tied up in our own year… I try to watch games because i’m a voter in the USA Today/ESPN thing, is that what it is?  So I try to follow up pretty closely, but in terms of trying to find time to watch those teams play, about all I can do is catch glimpses and watch their results. So, at this point I wouldn’t have a good idea who might, or might not, be a good match-up for us. And as soon as somebody thinks it is a good one for us, it usually isn’t and vice-versa.  You know, it’s gonna be a top 15 or 16 team that we play, and it will be good.

BM:  I really appreciate your time.  Thank you.

Breaking: Lipscomb “Suspends Permanently” More Players

In Game Posts on March 1, 2012 at 8:32 am

According to Lumination Online, the Lipscomb University Athletic Department announced on Wednesday that Bisons basketball players Damarius Smith and Marvin Williams were “suspended from the team permanently”.

This, of course, comes after the recent dismissal of the best 3-point shooter in the nation, Jordan Burgason.  The details have not been released as to why Burgason was expelled, or even as to why both Smith and Williams were suspended permanently.  Lumination Online also mentions Head Coach Scott Sanderson’s comment about Williams last suspension in the Belmont game, “It was just a discipline issue.  We handled it and are moving forward.”

It must be worrisome enough to fret over grammatical issues for the Bisons, and now with a major discipline issue- Lipscomb’s basketball program looks to be in the pits.

“But it’s only 3 players!  You are taking this too far,” some may be thinking.  But the fact is, I haven’t taken it far enough.

Lumination Online goes as far in the article above to mention the total of Lipscomb Bisons who left or have been suspended this year alone, “Milos Kleut, Zach Brown, Brett Stall, Stephen Hurt, Robert Boyd, Jordan Burgason, Damarius Smith and Marvin Williams.”

With a bench last night of four players, the Lipscomb Bisons still showed an impressive stand against a Mercer home crowd, taking the game to the final minutes.  But the story here is not resilience, it isn’t about stepping up, and it definitely isn’t about rose-colored glasses.

It is about a problem.

As Belmont University joins the Ohio Valley Conference next year and leaves their conference rival behind, Lipscomb will do well to put away the measuring stick.  This season has proved for once and for all that the difference in the schools measurement is a ruler and a yardstick.  The days of Don Meyer are long gone Bisons, and the Scott Sanderson “barely above .500 with one regular season A-Sun championship and no NCAA tournament berths” are, simply put, not cutting it.  The shambles of a department led by a coach who has a barely above winning record and has clearly shown he cannot control his men should be enough for Bisons fans.  How much worse can it get?  It simply cannot get worse.

The objective fact in all this mess?  Lipscomb University men’s basketball showed this season, once and for all, that Belmont’s move to another conference might just be the best thing for that other little school down the Boulevard with a basketball team.

-Brett McReynolds

The Battle of the Boulevard: The Last A-Sun Battle

In Game Posts on February 3, 2012 at 6:03 pm

You may have seen this guy’s awful dunk on the Byrd Cage Facebook page or even here.  I guess it doesn’t even count as a dunk, because it didn’t go in, but defining Jordan Burgason on that one clip alone is simply not fair, I hate to say.

Now understand this, I hate Lipscomb.  As far as journalistic integrity goes, I post the truth- but you need to understand that the truth is going to be a bit biased here.  This fact is unavoidable.  I love the Bruins and I hate the Bisons.

All that being said, Jordan Burgason needs to be talked about.  He is currently ranked fourth in the entire NCAA in 3-Point Field Goal % Per Game.  He also averages 16.9 points per game.

So, it isn’t like he is just playing a few minutes and shoots a few threes.  The guy is clutch, and the fact that we held to him four attempts (making two)  is an admirable goal in and of itself.

So what went wrong last time?


Belmont’s defense allowed double-digit points from every starter and one bench player against Lipscomb on January 6 putting together a total of 85 points against us in total.  We have only allowed three other teams to score 80 points or more against us this year, and those teams were; Memphis,  MTSU, and Marshall.  We even kept Duke below 80.

So what was the deal with Lipscomb?  That always seems to be the question.  Drew Hanlen, in our exclusive Byrd Cage interview, even said the same thing- and he didn’t have an answer.  But to not look at last game as two separate halves drastically changes the story.

In the first half, Belmont and Lipscomb were evenly matched.  Ian Clark had 14 by halftime, Drew Hanlen and Clark were a combined 6-9 from the three, and our bench even had five steals.  We walked into the locker room at half-time up, 39-36, feeling hopeful about the outcome of the game.  But things were going in for Lipscomb as well.  Shooting over 50%, the Bisons obviously didn’t feel too bad about their position coming back out.

This is where things changed.

J.J. Mann made 1 out of 7 three-pointers.  Kerron missed all four of his three-point attempts.  In the second half we shot 5-19 at the 3 point arc.  A miserable 26.3%.  Of course they out-rebounded us in the second half.  Our post players scored 7 total, with only 6 total rebounds.

We fell apart.  They made 15 of 16 free throws.

I felt sick.

Lipscomb took the game 85-74 and proceeded to stand in the middle of our court in a huddle after the game.

“Get off the floor!” some yelled.  “Isn’t it curfew?” others screamed.  Others stood silently, holding up 4 fingers.  You may have won the battle, but we always win the war Bruin fans seemed to pronounce without words.

Defeat at home, in the worst way.

But now it is February, after-all, the Bruins favorite time of the year.

Tonight we will come in swinging.


1.  Blake Jenkins.  Blake has steadily risen to the top of the Bruins lineup, proving he can score below and stand tall as a strong arm defender in both the passing and shooting lanes.  Jenkins’ success tonight will be a deciding factor in tonight’s game.

2.  Controlling the ball.  Drew Hanlen leads the tempo of the game in explosive bursts.  His expert footwork, skilled ball-handling, speed, and minimal turnovers give Belmont the edge in the A-Sun when it comes to controlling games.  But I would like to see what the Bruins can look like as a controlled, composed, and in-charge squad at the end of games.  I haven’t seen that this year.  Hanlen’s last minute lob down the court at the end of their last game against UNF gave Hanlen an ear-full from Coach Byrd when we were up and needed to control the clock.  We’ll need to be focused down to the last-minute of tonight’s game with a quiet confidence to win at Allen Arena.

3.  Shutting Down Jordan Burgason.  The man has averaged 21.5 points a game since the first meeting with Belmont.  He is, frankly stated, on fire and this must be squelched.  While their team has only gone .500 since our last meeting, their inconsistency as a team cannot be counted upon at Allen Arena tonight.  Hands must be in Burgason’s face during every shot attempt.  An open Burgason equals a losing Belmont squad.


Now, if you will, a moment of silence for the last A-Sun conference rivalry game between these historic squads.

Tip-Off is at Allen Arena tonight at 6.   Tickets may still be available here

-Brett McReynolds