BELMONT BRUINS (26-6)
vs. ARIZONA WILDCATS (25-7)
NCAA Tournament – Second Round
Salt Lake City, UT
Tip-off: Thursday, 7:20 p.m. ET
Line: Arizona -4.5, Total: 140
Belmont looks to become the third straight Ohio Valley Conference team to advance to the Round of 32 when it tries to upend sixth-seeded Arizona on Thursday night in Salt Lake City.
The Bruins won the conference tournament in their first year in the OVC and will be making their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance, but have never won a tournament game in program history. They will also have to get used to assuming the underdog role again, as Belmont played only three games as an underdog this season. One of those games was an upset at 7-point favorite Stanford, also a Pac-12 opponent. Arizona again has one of the nation’s most talented teams, but it has dropped three of its past five games SU and went 4-7 ATS over the final 11 contests. While they’re physically superior to the Bruins, the Wildcats' inability to guard the three-point line will be put to the test. Belmont was 18th in the nation in three-point shooting (38.6%) while the Wildcats were 276th out of 345 Division-I teams in stopping the three (36.0%).
Can Belmont pull off the upset? For the answer, connect to 2013 NCAA Tourney Picks for all the Expert picks throughout the entire tournament. The four StatFox experts begin the NCAA Tournament on quite a roll, going a collective 75% ATS (35-12-1) in the season's final four days and 67% ATS (67-33-2) since March 9, with StatFox Gary going 75% ATS (12-4), StatFox Brian posting a 68% ATS mark (19-9-1), StatFox Dave also at 68% ATS (17-8) and StatFox Scott winning 61% ATS (19-12-1) in those final nine days. Gary has a 68% ATS record (23-11) since Feb. 27 to improve to 56.1% ATS (110-86-4) for the entire college basketball season.
Belmont needed a series of missed free throws and then overtime to top Murray State in the OVC title game. It was their sixth straight win SU, but also their third straight loss against the spread, and they’ve failed to cover in six of their past nine. SG Ian Clark (18.1 PPG, 54% FG) will continue to carry them offensively, though he didn’t maintain his absurd shooting at home (60% FG, 51% threes) on the road (50% FG, 43% threes). Clark also had one of his worst games in the OVC championship, going for just 11 points on 4-of-10 FG with five turnovers. The Bruins hit just 4-of-19 from three in that game and Murray State had a chance to seal the game at the line, but senior point guard Kerron Johnson (13.7 PPG, 4.8 APG) rescued them with a short jumper in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime, then another basket with 1.2 seconds left in OT to give Belmont the win. Johnson is the Bruins' hottest player, going for 23 points in the OVC semis against Tennessee State and 26 in the regular-season finale against Jacksonville State.
The big question for Belmont is how they will handle Arizona on the boards. The Bruins were 262nd in the nation in opponent offensive rebounding rate, and don’t have a starter taller than 6-foot-7. Arizona starts a seven-footer in freshman C Kaleb Tarczewski (6.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG) and has cagey offensive rebounders in forwards Solomon Hill (13.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG), Kevin Parrom (8.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG) and Brandon Ashley (7.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG). Those four combined to average 7.3 offensive rebounds per game. Offensively, the Wildcats lean on Hill along with their backcourt of Mark Lyons (14.8 PPG) and Nick Johnson (11.7 PPG, 38% threes). All three of them initiate the offense at times, but with no true point guard, Arizona has been erratic all season. The three of them have combined to shoot just 41% FG and 32% threes over the past 13 games, though Lyons shot 83% FT on 4.0 FTA per game during that span, and Johnson hit 41% of his threes.