The newest edition of the Three-Point Play is officially here, which of course means that you should stop what you’re doing and get caught up on all the basketball going on around Nashville.
With Christmas just weeks away, consider this an early gift to everyone around you. Instead of spending money on a present, just give them all of your Nashville hoops knowledge.
Let’s jump right in.
1) Belmont takes both rounds in the Battle of the Boulevard
The Battle of the Boulevard is something special. Any basketball fan in Nashville can tell you that.
And more often than not, the games are competitive. The records usually don’t matter. It’s Belmont vs. Lipscomb. And that’s all you need to know.
If you blinked, you might have missed the two Battle of the Boulevard games this season.
After Belmont won the first meeting on December 1, the two teams turned right around less than a week later at Allen Arena.
Although the location changed, the result stayed the same.
Yes, the Bruins won again. And just like before, Belmont did it by scoring points. A lot of them.
Rick Byrd’s team won the first game 105-89. They won the second game 93-84. The theme for the Bruins has remained the same, especially when it comes to the Battle of the Boulevard.
Lipscomb is not a terrible team. Sure, the Bison are 3-8 on the season with four straight losses. But three of those involved Belmont and South Carolina, a team that remains undefeated.
Rather than focusing on Lipscomb’s struggles, it’s more important to note this: Belmont just knows how to score points against the Bison. And a lot of other teams.
That’s why the Bruins’ 60-57 loss at Valparaiso in between the two Battle of the Boulevard games is even more head-scratching now. 19 turnovers in that one did not help the cause, but for a team that is now averaging nearly 85 points per game, it was certainly unusual.
But bouncing back against Lipscomb makes things better. And while all the pre-season attention went to reigning OVC Player of the Year Craig Bradshaw, it’s junior forward Evan Bradds that is gaining the most recognition due to his outstanding start to the year.
Bradds is averaging almost 20 points per game, which is a great number in and of itself.
Even more impressive than that? He’s shooting almost 75% from the floor. He shot 90% in going 9 for 10 from the field against Lipscomb in the most recent game. How ridiculous is that?
So not only does Belmont have the reining conference player of the year, but they also have a guy that is making three out of every four shots that he takes.
Every team in the OVC will soon realize what Lipscomb did during this year’s rivalry: stopping Belmont is nearly impossible at times.
2) Vandy with its back against the wall for first time this season
Everything was going so well for Vanderbilt.
The Commodores marched out of Maui disappointed due to coming up just short to Kansas in the championship game, but the secret was out. Vandy was a true contender.
Fast forward to the present. Kevin Stallings’ team is riding a two-game losing streak and will be without star forward Luke Kornet for six weeks.
You could label Vandy’s road loss to Baylor on Sunday as unfortunate. The Commodores fell 69-67 in large part due to getting manhandled on the defensive boards.
The Bears, easily one of the best rebounding teams in the country, held nothing back in grabbing 20 offensive rebounds against Vandy. There’s no doubt that it was the main reason between winning and losing.
But that was a road loss to a Top 25 team. The sky wasn’t falling.
However, Wednesday night’s 72-67 home loss to Dayton was different. It provided a feeling that something a bit deeper was wrong with this team.
When Stallings entered the post-game press conference, he made the problem known rather quickly.
“We have to play harder,” he said. “We came out in the second half and literally on defense we were walking around.”
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that’s not good.
To lose a game due to a lack of effort is the worst thing that can be said about a team. This wasn’t just any team. This was a team that was a Baylor win away from likely being in the Top 10 in the country.
To go from that possibility on Sunday to likely being unranked and not playing hard enough to win is a serious concern.
Luckily for this team, they get 10 days off before their next game against Wofford.
If Vandy wants to the contender that myself and many others hyped them up to be prior to this week of massive struggles, it must correct these significant problems.
The good news is that it doesn’t take much to fix effort. You simply have to make the choice to play harder.
How the Commodores react will definitely be a major factor in how far they can go this season.
3) MTSU quietly off to hot start
The MTSU Blue Raiders are 6-2 as of this writing. You might not know that considering what Vandy and Belmont have been doing this season.
But make no mistake about it, MTSU is clearly legit. The Blue Raiders won the Great Alaska Shootout over Thanksgiving weekend, and their only two losses are to Murray State and VCU. Not exactly losses to be concerned about.
However, MTSU faces its biggest chance to make a name for itself on Saturday when it plays Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers at Bridgestone Arena.
Auburn comes in at 4-1 and is looking to jump into the top half of the SEC this season. The most interesting thing about the Tigers’ season is that, like Belmont and Vandy, they’ve had no trouble scoring.
Pearl’s squad is sixth in the country in scoring with 90.2 points per game. The competition hasn’t been great thus far, but there’s no doubt that Auburn is a much-improved team in his second year on the Plains.
This is an excellent opportunity for MTSU to pad its resume. The Conference USA season will bring about some challenges, and a game like this will obviously help the Blue Raiders prepare.
Of course, while Auburn will be a big test, it doesn’t get any easier for Kermit Davis’ team.
After Auburn? MTSU hosts Belmont on December 17.
I’d say there’s a good chance that the defense will be tested in these next two games considering how many points Auburn and Belmont are putting up these days.
This week’s mid-state schedule:
Cumberland at Lipscomb – 7:30 PM CT
Auburn at MTSU – 12 PM CT
Princeton at Lipscomb – 4 PM CT
Ouachita Baptist at Belmont – 7 PM CT
The Golden State Warriors? Still good, and as of this writing, still undefeated.
The duo of former Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli and Belmont guard Ian Clark continue to roll right along in making their presence felt for what could potentially be the greatest team in the history of basketball.
That wouldn’t be a bad accomplishment for the former Nashville basketball superstars to have on their career resume.
Anything else I need to know about in Nashville hoops this week? Let me know on Twitter.