Here is a story from columnist David Climer of The Tennessean, our Gannett partner in Nashville. For more coverage from the Belmont side of the matchup against Arizona, go to The Tennessean’s sports pages.
By David Climer
Thanks but no thanks, Mr. President. Belmont didn’t need this particular executive order.
Just when you thought the Bruins might sneak into the West Regional with the element of surprise on their side, the First Fan picked them to upset Arizona.
“Yeah, I heard about that,” Arizona swingman Kevin Parrom said. “Obviously, we’re going to have a chip on our shoulder.”
Said Wildcats reserve forward Max Wiepking: “Sort of makes you want to vote Republican.”
For Belmont, this kind of recognition from the White House is a double-edged sword. You appreciate the publicity, but you’d just as soon not rattle the Wildcats’ cage. Not only did President Obama pick the Bruins, but CBS analyst Seth Davis and various other high-profile bracket-pickers followed suit.
“Just the fact that the president knows anything about your team or your school is a good sign,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “Personally, though, I wish no one would pick us. When Seth Davis said, ‘Belmont’ on the selection show, you can’t tell me Arizona wasn’t watching.”
Now it’s fashionable to pick Belmont to pull an early upset in the NCAA Tournament. That wasn’t always the case. Remember 2008? The Bruins were a No. 15 regional seed and matched up against mighty Duke in the first round. Only an idiot picked Belmont in those days.
This idiot did. And even though Duke prevailed 71-70, those of us who went out on that limb got some degree of bracket cred for analyzing what looked like a mismatch and reckoning that the Bruins had a legitimate shot at the upset.
Now it seems as if everyone, including the most powerful man in the free world, is picking Belmont. It’s a sexy pick, a No. 11 seed from a nowhere conference over a No. 6 that has considerable name recognition, thanks to a national championship in 1997 and a national runner-up in ’01.
If you’re looking for a bracket breakout, this one is hard to resist — logic be darned. Because Belmont has been in the tournament so often in recent memory — the last three in a row and six of the past eight seasons — name recognition kicks in. Those in search of an upset have picked accordingly.
Besides, what fun would it be if everybody just followed the seeding line and put four No. 1 sees into the Final Four?
“If people picked all the 6 seeds over the 11s and all the 5s over the 12s, it wouldn’t be interesting at all,” Byrd said. “I get the fact that we’ve been in the tournament quite a bit the last few years so some people recognize our name. Maybe that’s why they pick us.”
Granted, Belmont is 0-for-5 in its previous NCAA Tournament appearances. But this is by far the Bruins’ most favorable matchup.
The first two — UCLA in 2006 and Georgetown in ’07 — were hopeless because of talent disparity. In 2011, Wisconsin played the same game as Belmont, only with bigger, better players. Last year, Georgetown’s strengths matched Belmont’s weaknesses and the outcome was inevitable.
Only in the Duke game five years ago was there a rational reason for optimism. That Duke team was built around perimeter shooting, which the Bruins defended well. Those Dookies were very beatable, as evidenced by their loss to West Virginia in the next round.
All of which brings us back to Belmont-Arizona 2013. Most signs point to the Wildcats because of their size and athleticism, but there are some noteworthy flaws that play into Belmont’s hands.
For starters, Arizona shoots the 3-pointer well but does not do a particularly good job of defending it. Pac-12 opponents made 37.7 percent of their treys. Belmont is shooting 38.6 percent from 3-point range as a team, and sharpshooter Ian Clark connects at a 46.3 percent rate.
The fact that Belmont’s big men also shoot the 3 is a plus. It will force a tall, athletic Arizona front line that includes 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski to defend farther from the basket than customary.
But the biggest reason to believe in Belmont is the team’s psyche. This is its third straight trip to the NCAAs. The Bruins have some history. Winning at least one game in the NCAAs has been their stated goal for the past several weeks.
“There’s not a shock factor to seeing your name on the bracket or being in the tournament,” junior forward J.J. Mann said. “We feel like we belong. We’re pretty comfortable.”
Besides, they’ve gotten the presidential seal of approval.