The Valley is growing next year. First Belmont, then Murray State, and finally UIC were announced as new league members over the last few months. After Loyola leaves for the A-10, that will leave us with an all-time high of 12 teams in our conference. I am excited and expect a return to semi-regular multi-bid seasons for the Valley. L-E-T-S-G-O!
I tracked down supporters of all three of the newbie universities, and they were all cool enough to answer some questions for me. I asked about the experience of being a fan of that school, what we should know about their programs, and what Valley fans can do when they make a trip for a game. I started on Monday with a look at Murray State from die-hard fan. On Wednesday, I spoke with two UIC fans. Today we finish the series with a look at the OG newbies, the first new team announced, the Belmont Bruins. On my quest to find the right Belmont fan to talk with, multiple people pointed me in the direction of David Fish, or @fishy112, who has a lot of street cred with the Bruin faithful. I also spoke with the folks over at @BarstoolBelmont. Check out what they had to say below!
MVC Beat: Tell us about your team. Who are some of the guys we should know, both for this year and once you join the league? What about Coach Alexander?
David: This year’s team is special. Our starting lineup has more combined college minutes than 95% of Division I teams with Murphy & Moose (redshirt graduate students) who’ve been in the starting lineup since they were freshmen, graduate student transfer Luke Smith (in his 2nd year), a hard-nosed junior in Sheppard, and one of the most talented freshmen to wear a Belmont uniform since NBA Champion Ian Clark in Will Richard. Then, we have more veteran experience coming off the bench, mixed with some young talent. It’s a fun team to watch. As we look ahead to next year it’s hard losing two guys who’ve started their whole careers, and a total of 3 starters overall, but Belmont has been able to maintain and even grow on previous success each year, finding talent in places other schools overlook. It’s been said of some of the power five blue bloods… “we don’t rebuild; we just reload.” That's how Belmont is pretty much every year! And it’ll be exciting to play in a higher caliber league from top to bottom in the Missouri Valley, where two teams with good years can almost guarantee entry into the Big Dance – in contrast to the OVC where we earned the conference’s first at-large bid in over 30 years a couple seasons ago.
Coach Alexander bleeds Belmont and understands how to take talented, intelligent, high-character players and turn them into an unselfish team that doesn’t care who gets the credit – and he’s one of several solid coaching proteges of the legendary Rick Byrd, including Brian Ayers (who’s been on the sidelines at Belmont for over 20 years).
Barstool: Belmont is a fairly new and highly successful D1 Basketball Program. I would consider us a basketball school as we do not have a football team. We are rated one of the highest colleges in the country for music and we have some famous alma mater in the music industry. We are located smack dab in the middle of Nashville, TN. Our team this year returned basically everyone. It is a veteran team run down low by Nick Muszynski and up top by Grayson Murph. Murphy just set the record for most assists ever in the OVC and also was the #1 rebounding guard in the country last year. Our key players when we join the league will be Junior Ben Sheppard who just had 41 points in a thriller game and true freshman Will Richard who is already getting attention from NBA Scouts. Casey Alexander took on the head coach job a couple of years ago when our Hall of Fame coach Rick Bryd retired. Casey played and coached at Belmont so he knows how we want to play. I think he has done a solid job so far.
MVC Beat: What are some things about Belmont as an athletic department or university that fans of other MVC schools should know?
David: The bottom of our online press releases says it all: Belmont University men's basketball has earned postseason invitations 14 of the last 16 seasons, including nine berths to the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins have won 20 conference championships since 2006 - third-most nationally over that span (Gonzaga, Kansas). Belmont is one of only six NCAA Division I programs outside the Power 5 to post Top 100 rankings 11 consecutive seasons (BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary's (CA), San Diego State, Wichita State). Belmont University men's basketball boasts an NCAA-leading 18 CoSIDA Academic All-America selections since 2001 and is the only NCAA Division I program to make the NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) Honor Roll every year of existence.
