Tuesday Preview: Belmont at Middle Tennessee

December 12th, 2011
It's finals week for many of the nation's colleges, which means a lighter schedule with regards to both quantity and quality. But there is a good matchup to keep an eye on Tuesday night as Belmont (6-2), winners of six straight, visits Middle Tennessee (9-2) in their second meeting of the season. Rick Byrd's Bruins haven't lost since opening the season with games at Duke and Memphis, and with a rotation that goes ten deep they're a tough team to defend.

Belmont averages 71.2 possessions per game and they're quite efficient offensively with an efficiency rating of 117.9 while turning the ball over on just 16.1% of their possessions. Guards Kerron Johnson (15.3 ppg, 5.9 apg), Ian Clark (11.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg) and Drew Hanlen (9.3 ppg, 3.8 apg) start on the perimeter for the Bruins, with Johnson being their most-used player according to kenpom.com.

Johnson's not going to be called upon to knock down a large number of his shots from beyond the arc, but his 54.9% field goal percentage speaks to his ability to find quality shots inside the arc. Clark and Hanlen are two of Belmont's best three-point shooters with sophomore J.J. Mann providing 12.9 points per game off the bench. He'll also get to take shots from deep, and the better Belmont is from deep the better they are inside with Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders.

Hedgepeth and Saunders combing to average 18.6 points per game with Hedgepeth leading the team in rebounding with an average of 7.9 caroms per contest. As a team the Bruins out-rebound the opposition by 3.3 rebounds per game, and Middle Tennessee is right there with a margin of plus-3.4. But Belmont's been the better of the two at hitting the offensive boards, and with the Blue Raiders allowing opponents to grab 13.7 offensive rebounds per game this is an area to keep track of.

Kermit Davis' team may average three fewer possessions per game but that doesn't mean that they can't score. Middle Tennessee is averaging 77.8 points per game (Belmont averages 84.0) and shoots 53.5% from the field, a number that is tied for tops in the nation (Campbell). Forward LaRon Dendy (14.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg) leads the way offensively while guard Marcos Knight (13.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.9 apg) and forward J.T. Sulton (12.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg) are also averaging double figures.

But if there's any one area that the Blue Raiders really need to be concerned with it's turnovers, because Belmont does a good job of forcing the tempo. Belmont's opponents are averaging 15.5 turnovers per game and Middle Tennessee turns the ball over an average of 15.3 times per contest. Either way that works out to a turnover on 22% of their possessions, and if Middle Tennessee can't push the Bruins closer to that number than their season average (16%) they could be in trouble at home.

Middle Tennessee has also done a good job of getting to the foul line, boasting a free throw rate of 52.0 while Belmont enters the game with a rate of 37.7. The Blue Raiders need to attack the basket offensively and not settle for jumpers, but they'll also need to shoot better than their 64% mark for the season. The first game between the two (also in Murfreesboro) went two overtimes before the Bruins won 87-84. The same could happen Tuesday night, and the Blue Raiders will hope to avoid going 16-for-30 from the foul line again.

Also of note is Wisconsin's trip to Milwaukee to take on Rob Jeter's Panthers in a game that will offer a nice test for the Badgers. Jordan Taylor failed to make a field goal against UNLV but that was alright as Ben Brust was hot off the bench with 25 points. Guard Kaylon Williams leads a balanced attack for Milwaukee, but while they're averaging four more possessions per game they aren't scoring as effectively as the Badgers. That could be an issue in what will be a half-court slugfest.

Top 25 Games
8:00 PM (16) Wisconsin at Milwaukee (BTN)
9:00 PM Florida Atlantic at (18) Mississippi State (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Arkansas-Pine Bluff at (19) Michigan (ESPN3)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Boston University at Villanova (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Spalding at Chattanooga
7:00 PM Drexel at Niagara
7:00 PM North Carolina A&T at UCF
7:00 PM Rochester College at Oakland
7:00 PM Presbyterian at South Carolina (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Dartmouth at IPFW
8:00 PM Nicholls State at Texas (LHN)
8:00 PM Point University at Alcorn State
8:00 PM Belmont at Middle Tennessee
8:00 PM Bethel (TN) at Tennessee-Martin
8:00 PM Michigan Tech at Green Bay
9:00 PM Central Michigan at Minnesota (ESPN)
9:00 PM UCSB at San Diego
9:00 PM UC Irvine at Wyoming (The Mtn.)
10:00 PM UIC at Oregon State (Root NW)
10:00 PM Pacifica College at Santa Clara
10:00 PM Jackson State at Saint Mary's