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COMMENTARY BY JOE BIDDLE: Why Belmont stands apart

 

I watched three college basketball games last Saturday.

 

I saw Belmont win its sixth straight OVC game while sending Tennessee State to its first OVC loss after the Tigers won their first six conference games.

 

Coach Rick Byrd’s team got off to 30-7 lead on the way to a 78-66 win at Curb Event Center.

 

I also watched Tennessee and Vanderbilt win their first SEC games. The Vols turned back Mississippi State 72-57 at home while Vanderbilt outlasted South Carolina in a road game 58-51.

 

At times, both SEC schools have had difficulty scoring the basketball.

 

Vanderbilt has the excuse it lost nearly 90 percent of its scoring, as three players were taken in the NBA draft. The Commodores are averaging 59 points a game. They have hit only 40.8 percent of their field goal attempts.

 

Here’s the kicker. Vanderbilt is known for shooting high percentages from the free throw line. This year’s team is 14th in the SEC, hitting only 57.2 percent from the line. Normally a solid 3-point shooting team, the Commodores are hitting 35 percent from beyond the arc.

 

The Commodores had season-low scores of 33 points in losses to Marist and Arkansas. They had 49 points in a loss to Butler, 48 against Oregon and 52 against MTSU.

 

Tennessee has also had its share of cold shooting games. The Vols scored a season-low 36 points in a loss to Georgetown. They had 38 in a loss to Virginia and 45 against Oklahoma State.

 

From the field, the 9-7 Vols are hitting 43 percent. From the 3-point line, only 30 percent hit the mark. The Vols are shooting 66.3 percent on free throws.

 

Take a look at Belmont and you can see why the Bruins are 15-4 on the season and have won 15-straight games at Curb Event Center, where they are 36-1 since the arena opened.

 

This season the Bruins lead the OVC in scoring, averaging 77.3 points a game. They hit a league leading 48.5 percent from the field, 72 percent from the free throw line, third best in the OVC and a second best 39.3 percent from 3-point land.

 

Byrd puts a premium on recruiting shooters. He wants to fill each position with a proven shooter.

 

His system requires a player to make open shots. He lets them launch from the 3-point line as long as they are high percentage shots.

 

Byrd also recruits players who know the game. He adds to that knowledge after they arrive on campus, but Byrd prefers basketball players rather than athletes.

 

A lot of larger Division I schools recruit a lot of 6-5 to 6-8 athletes who can run and jump. Many times, shooting accuracy is missing and requires hours of practice.

 

A lot of top high school players who also play on summer travel teams practice two things when left alone. One, they love to show off their dunks. Two, they want to bomb from the 3-point line. Accurate mid-range shooters are becoming extinct in the college game, as it already has at the NBA level.

 

Another of Byrd’s priorities in recruiting is signing players who are solid citizens on and off the court. He doesn’t have time to baby-sit his players. Late night telephone calls are few and far between.

 

That’s how he likes it, and the formula is obviously working for him.

 

Sports Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee and a 2013 inductee to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame.


Posted on: 1/22/2013

 
 

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