Belmont not overwhelmed with facing Kansas, an overwhelming No. 1

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 1:35am

Keaton Belcher says he watches a lot of basketball on television. Yet certain games in recent weeks have held his attention more than others.

Specifically, he looked on intently when Kansas, the consensus No. 1 team in the country, has been part of the broadcast.

“They play on ESPN all the time so I’ve watched a few games,” Belcher, a senior forward at Belmont, said. “…I’ve been scouting a little bit on ESPN.”

Tonight, Belcher and the rest of the Bruins will play on an ESPN network — against Kansas, which is 11-0 overall and has won 49 in a row at home. The contest will take place 8 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, and will be shown live on ESPNU (Comcast Ch. 272).

The Jayhawks are one of six undefeated Division I teams and the overwhelming No. 1 in the two primary polls. Their average margin of victory (29.1 points) is the best in the country.

“This game was originally set for a year ago, and they got involved with a scheduling conflict and asked if we could move it back a year,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “So we did. So we go in with a very young team, and they go in with a team picked to win the national championship. They haven’t disappointed yet.

“…They’ve beaten mid-major programs to the tune of about 40 points a game. They’re really, really good — probably the best team we’ve faced since we’ve been in Division I.”

A year ago Belmont was not just any mid-major program. It was an experienced bunch with players who came within a point of upsetting Duke in the 2008 NCAA tournament and had faced UCLA in the 2006 event.

Five seniors graduated last spring and left a roster with just two seniors and two juniors for 2009-10. A sophomore, Mick Hedgepeth, currently leads the team in scoring and rebounding, and a true freshman, Ian Clark, is second in minutes played and tied for second in points.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” Clark, a Germantown High School product, said. “(Kansas) is a good team, ranked No. 1 in the country so I think it will be a good test to see where we are as a team and get us ready for conference play.”

The Bruins (7-4) won their first two conference games — both in overtime — back at the start of the month. They followed with three more non-conference contests before a brief holiday break.

They reconvened Saturday for the first of three workouts prior to the game with Kansas, which will be followed by the remainder of their conference schedule.

“It’s good to play a game before you play conference, no matter who it is,” Byrd said. “In this case, it’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be an exciting experience. I hope it will be a good one for our team. This game eventually down the road will be a memorable one for our program and our players, but I hope it will help us become a better basketball team.

“The reality of the 40 minutes of basketball could be tough. … (But) all memories of your college basketball career aren’t necessarily about great victories.”