Rick Byrd, Belmont looking to continue streak of NCAA tournament appearances

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Belmont Athletics

Only three programs have earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in six out of the last eight seasons — Kansas, Memphis and the Bruins.

The Belmont Bruins.

The latest trip to the Big Dance this past March almost didn’t happen. Belmont head coach Rick Byrd needed two clutch shots, including the game-winner, from senior guard Kerron Johnson to top Isaiah Canaan and Murray State in overtime to punch the Bruins ticket, earning the automatic bid in the team’s first season in the Ohio Valley.

It marked Belmont’s third straight trip to the NCAA tournament, but in each of those three seasons, Belmont was outed in the first game. The same thing happened when Byrd led the Bruins to three straight tournaments from 2006-2008. The Bruins string of postseason appearances largely goes unnoticed because they haven’t had a Cinderella-type run like its former Atlantic Sun foe Florida Gulf Coast.

Nonetheless, what Byrd has done over his 28 years — and most recently in the last eight years — has been an impressive feat.

“A whole lot of things go into that,” Byrd told NBCSports.com in a phone interview. “Being lucky. The first time we made it and the last time we made it, we won overtime games that could have gone the other way.”

During Byrd’s tenure at Belmont, he has transitioned the former NAIA program to a Division I conference title winner and NCAA tournament regular.

“I think Belmont University deserves a lot of credit,” Byrd added. “Over that same period of time, it has grown in so many ways.”

The university, a liberal arts college in Nashville, TN, has seen their enrollment increase from 3,000 to 6,918 since 2000 and in that time added a law school and built new residence halls. Like the changes on campus, the basketball program took time to build.

“The best thing we’ve done as a staff is decisions in the recruiting process, and identifying players,” Byrd said.

“We went from NAIA to Division I in ’97-’98. We could have gone after guys who were kicked off their teams or JuCo transfers and taken chances on guys with questions academically or character wise and maybe you could win games quicker that way. I don’t think that’s what Belmont deserved. That’s not the program that I wanted to build. We took our lumps, we took it slowly. We sort of incrementally got there.”

source: Getty Images
Rick Byrd (Getty Images)

The Bruins roster has been made up of high-character players, ones who will stay four or five years and provide experience to the Belmont program. A glance at the roster this season shows returning starter J.J. Mann is an older senior after spending a year at Hargrave Military Academy (Va.). The likely successor to Johnson is Reece Chamberlain, a redshirt junior. One of the key newcomers is Drew Windler, a redshirt senior following his transfer from Samford.

“I think when you have a program built on four and five year guys, you have guys who play supporting roles and then [over time] have to become the go-to guys,” Byrd said. “We’ve got a lot of experience.”

To Byrd, it’s like a revolving door, where players come in and take on larger roles over the years when other standouts graduate. He mentioned all-OVC selection Kerron Johnson, the OVC tournament hero last year, who had to wait his turn to be the go-guy, and went onto point out that Ian Clark didn’t even lead the team in scoring as a junior, before averaging 18.2 points per game last season.

The Belmont program has built a culture, and its starting to feed itself. Players come in, and work their way up through the system, from contributor to bigger roles as a starter or even an all-conference caliber player. In return, the team has won games, conference titles and made tournament appearances. All have helped on the recruiting trail, but another pitch Byrd and his staff make to potential players is the team’s non-conference schedules, which is usually considered one of the best. Games in the past at Duke and Kansas — this year against North Carolina and Kentucky — not only offer a challenging early season test, but catch the attention of prospects. especially in 2011, when Belmont nearly upset Duke.

“When we schedule those games, I’d rather schedule people and places that our players will remember for the rest of their lives, rather than take a check and play a team that doesn’t mean a lot,” Byrd said. “That’s what this whole thing is about. They are going to remember those games at Phog Allen Fieldhouse and Cameron Indoor Stadium, and now at Chapel Hill and Rupp Arena.”

Belmont will have a tough road again with non-conference games against, not only against Kentucky and North Carolina, but also at VCU. The Ohio Valley Conference, the same league that has seen players drafted in three consecutive years, will have a strong conference again this season with teams like Eastern Kentucky and Southeast Missouri State filled with key returners and teams like Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois posing as potential sleepers. Belmont has a difficult ladder to climb in order to secure its seven automatic bid in nine years, as the Bruins attempt to return to the Big Dance and get that elusive tournament win.

“We may never get back,” Byrd said of the NCAA tournament. “If we don’t even win one, I hope we get back. People don’t really appreciate it until you get there.”

The head coach at small liberal arts college in Nashville, Tenn., has put in close to three decades of work, building and growing his program. The hard work was part of the equation that’s led to an under-appreciated string of success. The other portion according to Byrd:

“We’ve been lucky.”

See what NC State freshman did to Abdul-Malik Abu’s arm

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 27:  Abdul-Malik Abu #0 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack drives to the basket as DaJuan Coleman #32 of the Syracuse Orange defends during the first half on February 27, 2016 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Rebounding can be a war at times. Even when it involves teammates.

NC State junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu, one of the best rebounders in the nation, showed up to ACC Media Day in Washington, D.C. earlier this week with battle scars from a recent drill with freshman forward Ted Kapita.

