Feb 29, 2012, 10:30 AM EDT
Belmont’s off to the Ohio Valley next season, which means the Bruins get to spend their final two seasons in the A-Sun dominating the league (35-3 vs. conference foes) and then trying not to stumble in the conference tournament for that automatic bid.
And where will they try to clinch the tournament title this season? At Mercer, which finished tied for second in the regular-season standings.
That’s what you call stress. And drama!
Where: University Center, Macon, Ga.
When: Feb. 29-March 3
Final: March 3, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Kerrion Johnson, Belmont: The Bruins’ junior point guard has no shortage of options around him (5.2 apg) and can score himself (14.0 ppg). Little wonder Belmont’s offense thrives with him.
Ian Clark, Belmont: Sure, this could be Ian Clark or Drew Hanlon, but the 6-3 junior is more reliable with the ball and better at creating scoring options for others. Himself, too (12.4 ppg).
Langston Hall, Mercer: A 6-4 sophomore who rarely comes off the floor, Hall leads the Bears in scoring (11.3 ppg) and assists (4.0 apg).
Torrey Craig, South Carolina Upstate: The conference’s leading scorer puts up 17 points a night and is the focal point of the offense. In a bigger league, the 6-6 sophomore would be an undersized forward. Not here.
Favorite: Belmont. Rick Byrd’s team has owned this league the last two years. The Bruins are an overwhelming favorite because of their depth, skill and style of play. Few A-Sun teams can handle them. Plus, Belmont isn’t getting an at-large berth if it doesn’t win. This is a team that’ll come in focused and ready.
And if they lose? Mercer. That’s an easy call, too. The tournament’s hosts have lost twice to Belmont this season, but by a combined five points, including last week’s 62-61 home loss. The Bears have lost three of their last four, but two were on the road. If the home crowd can help them through some rough patches, the Bears will be tough.
Sleepers: S.C. Upstate tied with Mercer for second and has the league’s leading scorer in Torrey Craig. But the odds of them reaching the championship aren’t great. If they get there, they are one of the two teams to have beaten Belmont, though. Lipscomb is the other, but it’ll be lucky to win one game.
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.
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