The Big Blue Nation will welcome the Belmont Bruins to Rupp Arena tomorrow at noon. Belmont has become a perennially good basketball team. We all know that they went to Chapel Hill and defeated the mercurial North Carolina Tar Heels, but they haven't been healthy since the Hofstra game and have dropped 3 out of their last four, including the Virginia Commonwealth Rams at home, South Dakota St. and Denver on the road. In fact, the Denver game was a shocking 90-62 blowout.
- Conference: Ohio Valley
- Location: Nashville, TN
- Head Coach: Rick Byrd (since 1996)
- NCAA Appearances: 6
- Most recent NCAA appearance: 2013
- Most recent NCAA win: Never has won a game
- Founded: 1890
- Students: 4,609
- Record last season: 26-7 (14-2)
Source: Basketball State
Belmont has had three 25+ win seasons in a row now, and they are not really able to sneak up on anybody. Belmont has almost always been a dangerous basketball team under coach Rick Byrd, perhaps one of the most underrated and unheralded coaches in the country. They are a quality team who plays a very solid schedule — a better schedule than Kentucky in non-conference, as a matter of fact.
Season so far:
Belmont has been up and down this season. You know about the up — beating the Tar Heels on the road. The down has been the last two games, where Belmont has been somewhat uncompetitive. A lot of this has to do with the fact that their junior starting point guard, Reece Chamberlain, has been down with an ankle sprain since the Hofstra game on November 24th.
This will be the first meeting between Kentucky and Belmont. Seems amazing to me given the proximity of the two schools.
|35||Evan Bradds||S||G/F||6-6||200||Freshman||HS||Jamestown, Ohio / Greeneview HS|
|23||Craig Bradshaw||S*||G||6-3||210||Sophomore||1L||Ridgetop, Tenn. / Christ Presbyterian Academy|
|2||Blake Jenkins||S**||F||6-8||220||RS Senior||3L||Knoxville, Tenn. / Bearden HS|
|24||J.J. Mann||S**||G/F||6-6||215||Senior||3L||Smyrna, Ga. / Hargrave Military Academy|
|1||Drew Windler||S||F||6-9||215||RS Senior||TR||South Milwaukee, Wisc. / Samford|
|22||Reece Chamberlain||SI*||G||6-1||180||RS Junior||2L||Goodlettsville, Tenn. / Beech HS|
|4||Holden Mobley||MR*||G/F||6-3||205||RS Junior||2L||Nashville, Tenn. / Montgomery Bell Academy|
|5||Caleb Chowbay||MR||G||6-2||175||RS Freshman||HS||Mt. Juliet, Tenn. / Mt. Juliet HS|
|43||Jeff Laidig||R*||G||6-4||210||Sophomore||1L||Mishawaka, Ind. / Penn HS|
|13||Chad Lang||R*||C||6-11||285||RS Junior||2L||Marietta, Ga. / Marietta HS|
|12||Nick Smith||R||F||6-8||210||Freshman||HS||Bentonville, Ark. / Bentonville HS|
|11||Spencer Turner||R*||G||6-3||190||Junior||1L||Bloomington, Ind. / Bloomington South HS|
|41||Tyler Hadden||RS?||C||6-10||235||Freshman||HS||Cincinnati, Ohio / St. Xavier HS|
|31||Josh Lester||RS?||F||6-5||220||Freshman||HS||Antioch, Tenn. / Brentwood Academy|
|3||Austin Luke||RS?||G||6-3||185||Freshman||HS||Rowlett, Texas / Rowlett HS|
|21||Burton Sampson||RS?||G||6-4||195||Freshman||HS||Knoxville, Tenn. / The Webb School|
|20||Taylor Barnette||YR||G||6-3||185||Sophomore||TR||Lexington, Ky. / Virginia|
|YR||Year in residence|
Senior swingman J.J. Mann is the leading scorer and one of the leading rebounders for this team, as well as the steals leader. He is in the top 100 in the nation in steals%.
