After an exciting Selection Sunday, the men’s basketball team is gearing up to play a dangerous Temple team in the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio.
Both teams are fairly equal in record — with the Bruins at 26-5 and the Owls at 23-9 — scoring ability and even legendary coaching.
“We haven’t been in this tournament against anybody other than a Top 25 team in the seven times we’ve been here,” said Belmont head coach Rick Byrd in a press conference Monday. “So it’s a little nicer feeling, like you can go into a game and you’re playing somebody in your same neighborhood in terms of how good each team is.”
Temple head coach Fran Dunphy is in his 13th and final year as head coach of the Owls. Dunphy has had an unbelievable career, winning over 500 games, according to the Temple Athletics website.
The respect and accomplishments between the two coaches are immense, and Byrd is excited to be facing Temple, he said.
“I’m really happy that in his last year he’s made the NCAA Tournament,” said Byrd about Dunphy. “And if we don’t go any further than this, I’ll be glad that Fran Dunphy is going further than this.”
The crowd will most likely be a mix of traveling Bruin fans and basketball lovers who want to watch what could be Dunphy’s last game.
Though the teams definitely have their similarities, Belmont has the offensive edge.
Temple’s top scorer, Shizz Alston Jr., was the leading scorer in the American Athletic Conference this season, scoring 19.7 points per game. Alston shot a stunning 90 percent from the free throw line.
In the Owls most recent game — against Wichita State in the AAC Tournament quarterfinals — Alston scored 20 points in the team’s 80-74 loss.
The Owls have two other players who average points in double digits, but after them, most players are averaging 6 or under.
Belmont’s situation is a little different.
The Bruins finished in first place in the Ohio Valley Conference, sharing a regular season title with Murray State. The team also included three athletes who made the All-Conference First Team for a second straight year.
Belmont senior and NBA hopeful Dylan Windler is currently averaging 21.4 points per game and is shooting 43 percent from three.
In the second half of the season, Windler scored over 20 points in 11 of the last 13 games. In three of those games, he scored over 30 points, and in two of them he scored over 40 points.
Windler is also averaging a whopping 10.7 rebounds per game. Wherever the ball is, he is most likely to be there. And because this is Windler’s first ever appearance in the dance, he has a lot of catching up to do, so don’t be surprised if he starts dropping three’s early and can’t seem to stop.
“I think once we step out in full today, shootaround and kind of get that vibe and atmosphere, I think it’s going to sink in that we’re actually dancing. We’re in this thing right now,” said Windler.
Freshman Grayson Murphy will also be a huge factor in Tuesday’s matchup. He is averaging 9.8 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Murphy has taken over former Bruin Austin Luke’s role relatively quickly and will be much needed to help keep a steady tempo on the floor if the Bruins run into some trouble.
Senior Kevin McClain is having his best season ever, averaging 16.3 points per game, but he’s coming off a rough game against Murray State in the OVC Tournament final.
McClain’s first half was solid, scoring 10 points and holding college basketball phenomenon Ja Morant to only 14 points. In the second though, McClain only scored 4 points and Morant scored 22.
McClain’s nearly impossible job of defending the All-American athlete probably prepared him to play a team like Temple, where the job will probably be easier.
One of the biggest reasons the Bruins struggled to beat the Racers in the OVC final was the absence of OVC Freshman of the Year Nick Muszynski. He was sidelined with an ankle injury in the final four minutes of the OVC semifinal against Austin Peay.
Muszynski scored 23 points in January when the Bruins first faced the Racers, so clearly not having him on the court left a huge hole on the box score. If he played in that game, the Bruins could be in a different situation right now.
But due to the nature of the injury, it looks like Muszynski will be ready to go in the Bruins tournament game.
“He’s going to play,” said Byrd. “It’s still a little iffy. It’s just hard to know. But he’s going to play. And he’s just excited about it.”
Muszynski averaged 14.9 points per game this season as well as 2.2 blocks per game.
The Bruins will need Muszynski to do what he does best and score inside the paint. If he is 100 percent healthy, or even 85 percent healthy, Muszynski can be the Bruins’ deadliest weapon.
Tip-off is set for 8:10 p.m. at the University of Dayton Arena and can be watched on truTV.
Photos by Carina Eudy.