Will the Bruins win?


Belmont vs Ohio odds

It’s been 217 days without college basketball, but the long wait ends Tuesday.

While some people are thrilled to see Duke vs Kentucky, a blue-blooded college basketball clash to kick off the season, another of the 184 games that will be played on Tuesday has my attention.

The Belmont Bruins travel to Athens to face the Ohio Bobcats in a clash between two of the country’s most experienced teams.

The two are returning almost all of their teams from last year and should be contenders for victory at their respective conferences, but between them, who can start the year with a win?

The five starters return from a 26-4 team that started even stronger at 24-1 before an injury to Nick Muszynski contributed to OVC’s two losses at Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State in late February.

Then, after reaching the league tournament title game, Belmont was again beaten by Morehead, turned down an NCAA tournament offer, and was not invited to a narrow-field NIT.

Last year’s disappointment came after the 2020 NCAA tournament which was not played due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bruins earned their ticket to 2020 by beating compatriot Murray State in the OVC tournament final.

The Bruins will once again have the chance to become an NCAA tournament troublemaker due to their experience and one of the best college basketball players in Grayson Murphy (10.9 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 5, 8 APG, 2.3 SPG, 58.9% FG, 35.7% 3PT, 74.2% FT).

He is the only active player in the sport to have accumulated at least 900 points, 550 rebounds, 550 assists and 150 steals in his career. Last season, he led the OVC in seven stats and ranked among the NCAA leaders in 12, including interceptions and assists, while also becoming the first player in the history of the school to record a triple-double (13 points, 12 boards, 10 assists against Morehead State).

Oh, and one more thing – he was OVC Defensive Player of the Year and All-OVC First Team last season. This year, he will be on his way to becoming the league’s all-time leader in assists and steals.

Muszynski (15.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.6 BPG, 58.6% 3PT, 73.4% FT) will also be back from injury and has a big chip on his shoulder. Like Murphy, he was a 2020-21 First Team All-OVC selection.

Joining the two stars this year will be another big player in their own right in Luke Smith (12.7 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 2.0 SPG, 45.3% FG, 39.4% 3PT, 81.8% FT), which made an impactful transition from Division III of the University of the South to Belmont. He led the OVC with a 3-point percentage and scored 3 points while averaging nearly three assists and finishing eighth in Division I with 61 steals.

Few teams in the country are as experienced as Belmont; he ranks 15th overall in return minutes. And even fewer have more motivation to earn their way to the NCAA tournament after two straight years of absence.

The Bobcats enter the season aiming for their first consecutive tournaments since 1964-65. Ohio is right with Buffalo as the preseason favorites in the MAC.

It once again welcomes everyone who played in the NCAA tournament game in Virginia except Jason Preston, who became the school’s first pick in the NBA Draft since Brandon Hunter in 2003.

The Cats are also returning 80% of their minutes from a season ago, but figuring out how to function without Preston can take a while to figure out.

Preston’s position as starting goalie will likely go to returning rookie Mark Sears (8.5 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.8 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 19.5 MPG, 47.1% FG, 28.6% 3PT, 85.1% FT), who earned a spot on the All-MAC Freshman Team last year when he was the Bobcats’ sixth man.

Sears had shown his ability to perform in the past when Preston had to miss five games due to injury. In those games, he averaged 14.2 points, 7.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 33.0 minutes per game.

Outside of Sears, the lineup will look like last year. Fifth-year junior Ben Vander Plas (12.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 33.8 MPG, 43.2% FG, 34.7% 3PT, 76.4% FT) and fifth-year center Dwight Wilson III (14.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 0.4 BPG, 27.3 MPG, 65.5% FG, 67.1% FT) will handle the front area.

Then third-year students Ben Roderick (12.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 26.4 MPG, 47.5% FG, 39.6% 3PT, 66.7% FT) and Lunden McDay (10.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 47.5% FG, 33.7% 3PT, 79.7% FT) will take care of the wings.

The Bobcats will be one of the best teams in the MAC, and I believe they will excel in conference. But it might take a while for them to freeze without Preston early in the season.

Belmont vs Ohio betting picks

Because Ohio can take a while to come together, I bet Belmont on the -3.5 open line and would bet down to -4.5.

The Bruins have a chip on their shoulder that they’ve been, in my opinion, denied tournament opportunities for the past two years. Sacking all five starters, this Bruins squad should enter this season smoothly and start the year on the right foot with a win.

To take: Belmont -3.5 (play to -4.5)


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