Belmont brings a big win streak, if not a big name into NCAA tournament

Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 10:20pm

There are, of course, two sides to every story.

For Belmont, the story of its 2012 NCAA tournament opener against Georgetown is in the number 14.

On one side is the fact that the Bruins are the No. 14 seed in the Midwest Region, a modest ranking that means a matchup against a formidable opponent out of an elite conference. The implication is that chances for an upset are minimal, at best.

On the other side is the fact that Belmont has won its last 14 games. It is the longest current winning streak for any of the 68 teams in the field, regardless of rankings or reputation. That suggests a team on a roll that will not go quietly from the round of 64 when it takes the floor Friday (2:10 p.m., truTV).

“Obviously momentum is big in the game of basketball, but I don’t think Georgetown really cares how many games we’ve won,” senior guard Drew Hanlen said. “They’re going to look at our schedule and they’re going to say, ‘Atlantic Sun opponents’ and they’re not going to respect us as far as our win streak because they’re in the Big East.”

It is true that 13 of those 14 victories came against Atlantic Sun Conference opponents, beginning with an 82-70 triumph at East Tennessee State back on Jan. 23 and the 83-69 win over Florida Gulf Coast nearly two weeks ago in the conference tournament championship game.

According to realtimerpi.com, the Atlantic Sun was 20th in overall RPI out of the 32 Division I conferences for basketball.

The only exception in that streak was a victory over Austin Peay out of the Ohio Valley Conference, 21st in conference RPI.

“I think it says a lot for our team,” junior guard Ian Clark said. “We had a couple early losses … that we really didn’t want. Us getting back on track close to the end of the season — that’s what any coach wants for his team and I think that’s what we’ve done.”

The Bruins, one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country, scored 80 points or more 22 times in their 34 games thus far — 11 in the 20 contests prior to the win streak and 11 more during the course of that streak.

Thirteen of the 14 victories were by eight points or more (11 by 10 or more). The closest they came to a defeat over that stretch was when they scored the final three points and beat Mercer 62-61 on Feb. 25.

Before the current run, Belmont did not win more than six straight at any point this season.

“I think the biggest thing is that we bought into the little things,” Hanlen said. “I think those games that we dropped — those bad losses — we got away from what we needed to do to win. We didn’t box out, we didn’t get the secondary rotation we needed — just the little things that the average, common basketball fans doesn’t really realize during a game. I think we became a better team because of that.

“I also think that we kind of have gotten in a groove. Offensively, we weren’t in a groove at that time. I think we got rolling and found which pieces need to fit together.”

Georgetown won 11 straight in the early part of the season did not win string together more than two straight victories from Jan. 7 on.

“We’ve played well in about the last month and a half,” coach Rick Byrd said. “I don’t know that we played as well down in Macon [at the conference tournament] as we would have liked. But you know what?

“We all saw a whole bunch of favorites get beat in their conference tournaments. It’s just not easy.”

That’s why no one else came into the tournament with as long a winning streak.