The student section is knows as the Motivational Org. of Belmont (MOB) and started back in the 80’s before dying out and then being reignited again in 2001 under my leadership as a college sophomore. We had just made the jump from NAIA to NCAA Div. I in 1996, trying to land in a conference, finally found the A-Sun, struggled early to win games consistently, and maybe had 5-10 student fans at home games which had to be held downtown in run-down Municipal Auditorium from 2001-2003 after the legendary Striplin Gym was torn down to make way for the current, 5000-seat Curb Event Center. When we opened the Curb Event Center hosting Vandy in November 2003, we had OVER 800 students show up, which, at the time, was ½ of the on-campus student body! Since then, the student-presence at games has been strong and continues to grow along with the enrollment, which has grown by nearly 300% in 15 years.
Barstool: We have some fun traditions. I would say the Lipscomb rivalry games are always close to sold out and everyone goes to it. The Curb Event Center is an amazing place that can get pretty loud for a big game. We are also excited that Murray State is joining us. That rivalry is just way too good with tons of history around it. We just finished building the Crocket Center which is a state-of-the-art practice facility. Our fan base continues to grow. Belmont’s student population has grown vastly over the more recent years. Compared to established D1 programs, we are a fairly new one. I think our fan base will make a leap in the upcoming years.
MVC Beat: What are some of your best memories as a Belmont fan? And, if you’re willing to open an old scab, what are some of your most heartbreaking moments?
David: Too many to count. One of the best was being asked by the University President, Dr. Fisher, to identify 12 of the biggest student fans in 2006 and take them on an all-expense paid trip to San Diego to watch Belmont Basketball in their first-ever NCAA Tourney appearance vs. #2-seeded UCLA. That other Bruins team had 6 players that ended up going pro and we were WAY outmatched. But it was the trip of a lifetime as all 150 Belmont fans able to make the trip stood up the ENTIRE game, even when we fell behind by 30. We were just so proud to be there.
Another one of the best was in 2013 when Belmont opened the season at #12 North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I grew up a Tarheel fan, so this was a special game for me. I’d graduated almost 10 years prior and was working in the Alumni Relations Office at the time. Took a friend of mine and we made the 15-hour roundtrip to cheer on the Bruins. My friend got his 5-seconds-of-fame (which turned into 5 weeks of fame after this video went viral), and Belmont won the game with miraculous 3-point shooting.
I’ve been able to go to all but two of our NCAA Tournament games, many of which hosting dozens of students who earned the all-expense-paid trip from the University President. But it was awesome in Dayton during the First Four to be there when we finally got over the hump and won our first NCAA Tournament game… then had to turn around and play Maryland 36 hours later and missed a buzzer beating backdoor play that could’ve sealed the upset.
Barstool: Some of the best memories have to be punching the ticket to the dance. In 2020, We beat Murray by two points with a last second bucket. The scab is that March Madness was not played. In 2018, We played Murray in the OVC Championship and lost to Ja Morant. As much as it hurt, we ended up being a two-bid conference and it was awesome to see the team on TV find out when we did. We ended up winning our first tournament game ever. We lost to Maryland the next round by two points in a heartbreaker. (Editor’s note: Thank you for being one of two people total that I asked this question that actually talked about the scab, haha).
MVC Beat: If fans of other Valley schools come to Nashville to catch a game, what do you suggest they do? What are the best places to eat, grab a beer before/after the game and stay? What other attractions would you suggest when in town? What is the best way to get to the game?
David: Visit BelmontBruins.com to get tix in advance, of course. They’re reasonably priced and with only 5,000 seats, there’s not a bad seat anywhere in the Curb. Campus is not difficult to navigate… and we have so many underground parking garages you can always find a spot within short walking distance for free.
Otherwise, this PDF on the Belmont website has all the info a visiting fan would need to know.
Barstool: The curb is pretty easy to get into. We have plenty of options next to campus and on campus. For a sports bar vibe, Double Dogs is down the street from us. One of my favorite places right next to campus is Chago's Cantina. Great Mexican food and they have some great margaritas. We have quick bites on campus including Chick-Fil-A and McAlisters Deli. If you are in town for a longer time than the game, you have to go to the Broadway bars. There are so many options for hotels, restaurants, and bars you can honestly go/stay anywhere in Nashville.
