Belmont has been to the NCAA tournament enough that it finally gets to face an opponent for the second time.
The next step is for the Bruins need to find a way to get to a second game.
“You know, people gauge success in basketball on tournament success a lot of times,” coach Rick Byrd said. “I could say to you that winning our conference regular season five out of seven times is a better accomplishment than getting an occasional NCAA tournament win and not doing as well regularly.
“But what people remember are NCAA tournament wins.”
For its fifth NCAA appearance in seven years (its last as the Atlantic Sun Conference representative) Belmont (27-7) was tabbed as the 14th seed in the Midwest Regional and matched up with Georgetown (23-8), the third seed, in a game to be played Friday at Columbus, Ohio.
The Bruins are 0-4 all-time in the tournament, which includes an 80-55 loss to Georgetown in 2007. They also are one of just three schools (Kansas and Memphis are the others) to earn an automatic bid into the 68-team field at least five times since 2006.
“I feel like every year you think that that’s going to be the team,” senior guard Drew Hanlen said. “This year we’ve focused in on not only making the NCAA tournament but actually winning games. We’ve had a great couple days of practice after the A-Sun tournament and we got better at things we need to get better on to give ourselves a chance.”
They were a popular choice among many analysts to deliver a first-round upset last year, when they earned a program-best No. 13 seed. They lost by 14 to Wisconsin.
The Bruins were a 15 seed in each of their first three trips. They lost by 34 to UCLA in 2006 and by 25 to Georgetown in 2007 but then lost by one to Duke in 2008, a game in which they had a shot at the end of the game to win.
“I think the last two years have been the best two teams we’ve had,” Byrd said. “Nothing against those teams. They got us in the tournament three straight years and almost beat Duke and were very good teams.
“This team is more competitive on a national basis than those teams were, I think.”
On the other hand, Georgetown, ranked 14th in the country, has a storied tournament history.
The Hoyas won a national championship in 1984 with a team led by Patrick Ewing and have earned a spot in the field for the sixth time in seven seasons and the 28th time overall. Their coach is John Thompson III, the son of legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson.
They have, however, failed to win a game in their last two NCAA appearances. They were upset by a 14 seed, Ohio, in 2010 and by an 11 seed (and eventual Final Four participant), Virginia Commonwealth, last season.
“Of course, they play in the Big East so they’re kind of one of those powerhouse teams,” guard Ian Clark said. “But I think if we come out and play like we’ve been playing it’s going to be a good matchup for us.
“… I think we’re really ready. It’s been five times we’ve been to the NCAA tournament and, of course, there’s the beauty of getting there and everybody’s excited with the selection show and us winning our conference. But there comes a time when we need to buckle down and win some games.”
Simple logic suggests that he more times they go, the more likely it is to happen. Eventually.
“I think the more times that you’re there, both in terms of the program — which is five — and in terms of the current group — which for almost all of them this is their second year — I can’t imagine that doesn’t help them feel more comfortable,” Byrd said. “… I still say it’s a difficult task. Georgetown didn’t try to recruit any of our guys and none of their guys would come to Belmont. So we’re playing against some awful good players.”