Last year, the Ohio Valley Conference tournament champion — Murray State — made the NCAA tournament with style — earning a No. 12 seed and upsetting No. 5 seed Marquette in dominant fashion. However, the Racers won't be the ones representing the OVC with the conference's auto-bid in 2020.
That's because Belmont, the No. 1 seed in the OVC tournament, won the conference tournament in the most fitting way possible under first-year head coach Casey Alexander with legendary coach Rick Byrd sitting courtside. The Bruins scored the go-ahead basket on a backdoor cut for a layup from Tyler Scanlon with four seconds left. Under Byrd, Belmont finished first nationally in 2-point percentage in five of the previous six seasons.
Here's everything you need to know about Belmont:
Belmont: Record, quick facts
Record: 26-7 (15-3 OVC)
Conference standing: 1st
NET ranking: No. 99 (as of March 7)
NCAA tournament appearances: 9th
Best NCAA tournament seed: No. 11 (2013, 2019)
Best NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the first round (round of 64)
Rick Byrd established Belmont as a consistent winner and NCAA tournament team in the A-Sun and OVC after the school transitioned from the NAIA level.
His successor, Casey Alexander, is tasked with trying to build upon Byrd's success. Belmont has made eight of the last 14 NCAA tournaments (and this season will make nine in 15), but the next step is winning games once the Bruins are dancing. They nearly beat No. 6 seed Maryland last season before falling 79-77 and center Nick Muszynski (15.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg), who was the team's third-leading scorer as a freshman last season, makes up half of an inside-out sophomore duo with guard Adam Kunkel (16.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.6 apg).
Statistically, the Bruins look a lot like they did under Byrd — making a high percentage of their 2-point attempts (56.8%), while having one of the highest assist rates (60.7%) and 3-point attempt rates (43.9%) in the country. They don't grab a lot of offensive rebounds on a percentage basis and they don't get to the foul line a lot, but the Bruins don't have many of their shots blocked or stolen and they shoot a high percentage from the floor.
That's fitting for a team coached by Alexander, who played at Belmont and was later an assistant coach at the school under Byrd.
Belmont will enter the NCAA tournament on a 12-game winning streak with its last loss coming on Jan. 25 against Austin Peay. Five of the Bruins' seven losses this season came on the road and they've lost just three times since the start of the New Year.
After last season, Belmont had to replace its leading scorer Dylan Windler and its legendary coach Byrd, but Kunkel, Muszynski and Alexander have done an admirable job in keeping the program's identity the same — make a high percentage of their shots and win a lot of games.