Dates: March 2-5
Site: University Center (Macon, Ga)
Championship game: Saturday, 6 p.m. on ESPN
Outlook: This thing’s a two-team race between Belmont and East Tennessee State. Sure, Mercer might pull off an upset like it did last year, but it’ll go down as a huge surprise if anyone but the top two teams play in the Big Dance.
The Bucs (21-10, 16-4) do a good job of forcing bad looks at the basket and block a fair number of shots. And they’ve got three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup, always a plus for would-be darkhorse teams.
Only bad part? Belmont’s been on another level.
The Bruins (27-4, 19-1) play a platoon system, where the five starters pressure the opponent until they’re gassed. Then the second five comes in and the Bruins usually pull away from foes. That’s how it works. Only one team forces more turnovers and only two block more shots. As an added bonus, they make nearly 38 percent of their 3s.
However, there is one important aspect to all of this. Lipscomb is the only A-Sun team to have beaten Belmont this year. That’s no small thing, especially when the Bisons have the conference’s best player.
Player to watch: Adnan Hodzic, Lipscomb
It’s simple. The 6-8 forward averages 18 points a game, grabs 7.5 rebounds and makes 57 percent of his shots. He’s hit double figures in all but two games this season and dropped 26 and 7 in a Jan. 25 win over Belmont. He turns in two games like that, and Lipscomb might make its first appearance in the Big Dance.
The Bruins are the heavy favorites for a good reason. (See above.) They’re deep, talented and relentless on defense. They didn’t get handed 19 conference wins. They earned ‘em.
That’s a dynamite team and one capable pulling off a massive NCAA tournament upset, much like Belmont almost did in 2008 against No. 2 seed Duke.
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