Game Preview: Belmont and University of Maryland face off in first round of NCAA Tournament
History was made Tuesday night when the Belmont men’s basketball team defeated Temple in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament.
Now, the Bruins are ready to make history again as they prepare to take on No. 6 seeded University of Maryland in Jacksonville, Florida.
The Terrapins are a solid opponent but may be one of the weaker No. 6 seeds in the tournament. The team is coming off of an embarrissing 69-60 loss in the Big Ten Conference Tournament to Nebraska, who finished 13th in the conference.
Maryland’s best player and one of the biggest obstacles to a Bruin victory is sophomore Bruno Fernando.
Fernando is currently averaging 13.7 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game. He recorded 20 double-doubles in 31 games and was named to the Big Ten’s First Team and the All-Defensive Team. No other player in the league was named to both.
The only downside to Fernando right now is that in Maryland’s loss to Nebraska, Fernando only scored 3 points. The sophomore will either still be a little flat from last week’s poor display or he will come out swinging.
Maryland’s top scorer, junior Anthony Cowan Jr., is averaging 16 points per game and 4.3 assists per game. Cowan made the Big Ten’s Second Team and is shooting 34 percent from behind the arch.
Though Belmont is the No. 11 seed, multiple basketball analysts like Jay Bilas and Seth Davis are picking the Bruins to upset Maryland.
Belmont head coach Rick Byrd doesn’t look too deep into predictions, though, and he feels Maryland is not a team the Bruins can overlook.
“They’ve got plenty of good basketball players, the kind that we don’t face. The length, the size and the athleticism that we only face once or twice a year,” said Byrd. “They’re a 6, we’re an 11, and they deserve that. They play in a rugged league, and they’ve been tested time and time and time again.”
The only time Belmont played a Big Ten team this season, the Bruins lost to Purdue in December, 73-62. Purdue finished second in the league, so Belmont has a little experience playing a fast and physical Big Ten school.
“I think there are a lot of similarities between teams like [Maryland] and UCLA and Purdue, just the way they defend,” said Belmont freshman Nick Muszynski.
Belmont’s biggest issue all season has been allowing its opponents score a boatload of points. Its opponents are averaging around 73.8 points per game, and Maryland’s offense is averaging 71.3 points per game.
But offensively, the Bruins are just fine.
Even on Tuesday night, when Dylan Windler struggled to get an open look at the basket, players like Kevin McClain — who scored 29 points — and Muszynski — who scored 16 points — stepped up to the plate and took control of the game.
McClain played one of his best games of the season on Tuesday, displaying to a national audience that Belmont isn’t just the Dylan Windler show.
“It just shows how dangerous this team is,” said Windler. “Knowing that you have other teammates around you that can pick you up and score the ball when one of us isn’t scoring well.”
Belmont will take on Maryland at 2:10 p.m. Central time, and the game will be aired on truTV.
Photos by Carina Eudy.