MVC Beat: What do you think fans of other OVC schools think about Belmont? How would they describe your university, student-athletes, coaches and fans?
David: I think they despise us and hate the OVC for letting us in 10 years ago. Our men’s and women’s basketball teams have been 1 or 2 most every year and have dominated especially over the last several years. In fact, the other ADs and Presidents moved the conference tournament away from Nashville, where it’s been for decades, up to Evansville because they felt we had an unfair advantage. We actually never did because our students struggled to attend. The OVC tourney always fell on our spring break.
We even win off the court, winning the academic trophy nearly every year. We’re basically the Duke of the OVC… we get everyone’s best effort, always have a target on our back, are almost always picked to win the league, and still continue to come out on top most of the time.
We also have been honored with the sportsmanship trophy several times which is a testament to our coaches and our student athletes. And, we don’t have unruly, obnoxious fans – if anything, we’re spoiled by winning over 80% of our home games in the Curb since it opened 18 years ago!
Barstool: I think we are well respected throughout the conference. We are known for scoring a lot of points and being a hard team to beat.
MVC Beat: What do you know about the MVC? Do you have any thoughts on what you’ve seen or remembered about some of the accomplishments of the current and past MVC schools? What excites you about Belmont joining the league?
David: I know it’s a great fit for Belmont with the higher caliber in overall schools, more schools with winning traditions, and a more consistent level of success from top to bottom. I’m hopeful we can come in and immediately fall into the top 10% of the league, but it’ll certainly be tougher to pull that off. This upgrade to the MVC solidifies our presence in the upper ranks of Division I, and helps increase the likelihood of playing in the NCAA Tournament through better at-large bid opportunities (via higher average NET/RPI rankings in the conference).
Barstool: I know about Arch Madness. It will be fun to make the trip there. Loyola’s March Madness run was a huge accomplishment and helped put the conference on the map in my eyes. With Loyola leaving, I think Belmont will be one of the top dogs.
MVC Beat: What is the one thing that makes you most proud to be a Belmont alum and/or fan?
David: I’m proud of our student athletes. Like the old NCAA commercial used to say, “most of us are going professional in something other than sports.” That rings true for Belmont. We’re not yet recruiting full starting lineups of pro-talent and may never get to that point… but the reason is that we focus first on the student, then on that student’s character, then on their skills/talents on the court/field. I’m also proud of our Christian roots that remain a focus throughout the school and the athletic department – it’s a place that feels like a big family that loves and supports each other. And, if we can win a few championships along the way, that’s icing on the cake!
Barstool: I love how much the program has grown. I am excited for the new schools/fans to see the beautiful campus and the city of Nashville. Our success in such a short time as a program probably makes me the proudest.
MVC Beat: Thanks for answering my questions! Where can we find you online?
David: You can find me at @fishy112 on Insta and Twitter.
Also I’d like to plug the women’s program at Belmont. They’re REALLY good and have gotten to the point where they are setting their own records left and right. Since Bart Brooks took the helm, they’re 50-6 at home! And check this out…
“With four OVC regular season titles in the last five years, the Bruins [Women’s Basketball Program is] an impressive 132-24 (.846) in conference play since joining the league prior to the 2012-13 season. Including the conference’s postseason tournament, Belmont has gone 151-28 (.844) against OVC opposition with five league tournament crowns in the last six seasons. Since taking over the reins of the program in April of 2017, head coach Bart Brooks has led the Bruins to a remarkable 82-10 (.891) record against OVC opponents, including conference tournament games. Since the start of the 2012-13 season, the Bruins are 102-22 (.823) inside the Curb Event Center.” - Belmont Media Relations
Barstool: Find us at @BarstoolBelmont.
I want to say thank you to both of you for taking the time to answer my questions. I’d like to welcome all the Belmont fans, young and old, to the MVC. I’d also definitely like to welcome the city of Nashville to the MVC fold while I am at it. Note to the Valley brass: Please schedule UNI at Belmont on a weekend next year.
That is it for this series. I am considering doing something similar with fans from the current schools too, maybe over the summer. The next thing you’ll see from me, though, is a new set of power rankings that will come out following this weekend’s games. Thank you all for reading and GO VALLEY!