Photos: Andrew Hunt
CHARLOTTE, N.C.- Being the underdog in the NCAA tournament isn’t something unexpected or new for the Belmont men’s basketball team.
But what may be surprising is how little the team talks about it.
Or at least, that’s what Belmont coach Rick Byrd had to say the day before his No. 15 seed Bruins face No. 2 seed Virginia in the East region.
“I just don’t get into the psychology of all this stuff. We’re 0-6 so maybe you could say you had better get into it, but we’re also seven out of eight conference championship games and a whole of other good wins. So I think the way we prepare and the way we go about it, we’ll just stay the same,” he said.
For the Belmont players, the underdog mentality is just something they’ve learned to accept.
“I think it’s just something that we have to kind of take it as it is and go out there and play. And not pay too much attention to it during the game,” said sophomore Evan Bradds.
Virginia boasts the top-scoring defense in the country as the Cavaliers have limited opponents to 50.8 points per game and under 37 percent shooting from the field.
“They’re just so good at trapping, whether it’s trapping the ball screens or trapping the post. It’s real easy, it’s really easy to get – we can’t replicate that in practice and we’ve tried, so we’re going to have to react and be players during the game,” said Byrd.
UVA’s traps will make it difficult for Belmont’s post players to move inside and its overall pack-line defense will force contested shots for the Bruins.
“As soon as I would catch the ball they’re going to be on me. So I’ve just got to look for someone quick, look for a quick shot and it looks like it’s going to be a quick pass to somebody around the perimeter,” said Bradds.
Belmont meanwhile ranks as one of the top 30 teams in the country in scoring offense and is shooting 38 percent from behind the arc.
UVa coach Tony Bennett compared the Bruins’ offensive approach to teams like Notre Dame and Davidson, two opponents his Cavaliers faced during the regular season.
“It’s a difficult team to match up with. I don’t care what kind of defensive system you play. When teams shoot that well and get it going, it presents problems,” he said. “I’ve never seen a team, they’ll get into that lane, skip passes and they flank wide. They are well schooled in that regard.”
The different approaches haven’t gone unnoticed by the players, especially Taylor Barnette, who played for the Cavaliers before he transferred to Belmont.
“Virginia is a pack-it-in, seem to slow-it-down team and grind-it-out game and we like to get up and down and run. It’s kind of a contrast of styles for sure so it should be fun to watch,” said Barnette.
This marks the second meeting between the two programs since 1999-2000 season, but the first in the postseason.
It is also the second time the Bruins have faced an ACC school as the No. 15 seed in the NCAA tournament. Their previous came in a one-point loss to Duke in 2008.
Tip-off is slated for 3:10 p.m. eastern time and will be broadcasted on truTV.