Sophomore guard Craig Bradshaw is the 3-point sniper for this team, shooting almost 48% from the arc. He is just as deadly from inside the arc as outside, and is one of the best shooters in the nation.
Senior power forward Drew Windler is the best 3-point shooter on a team filled with good 3-point shooters. He has 28 made 3's on the season and averages almost 1 block per game. He's a player who will demand a lot of attention from Kentucky.
Junior center Chad Lang has the highest usage on the team, although he really doesn't play many minutes. He's a big body, though, at 6'11"/285#.
Freshman guard Caleb Chowbay is the sixth man off the bench. He takes a lot of threes but hasn't shot them well this season at only 26%.
Junior point guard Reece Chamberlain is considered to be doubtful for the game on Saturday. He has been a major loss for the Bruins, and they have played noticeably worse in his absence. He is the team leader and a very good distributor.
- Craig Bradshaw vs. Andrew Harrison — Bradshaw is a very solid player who has been forced into the lead guard role with the injury to Chamberlain. He can do it all, and shoots the ball very well from the perimeter. He has size, but he isn't terribly experienced. Andrew Harrison has more size, more skill, and should have an advantage.
- J.J. Mann vs. Aaron Harrison — Mann is a senior and the leading scorer on the team. He is every bit as big as Harrison, and a very good player. He isn't as quick or athletic, but you must respect his perimeter game, he is a good scorer, rebounder, and can do it inside and out. Aaron has the quickness and skill advantage, but it can't overcome Mann's experience.
- Evan Bradds vs. James Young — Bradds is mainly an inside player and energy guy. He doesn't score much, but is dangerous if he gets it near the basket and knows how to get offensive position. He is the sole true freshman that sees significant minutes, and like most of the Bruins, is an excellent free-throw shooter. But he does not match up well at all against James Young, who is far more skilled and athletic than Bradds. This is a real problem for Belmont.
- Drew Windler vs. Julius Randle — Windler is a perimeter player, for the most part, and a very experienced redshirt senior. He knows how to get open, and when he does, he makes shots, and he can rebound. He also leads the team in blocked shots. Inside, he is no match for Randle, but outside, he is a real handful, and Randle is going to have to play his best defensive game ever to hold him down. It is possible because of the game style mismatch that Randle and Young will swap places on these two players, but that gives Windle a size advantage on Young.
- Blake Jenkins vs. Willie Cauley-Stein — This is a tough matchup for Belmont. Jenkins is a good player, and if he gets hot from 3, he could be a problem for Cauley-Stein. But near the basket, there is no contest.
At full strength, Belmont is a very dangerous basketball team. They can shoot the ball from anywhere, they have size, and they can defend most teams. Kentucky is not most teams, and that's going to matter tomorrow.
Belmont has dropped precipitously in their Ken Pomeroy ranking* since Chamberlain was injured. He is not expected to be able to go tomorrow, and under those circumstances, the Wildcats have a significant advantage. Chamberlain is a very important cog in the Bruins machine, and without him, Kentucky's vastly superior talent overwhelms the experience advantage Belmont enjoys.
Look for this game to be close early due to Belmont's outstanding shooting and good ball movement. Kentucky is likely to struggle on defense again against the Bruins, because they have several potential mismatches that the Bruins can exploit on the perimeter. As with all perimeter teams, Belmont will want to launch about 40% of their shots from 3. They average about 33% of their points from the 3-point line, so you can expect them to shoot a lot from outside.
Where Belmont will suffer is trying to defend Kentucky's athleticism and significantly greater size. They may succeed for a while with superior execution, but their lack of a deep bench and injured leader will wind up placing them at a considerable disadvantage, even if we don't consider playing in front of 20,000+ UK partisans in Rupp Arena.
In the second half, Kentucky will most likely pull away to a 15 or 20-point victory. Belmont will give the Wildcats some moments of concern, but in the end, greater talent and depth will prevail over experience. Ken Pomeroy has Kentucky at 91% to win, and with the likely absence of Chamberlain, that should probably be moved out to about 95%.