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NCAA tournament: Arizona foe Belmont has small lineup, big-time shooters

2013-03-19T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:09:25Z NCAA tournament: Arizona foe Belmont has small lineup, big-time shootersPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Rick Byrd's offensive philosophy has been the same for years: find a prominent post scorer, and surround him with four shooters.

"That's really been the recipe for success for not just the last eight years, but back to the NAIA days," the Belmont coach said.

"This has been a different team for us," Byrd added.

The 26-6 Bruins, who play the Arizona Wildcats in the NCAA tournament on Thursday, don't have a pure back-to-the-basket player this year.

Their tallest starter is 6 feet 7 inches, and the coach joked he'd kill to still have one of the two post players who graduated last year.

With his lineup different, Byrd has run less of a pure motion offense this season.

Now, he joked, the Ohio Valley Conference tournament champions "look a lot like everybody else in the country looks" - running NBA-style ball screens for guards.

"We don't have the inside presence, but we have shooters," he said. "We had to find a different way to attack defenses.

"I'm surprised when I see the ratings of our offensive efficiency. I didn't expect that out of this team. I thought we might struggle to score; I'm just not used to coaching that way."

Belmont's offense is a darling in statistical circles.

The Bruins make 57.1 percent of their two-point shot attempts, the best mark in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy's formula at KenPom.com.

They're second in the nation in effective field-goal percentage, which gives added weight to made three-pointers.

"Guys are willing to make that extra pass, that extra play, to get us an open shot," explained guard Ian Clark, who leads Belmont with 18.1 points per game.

"Why we shoot twos so well is the quality of shot that we get. Coach wants to get good shots. It's good when your coach doesn't tell you all the time when to get a good shot."

UA forward Solomon Hill said the 11th-seeded Bruins are similar to Washington State, with their "ability to shoot the ball from so many positions." Only 32 teams in the country make three-pointers at a better clip than Belmont's 37.6 percent.

In part because they play a small lineup, the Bruins are fifth in the nation with 9.8 steals per game. The Bruins' turnover rate, according to Pomeroy's site, is ninth in the country - a category led by full-court press monsters VCU and Louisville.

"If it's a team that lives on the three-point line, I think we've done a great job, especially in the past tournament, really keeping teams off the three-point line," Hill said. "And the way we've been playing this past couple games, I think we're ready for any challenge."

Belmont's effective height - a Pomeroy formula that measures size based on average minutes at center and power forward - is No. 285 out of 347 teams, per Pomeroy.

As a result, their -0.8 rebounding margin is No. 204 in the country.

The Bruins don't get to the free-throw line often, either - 17.3 percent of their points come from the stripe, placing them No. 313 nationally - but do make 73.3 percent of their attempts.

"We've been consistent all year," Byrd said. "We've not had many down periods.

"We're limited in ways. I've been surprised in the overall success of this team, to be honest.

"The best thing about it is the consistency of effort and heart and want-to."

Plus, Byrd said he's "thought a lot" about how not having a post player might be a blessing in the NCAA tournament. Belmont's inside game had paled in comparison to past beefy Big Dance opponents UCLA, Georgetown and Wisconsin.

"Maybe the way we're playing now," he said, "can be a little more effective against bigger teams."

Get to know Belmont

How they score

According to Ken Pomeroy's statistics at KenPom.com, here's where the Bruins points come from:

• 50.3 percent from two-pointers

• 32.4 percent from three-pointers

• 17.3 percent from free throws

What the Bruins do well

• They're wildly efficient. No one in America has made a higher percentage of two-point attempts than Belmont's 57.1 percent.

• They turn you over. Belmont is fifth in the nation with 9.8 steals per game.

• They're old, and steady. Belmont has started the same three seniors and two juniors in all but one game this year.

What they don't do well

• Rebound. The Bruins' -0.8 rebounding margin is No. 204 of 307 teams nationally.

• They're small. Belmont's effective height ranks 285 out of 347 teams, according to Pomeroy's site.

• They don't shoot free throws. 17.3 percent of Belmont's points come from free throws.

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @PatrickFinley.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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