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Preview: Men’s basketball gets ready for 2018-2019 season

The Belmont men’s basketball team will head into the 2018-2019 season with an extremely young team that will need guidance and leadership from seniors Dylan Windler and Kevin McClain.

The Bruins finished the 2017-2018 season with an overall record of 24-9 and a conference record of 15-3.

The team also failed to win both the Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship and the OVC tournament. Murray State defeated Belmont in the tournament final 68-51.

The pressure will be on as the Bruins have not won a conference tournament since 2015, making this the team’s biggest tournament championship drought since joining the OVC.

Regardless, Belmont was picked to win the conference in the OVC Preseason Poll, even after losing two of its strongest players — Austin Luke and Amanze Egekeze.

Thankfully for the Bruins, senior Dylan Windler will be one of the top players in the OVC and could be instrumental in helping Belmont have a chance to win the conference.

“He needs to be a player of the year candidate type of performer for us to have the season we want,” said assistant coach Brian Ayers.

Last season, Windler led the team with 17 points per game, 9 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game. He was an all-conference player and was recently named OVC Preseason Player of Year.

“What I’ve done last season doesn’t translate to this season, and I still have to put in the same work to create those same results, so I can’t really take anything for granted this season,” Windler said.

Players like McClain and sophomore Nick Hopkins will also need to have high-performing seasons, as the team will have a huge challenge ahead of them helping to mold such a young team, which includes nine freshmen.

“It’s still nine out of 15 guys who have hardly played a minute,” said Byrd.

Many of those freshman will have to step up to play to make sure the upperclassmen aren’t overworked.

Grayson Murphy will have to be a huge playmaker and provide a lot of assists to fill the role Luke had on the team last year.

Caleb Hollander, standing at 6 foot 8 inches, will need to help out the Bruins on defense and try to fill the shoes of senior Mack Mercer who is out for the season due to a surgery. Mercer’s absence will be a huge loss to the team, and Hollander will need to catch up quickly to fill that hole.

Notable Non-Conference Games

Nov. 10 vs. Illinois State — The Bruins will start their season against a Missouri Valley Conference powerhouse. The Redbirds ruled the MVC until Loyola-Chicago defeated them in their conference tournament final by a buzzer beater. Illinois State will be a trial by fire for this young Belmont team.

Nov. 15 and Dec. 4 vs. Lipscomb — The Bisons upset Belmont in both Battle of the Boulevard games last season. Senior Garrison Mathews will be a player of the year candidate, and the Bruins cannot allow him to take control of the game.

Dec. 15 at UCLA — Belmont will get the opportunity to play one of the most historic programs in all of basketball. UCLA is ranked No. 21 and has a few superstars Belmont will need to contain if they want to compete in this game. Freshman Moses Brown and sophomores Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes will be some of the best NBA prospects in the Pacific-12 Conference.

Dec. 19 vs. Western Kentucky — Belmont will be looking for its fifth consecutive win against Western Kentucky, but the Bruins will have their hands full playing against top NBA prospect Charles Bassey in this season’s matchup.

Dec. 29 at Purdue — The Boilermakers Carsen Edwards may be the toughest opponent the Bruins will face in the 2018-2019 season. He is ranked at No. 2 in Athlon Sports’ top 100 players, and Purdue is also currently ranked at No. 24 in the AP Poll.

Notable Conference Games

Jan. 3 and Jan 17 vs. Jacksonville State — The Gamecocks have been the Bruins’ Achilles heel the past two years and are picked to come in third in the OVC.

Jan. 24 at Murray State — The Bruins lost to Murray State in the 2018 tournament final, making this one of the most competitive games the Bruins will play all season. Sophomore Ja Morant will be one of the favorites to win conference player of year. Morant was ranked at No. 17 in Bleacher Report’s “Top 50 2019 NBA Draft Big Board: Top 50 College Prospects to Watch.”

Jan. 26 at Austin Peay — Last season’s OVC Freshman of the Year Terry Taylor will be returning to a strong and youthful Governor’s team. This will be a key win for the Bruins if they want to win the OVC.

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