Well, here we are, the National Invitational Tournament where we just might get to go to a Final Four, at Madison Square Garden. Where the winner is crowned the 69th best team in college basketball!
If the opponent sounds familiar, it’s because we beat them in the first round of the NIT last year 93-84. The winner this year gets to face the winner of Indiana/Georgia Tech, and we’d host that game too which sounds actually quite appealing to this dejected fan.
Where we are right now is on the precipice of 20 wins (if you count Morehouse, and post season games), and trying to send J.J. Frazier and friends out with a little something special. The senior guard went on a tear with junior big man Yante Maten sidelined, but the Michigan native was back for both SEC Tournament games and should be healthy enough to start tonight.
Junior Juwan Parker has joined them in the starting lineup all year, as has center and rebounding machine Derek Ogbeide. And we’ll get a start plus a steady sprinkling of minutes throughout the night between guards Turtle Jackson, Tyree Crump, and Jordan Harris. With Maten healthy, Toe Wilridge may slide back to the bench, or may slide Parker over to starting SG, but expect him, Pape Diatta, Mike Edwards, Kenny Paul Geno, and Houston Kessler to get a few minutes in the front court throughout the night.
Belmont enters the NIT courtesy of an automatic berth thanks to their Ohio Valley Conference regular season title. They fell in the semifinals of the conference tourney to eventual champion Jacksonville State (who drew a 15 seed and Louisville in the big dance). And they bring four of five starters from last year’s game, as well as all three members of the bench that scored that night.
They are very good offensively, and excellent shooters, but fell last year because their defense could never get a stop as the Dawgs simply shot better to outscore them. Head coach Rick Byrd has a style, and it’s worked for over 30 years there as they’ve climbed the ladder from being an NAIA school back in the mid 90s on up to routinely winning their conference for an NIT or NCAA berth in the last 12 years. Plainly put, they won’t beat themselves tonight and we’re going up against a fundamentally solid and together basketball team.
Senior big man Evan Bradds leads them in scoring doing most of his work inside. He’ll be joined by junior forward Amanze Egekeze, sophomore wing Dylan Windler, and veteran guards Taylor Barnette and Austin Luke (all of whom average ~3+ 3 pt attempts per game). Kevin McClain and Burton Sampson add depth in the backcourt, while senior big man and human microwave Nick Smith has averaged 9 pts in 13 minutes a night off the bench all season long. But each of their starters average almost 30 minutes a night so our more frequently used bench could help wear them down by the end of the game.
Georgia should be able to win this, but it won’t be easy. A team like Belmont leaves a slim margin for error even with superior depth and athleticism at our disposal. Similar to last season, we have to find a way to shoot better than they do, and that’s difficult as effectively and efficiently as they make buckets.
GAME & BROADCAST INFO
- Opponent: Belmont Bruins
- Records: Georgia (19-14, 9-9 SEC) vs. Belmont (22-6, 15-1 OVC)
- Rankings: Georgia NR, Belmont NR
- Tipoff: Wednesday, March 15 at 7:00 p.m. ET
- Location: Stegeman Coliseum (10,523) in Athens, Ga.
- TV: ESPN3 (Dave Weekley, PBP; Stan Lewter, analyst)
- Video Stream: WatchESPN.com
- Radio: Georgia Bulldog Network by IMG (Scott Howard, PBP; Chuck Dowdle, Color; Tony Schiavone, Producer) Flagship: AM 750 (Atlanta)
- Flagship: WSB AM 750 | Affiliates
- Audio Stream: Georgiadogs.com | Mobile
- Live Stats: GameTracker