With the 4-seed Spartans facing the 13-seed Belmont Bruins in the first round of the women's NCAA Tournament on Friday, here are a few things to know about the Bruins before they tip off at 12 p.m. EST at Mississippi State University.
The Bruins went undefeated at home during the regular season
On their path to the NCAA Tournament, Belmont finished the regular season with a 24-8 overall record. In their 32 games this year the Bruins are averaging 75.1 points per game, but at home this season the Bruins are averaging 80.6 points per game in 13 games at the Curb Event Center in Nashville, Tenn.
The Bruins crossed the 90-point barrier twice this season, the first time against Troy in a 102-93 victory Nov. 29 and the second time in a 99-71 victory against Morehead State Feb. 3.
Belmont dominated the Ohio Valley Conference this season
With their 24-8 overall record this season, the Bruins owned the best record in the Ohio Valley Conference. BEL finished second in the OVC standings with a 13-3 conference record, only behind UT Martin, which has a 14-2 OVC record. Belmont swept through the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, including a 95-63 victory against Eastern Kentucky March 5 in the OVC Tournament championship game.
Belmont holds a +11.9 scoring margin, the best in the OVC. The Bruins rank second in their conference with a 75.2 scoring offense and third in scoring defense, giving up on average 63.2 points per game. This season, Belmont is shooting 44.9 percent from the floor and 37.5 from 3-point line.
The Bruins do not have much NCAA Tournament experience
Belmont’s 95-63 blowout victory against Eastern Kentucky in the OVC Tournament championship game earlier this month ensured the Bruins would be selected to play in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The Bruins, however, have only appeared in the NCAA Tournament once since they became an NCAA Division I school in 1997. Their only other appearance in the tourney came against the Georgia Bulldogs in 2007 as a 14-seed. The Bruins fell to the 3-seeded Bulldogs by a final score of 53-36.
Who to watch for
The Bruins are led in scoring by redshirt sophomore Kylee Smith. In 32 games this season Smith is averaging 13.7 points per game and leads her team with 69 offensive rebounds. Smith is shooting 38.8 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from behind the arc.
Complementing Smith is freshman guard Darby Maggard. Maggard is averaging 12.6 points per game this season while averaging 34.9 minutes a game. The 5-foot-5 freshman leads the Bruins with 170 assists and also leads the team with 83 3-pointers made this season.
Nearly mirroring Maggard’s offensive performance this year is sophomore center Sally McCabe. The center is shooting 52.3 percent from the field and leads the team with 240 total rebounds.
Belmont and head coach Cameron Newbauer have had encounters with the Big Ten already this season
One of Belmont’s losses this season came against fellow Big Ten member Ohio State University. The Bruins traveled out to Columbus Nov, 19 and fell to the Buckeyes by a final score of 84-56, their largest loss of the season.
The Spartans have played the Buckeyes three times this season and defeated them twice, including a 107-105 triple overtime win on Feb. 27 and an 82-63 blowout on March 5in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
On top of that, MSU head coach Suzy Merchant is already well acquainted with Belmont’s Newbauer. Merchant has gone on the record to praise Newbauer and his attributes.
“Cam is one of the bright, young, up-and-coming coaches in our game,” Merchant said. “His dedication to recruiting and impacting the lives of student-athletes is truly impressive. Belmont hired a tremendous coach, mentor and person in Cam Newbauer.”
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