“When you’re battling for rebounds, there’s a lot of hand movements,” Abu said, according to Aaron Beard of the Associated Press. “And he has nails, so he’s just kind of like slicing through.”

Abu told reporters he had the first-year forward cut his nails shortly after the incident.

The 6-foot-8 Abu, the ACC’s top returning rebounder, averaged 12.9 points, 8.8 boards and 1.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore last season. Kapita is ranked as four-star recruit by Rivals.

The Wolfpack were picked to finish sixth in the loaded ACC.

Dana Altman: “No idea” if Dillon Brooks will be ready for season opener

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 24:  Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks dunks the ball in the first half while taking on the Duke Blue Devils in the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at the Honda Center on March 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Oregon enters the 2016-17 season as a projected top-5 team. A lot of those lofty expectations are dependent on the health of Dillon Brooks, an All-American caliber forward heading his junior year.

Brooks had surgery on his foot this offseason and is still not back at practice yet for the Ducks. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports spoke to Oregon head coach Dana Altman on Thursday. Altman is uncertain if he’ll have his star forward on the floor when the season tips in a few weeks.

“I have no idea,” Altman told FanRag Sports on Thursday when he was asked if Brooks would be ready for the season opener. “He’s out of the boot and he’s doing some non-contact stuff, but we still don’t know. He has another meeting scheduled with the doctor next week and we’ll go from there.”

The Ducks graduated Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin, but retained four starters, including rim protectors Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell, as well as Tyler Dorsey, who was third on the team in scoring as a freshman. They also add another ball handler in Dylan Ennis, who missed all but two games last season with a foot injury of his own.

But with a healthy Brooks, a nightmare matchup at a physical 6-foot-7, Oregon is a legitimate national championship contender.

Oregon begins the season on Nov. 11 against Army. Then after that, a meeting with arguably the best mid-major, Valparaiso, is sandwiched in between a pair of games with two potentially dangerous high-major teams in Baylor and Georgetown. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Pac-12 favorite, minus its star forward, could be slow out of the gates in 2016-17.

Mark Turgeon receives an extension from Maryland

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 18: Head coach Mark Turgeon of the Maryland Terrapins looks on against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in the first half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 18, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The University of Maryland announced on Thursday that Mark Turgeon’s contract would be extended through the 2022-23 season.

This adds four years to his previous deal. Turgeon is entering his sixth season at Maryland.

“I want to thank President [Wallace] Loh and [Director of Athletics] Kevin Anderson for their continued commitment and support of our program,” Turgeon said in a statement. “I am in this position because of the talented coaches and student-athletes that I have had the opportunity to work with over the past five years. Their commitment to our program is why Maryland Basketball continues to have an exciting and bright future.”

Once on the hot seat, Turgeon has gotten the Terrapins to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, the latter resulting in a spot in the Sweet 16. It was the first time in a decade he had reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, previously leading Wichita State to the Sweet 16 in 2006.

Maryland, a preseason top-25 team, lost four starters — Robert Carter Jr., Jake Layman, Diamond Stone and Rasheed Suliamon — from a season ago. But the Terps do retain Melo Trimble, one of the top lead guards in the nation, for his junior year.  Trimble will be surrounded by Damonte Dodd, Dion Wiley, Jaren Nickens, Duquesne grad transfer L.G. Gill and a quartet of four-star freshmen.

NBC Sports projected Maryland to finish sixth in the Big 10 this season.

RIP Vine: The best college basketball vines

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Today, Twitter announced that they are sending Vine – the six-second, looping videos that made so many people famous and so many things viral – into hospice care.

The social media service that helped usher in an era of Instagram videos, SnapChat and FaceBook live will not be a thing for much longer.

And that’s a shame.

Because there really was nothing better than a well-executed vine.

In remembrance, we are offering up the most memorable college basketball vines for your viewing pleasure (if we’ve missed any, leave a link in the comments or share it with us @CBTonNBC):

Kris Jenkins winning a title

Tony Parker kicking game at Allie LaForce

A quadruple ball-screen

Marshall Henderson is confused


The Wall of Distraction getting it done

Bill Self breaking his own watch

Dyshawn Pierre getting pantsed

You may never see a better dunk than this

Tom Crean doing Tom Crean things

Thad Matta being thrilled to see Tom Crean

Speaking of Coach Matta, what’s he been on, Amir?

Sterling Brown knew this shot was good

I still have no idea what Stephen Zimmerman is doing here

He mad

That time Jamal Murray murdered his teammate

That time Willie Cauley-Stein murdered a defender

That other time Willie Cauley-Stein murdered a defender

Georges Niang blowing a kiss to the Iowa student section

And not everyone likes him for it

That time Jarmal Reid tripped a ref

A world class flop from Armani Moore


Motor-Boatright Me

Florida walk-on Jacob Kurtz tipping in a buzzer-beater for … Florida State?

VIDEO: Listen to Tom Izzo speak at the funeral of Detroit columnist

Tom Izzo
AP Photo/Paul Beaty
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Drew Sharp, a longtime columnist for the Detroit-Free Press, died suddenly last week after attending Michigan State’s media day.

His funeral was on Thursday, and Tom Izzo, one of the people that Sharp covered, spoke at his funeral. The coach’s words were touching and sincere and worth listening to: