2015-16 College Basketball Previews: Belmont Bruins

Craig Bradshaw returns to lead a Belmont Bruins team that is chalked full of experience and talent, and look like the clear-cut favourite in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2015-16.
Craig Bradshaw returns to lead a Belmont Bruins team that is chalked full of experience and talent, and look like the clear-cut favourite in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2015-16.

When you’ve made the NCAA Tournament twice and the conference championship all three years since you’ve entered a new conference, there’s bound to be some hype around your program.

That’s the exact situation the Belmont Bruins find themselves in.

Ever since entering the Ohio Valley Conference, the Bruins have been a dominant force within the conference, and they hope to continue the trend this season. With talented players returning all across the floor, Belmont could be in line for another trip to the big dance.

Depending on how well they can manage expectations and get their stars rolling early and often, this year’s Belmont team could be special in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Take a scroll down the page and have a read on what the 2015-16 edition of the Belmont Bruins will have to offer this year.

Who’s Missing

The off-season leading up to the 2015-16 season was relatively kind to the Belmont Bruins. While other teams in the conference lose several star players, the Bruins only say goodbye to one of their regulars.

Belmont will say goodbye to starting point guard Reece Chamberlain, as he graduated from the program following last season. While the loss of Chamberlain is a big one, the fact that they only lose one starter gives them a big advantage heading into the season. With Chamberlain being the only significant loss, the Bruins have to be liking their chances heading into the year.

In Chamberlain, the Bruins lose their starting point guard who was a workhorse on the back end of the offense. He started in all 33 games, logging 31.2 minutes per game, which was second-most on the team. He averaged 8.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest, and recorded 198 assists over the course of the season. Chamberlain recorded a 2.36 assist-to-turnover ratio as a senior.

Not having their point guard in the back court this season will force head coach Rick Byrd to create some different lineups. With the talent he does have returning, one of his other star guards can slide over to play the point, freeing up another spot in the lineup and thus keep the Bruins humming along at a nice clip.

Who’s Returning

Who’s not returning? The Belmont Bruins are the beneficiaries of an almost perfect scenario in the Ohio Valley Conference. With other top teams going through a rebuild, of sorts, the conference title is sitting right there for Belmont to grab it. The Bruins welcome back a slew of talent from last year’s team, a group that includes four starters and a key reserve who should slot into the starting lineup and not skip a beat.

Starters Craig Bradshaw, Evan Bradds, Taylor Barnette, and Amanze Egekeze return in 2015-16, and key reserve Nick Smith also returns and will look to slide into the starting lineup and contribute right away. The Bruins’ starting five is full of experience, talent, and familiarity, all of which should carry them to a big year in 2015-16.

The biggest piece this season for the Bruins is none other than senior guard Craig Bradshaw. The 6’3”, 210-pound guard out of Ridgetop, TN is widely considered as one of the best players in the Ohio Valley Conference, and one of the best under-the-radar NBA draft prospects in the entire NCAA.

As a junior in 2014-15, Bradshaw led the Bruins in scoring, averaging 18.3 points per game while appearing in 30 games. He also added in 3.8 rebounds per game, and 94 assists on the year He’s a strong shooter from all over the floor, shooting 49.1% from the floor and 42.3% from three point range. Bradshaw can hurt you with his shooting, or his ability to drive the lane and make shots in contact. Bradshaw was the third-leading scorer in the conference a year ago, and he should see his name near the top of the list again this season.

Joining Bradshaw in the back court is junior Taylor Barnette, giving the Bruins a solid back court duo. The three-point specialist averaged 10.2 points per game while making a team-high 84 three-pointers a year ago. Belmont has a ton of talent and shooting ability at both guard spots, all of which will force opposing defenses to be honest in their coverage and keep an eye on both.

Up front, senior forward Evan Bradds is back to lead the way and take some pressure off the back court in the process. The 6’7” forward averaged 14.2 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds per contest a year ago. Bradds is one of the conference’s more effective rebounders, and he uses his athletic ability to secure rebounds on both ends of the floor. He’s an effective shooter on the offensive end (68.8% in 2014-15), which forces opponents to know where he is on the floor at all times. After starting in all 33 games last season, one can expect more from Bradds this year as he continues his development into an impact player for Belmont.

Sophomore big man Amanze Egekeze (5.4 ppg) returns to the starting lineup this season. If he can continue his development at a relatively quick pace, he has the potential to be a big piece of the puzzle for the Bruins moving forwards. Add in Nick Smith (6.8 ppg), who predominately came off the bench last season, and the Bruins have a talented starting lineup.

Freshman big man Seth Adelsperger, who comes in at 6’11”, and redshirt sophomore Tyler Hadden, who comes in at 6’10”, both bring some much-needed size to the front court. Both players could see extended minutes at the 5-spot over the course of the season, giving the team a different look and feel on the court.

Projected Starting Five

Guard: Craig Bradshaw (SR)

Guard: Taylor Barnette (JR)

Forward: Evan Bradds (JR)

Forward: Nick Smith (JR)

Forward: Amanza Egekeze (SO)

Schedule Notes

Last season, the Bruins were a mediocre 7 – 8 on the road overall. Heading into 2015-16, hopefully the Bruins don’t get homesick over the course of the season, as they only have four home games in non-conference play.

The Bruins open up on the road with two non-bracketed games in the Legends Classic. They head on the road to open the season at Marquette, and then head to Arizona to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils. Both teams have a different look to them this season, as Marquette will have the likes of Henry Ellenson eligible, while Arizona State has a new bench boss in Bobby Hurley.

Belmont has their home opener against Western Kentucky on November 18th, and then don’t play at the Curb Event Center again until December 1st. In between home games, the Bruins have a road date at Evansville, two games in Kennesaw, GA as a part of the Legends Classic, and a date against BYU. The bookend games of Evansville and BYU will be incredibly tough tests for Belmont, as both teams play well on their home floor and have a ton of talent returning (see D.J. Balentine and Kyle Collinsworth).

A home date against Lipscomb to open the month of December should lead to a victory for the Bruins. The two teams have a home-and-home series this season, with Belmont paying a visit to Nashville on December 7th. The Bruins also have a home-and-home with Valparaiso, going on the road December 3rd and playing at home against the Crusaders on the 28th to close out non-conference play.

Other teams the Bruins play include Quachita Baptist, Middle Tennessee and Cleveland State. All in all, the Bruins have scheduled a relatively tough non-conference slate that’s full of teams who will contend in their respective conferences.

As the saying goes, “to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.” While the teams that Belmont faces may not be the best in the country, they are talented in their own rights and they will get the Bruins ready and fired up for OVC play.

The goal for the Belmont Bruins during the 2015-16 season will be managing expectations and focusing on each game as they come. The team will enter the team with a lot of hype in the Ohio Valley Conference due to the talent they have on their roster, but they can’t lose focus over the course of the year.

You can bet that Coach Byrd and his staff will have the team primed and ready to go for the opening tip of each game. If the Bruins stay healthy, and their stars keep contributing like they have in their careers, the conference is Belmont’s to lose.

If all goes according to plan, you can expect to see Belmont in the OVC Championship game for the fourth straight season, fighting for the coveted NCAA Tournament berth.

– T.B.