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Bruin Vision: Belmont basketball’s shot at redemption

The Bruins, the team that punched its ticket to the big dance — and never got a chance to play — will get its shot at redemption.

On Sep. 17, the NCAA announced that it fully intends to play Division I basketball starting Nov. 25, quelching the fear of a lost basketball season. With that news, Belmont basketball now readies itself for the critical 2020-21 season, which contains more meaning than just what is seen on the surface.

Numerous questions surrounding how fall and winter sports would take place surfaced in mid-July, as those in charge tried to come up with ideas that supported collegiate athletics while keeping those participating in the events safe.

How would college teams finance testing? How would college athletes commit to playing with all the assumed risks? How do we keep coaches and their families safe?

These are fair questions when trying to patch together athletic competitions. Power Five college football came back, and given the complexities of sporting events in a pandemic, it’s doing relatively well.

Things haven’t been perfect, there have been controlled outbreaks on teams — and a single outbreak is one too many. However, the outbreaks haven’t brought sports to a halt the way we saw in March.

This indicates that we are not only learning more about the virus, but we are learning how to live with it. We are learning to live within the new normal.

Belmont is now doing the same, as it gears up to play in winter athletic competitions. As the information and understanding of the virus grow, so do the methods of prevention and protection.

And Belmont basketball is relying on that information in order to play in one of the team’s most important seasons to date.

The gravity of this season lies in it being the first full one since Belmont basketball lost in the round of 64 to the University of Maryland. 

The game came down to a single play that involved a pass from Grayson Murphy, on an offensive action that worked perfectly against UCLA earlier in the season. Maryland was ready and deflected the pass. Leaving fans of Belmont questioning — what if?

What if that play worked perfectly? What if the pass got through? What if Windler got one more shot to bust everyone’s bracket? What if Nick Muszynski was healthy?

The play didn’t work. Head coach Rick Byrd retired. Star players Dylan Windler and Kevin McClain graduated and turned pro.

There wouldn’t be another opportunity for that team to etch its name into the history books of basketball immortality. There would be no opportunity to say, “maybe next year” because next year was so unknown.

Until it wasn’t.

The 2019-20 basketball season was supposed to be Belmont’s revenge tour. And in some ways, it was. With a new head coach in Casey Alexander, a first-time graduate transfer in Tyler Scanlon and a breakout star in Adam Kunkel the team outright won the conference–both regular season and postseason.

The conference championship win was even sweeter because it was against Murray State in a game that — though it was at a neutral site — might as well have been a Murray home game.

That game went down to the last play, and Alexander called an offensive action titled “Liberty.” And this time the pass got through. Belmont won.

Muszynski took home the tournament MVP and showed the world just what Belmont could be. And with the team peaking at the right time, it could have been a real upset threat in the national tournament. If they got a chance to play.

Instead, selection Sunday quickly turned into cancelation week. The national tournament would never be played.

And that’s why this season–COVID-19 restrictions and all–is so important. It will give Belmont a chance to get back to the place it hasn’t been since Rick Byrd walked the sideline.

This season, however it may play out, has the opportunity to cement coach Alexander as a rising star on the mid-major level.

For everyone who remembers the tough loss to Maryland in the 2018-19 seasons, this season already represents so much more than just another chance to win a championship.

It is finally an opportunity to capture Belmont’s purloined attempt at redemption. And that is an event Belmont’s faithful fans have desperately waited for.

This article written by Ian Kayanja.

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