The Belmont Bruins (26-4, 18-2) ran roughshod through the Ohio Valley Conference during the regular season, setting the table for what appeared to be a dominating OVC Tournament run.
The 2021 event was supposed to be a redeeming moment for the Bruins, who were robbed of their national moment last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But an 86-71 loss to Morehead State in the OVC championship game likely stole that moment yet again.
Now, the Bruins wait with bated breath to see if their captivating regular-season run sufficiently impressed the NCAA Tournament selection committee to award them an at-large bid to the Big Dance.
"I don't feel like (we deserve a spot in the NCAA Tournament) at the moment," Belmont coach Casey Alexander said. "We can put our case together, but honestly, I don't think anyone cares what we think. I hope we have some basketball left to play somewhere. If we do, we'll be ready to go."
Working against Belmont is the sobering fact that mid-major programs seldom earn at-large bids. In addition, the Bruins played a weak non-league slate. Not to mention BU lost three of its last five games, including two against Morehead State in the span of nine days.
So if the Bruins are to be serious contenders in the eyes of the selection committee, their 26-4 overall record, their 21-game win streak during the regular season and their run of 30 straight OVC wins — a conference record — will have to suffice.
"You always want to finish," Alexander added. "That's the name of the game. But it doesn't overshadow what we did. We played really well for a long period of time and I'm proud of our full body of work.”
While an NCAA Tournnament invite is certainly a long shot at this point, it’s not unthinkable. Belmont was in a similar situation in 2019. Losing to a red-hot Murray State team in the OVC championship, Belmont earned the OVC’s first at-large bid since 1987 after boasting one of the better regular- season records in the country and sporting a 14-game win streak heading into their tilt with the Racers.
If the NCAA Tournament doesn’t pan out, the Bruins were adamant on still wanting to continue playing postseason basketball, which will likely mean playing in the NIT. Belmont has played in the NIT four times — 2004, 2014, 2016, 2017 — never making it past the quarterfinals.
In a normal year, BU would be headed to the NIT, as league winners that don't claim their conference tourney titles land automatic bids. But because of the reduced NIT field size of 16 teams due to coronavirus considerations, each team will be selected as an at-large participant. With no automatic qualifiers, Belmont's chances of an NIT invite, some feel, are less than strong — despite the outstanding overall season the Bruins fashioned.
"I love coaching this team and our guys want to play,” Alexander said. “One thing we learned from last season is you never want to lose the chance to play. If they give us that chance, we'll be ready to go. I trust this team will bounce back."
Added Nick Muszynski: "This is a really resilient group. If we get the opportunity to play in the NIT, we're going to take that and try to win that tournament."
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_