Belmont’s 2020-21 basketball season ended on complicated terms, to say the least.
The Belmont men’s basketball season has officially come to a disappointing end. After missing its opportunity to punch a ticket to the big dance, Belmont’s next hope was to qualify for a spot in the National Invitation Tournament – a hope that turned into a distant dream Sunday night.
Under normal circumstances, a regular season championship alone would have awarded Belmont a spot in the NIT.
This year, however, the committee strayed away from its usual process and shaved a 32-team tournament down to just 16 who were picked at large.
Belmont fans and the larger basketball world alike were taken aback by the fact Belmont, with its 26 wins to match number one seeded Gonzaga for most in the nation, won’t make an appearance in a single postseason tournament.
Not to mention, multiple players and their head coach have been nominated for national awards or spots on All-American special teams.
So, why wasn’t Belmont qualified for an opportunity to make a postseason run after such a remarkable year?
It’s a difficult question with a simple answer: Belmont must move to a new conference.
Twenty six wins in one season is an extremely hard thing to accomplish for any team. However, in a conference where every season comes to the same end, it begs the question:
“Is Belmont good, or does its conference just suck?”
Over the past seven years, the Bruins have finished first in the Ohio Valley Conference six times heading into the conference tournament. Winning has become normal for Belmont, but to the selection committee, winning isn’t all that gets you into the tournament.
Teams have to prove that as a program, you can compete with the power five schools that run the tournament every season. And as a mid-major, it’s extremely hard to do.
In the beginning, Belmont’s dominance in the OVC reflected a new age of Belmont basketball built from the wisdom of legendary coach Rick Byrd.
He built the program from scratch, starting from the NAIA, and leading Belmont into its NCAA Division I era. An era that would include 800 wins, tons of conference championships and NBA draft picks.
Anyone’s best bet is that Byrd’s intention wasn’t for his legacy to stop at retirement. He planted the seeds that would inspire his successor to blossom his program into something more.
It’s obvious that Belmont is ready to take on more – more competition, more recognition and more of anything that could take its potential and transform it into must-see TV.
Not only would it help prove Belmont as a worthy program, but it would also attract more top-level recruitment classes, another factor that would keep Belmont climbing up the steep ladder of college basketball.
But it would have to take that first leap of faith knowing that growing pains are inevitable.
It would be difficult at first to take a program only used to winning, and open itself up to a vulnerable state where losses are almost guaranteed – but it’s been done before inside this program.
For the first few years as an independent in the NCAA, Byrd finished seasons with records as bad as 7-21. But he used his failures to learn more about himself and his team – to the point where regular-season championships were routine and postseason berths became just another Tuesday.
Basketball programs, much like people, must step out of their comfort zone in order to grow. So, what will Belmont’s next step be?
Do they just want to dwell inside of their winning bubble and stay the same? Or do they want to grow so exponentially, that they become a mid-major like Gonzaga, who is considered for the national tournaments every year without question?
Right now, it’s up to Belmont to decide.
This article written by Julieann Challacombe.