Missouri Valley Conference debut signals new era for Belmont University

Casey Alexander
Posted at 5:27 AM, Dec 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-01 06:27:59-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It is a new era for Belmont basketball. The Bruins will make their Missouri Valley Conference debut on Thursday against Valparaiso at 7 p.m. at the Curb Events Center.

It is a move that symbolizes the incredible success of the basketball program and the growth of the university and its appeal over the past two and a half decades. And it is a game that’s been circled on the calendars since the schedule was released at the end of the summer.

“Exciting times for Belmont,” head coach Casey Alexander said. “The move to the Missouri Valley Conference and kind of a new start and a lot of possibilities out there for us. We’re really excited and ready to get going.”

Belmont’s climb up the ranks of division one basketball has been swift. The Bruins transitioned from NAIA to the NCAA athletics in 1996. Five seasons later they joined the Atlantic Sun Conference, and under the leadership of legendary coach Rick Byrd went on to win five conference championships in 11 years in the league.

That success helped Belmont land an invitation to join the Ohio Valley Conference in 2012, but there was no drop off in success. The Bruins won the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in their first season in the league and grabbed at least a share of the regular season title in each of their first five seasons in the league. They would make two more NCAA appearances under Byrd before he passed the program off to Alexander, his former assistant, who guided his first three teams to two regular season championships and a tournament title.

In all, Belmont won 10 combined regular season and tournament championships in its decade in the OVC, never finishing lower than second in the standings. That level of success combined with the growth of the university made the school a target of Missouri Valley Conference expansion in the summer of 2021, and that move becomes a reality with tipoff tonight.

“Winning begets winning, I believe,” Alexander said. “We need to believe in who we are and what we’ve done and have confidence that we can continue to be the Belmont that everyone’s enjoyed us being over time, but at the same time, we have to understand it’s tougher. It’s going to be a lot more difficult to reel off win streaks, and win on the road and do the things that it takes in order to be a championship level team.

Life does figure to be more difficult in the MVC, which has produced multi-bids to the NCAA Tournament on multiple occasions and scored significant upsets in the Big Dance. The Bruins’ first MVC team is still coming together as well with eight new players on this year’s roster and starting point guard Keishawn Davidson returning from injury to play his first game of the season Sunday in a win at Georgia State.

Belmont (4-3) knows it won’t get any favors as the new kid on the block but is eager to show what it’s capable of on the bigger stage.

“All of the guys are super excited,” star guard Ben Sheppard said. “We’ve been on the road for a long bit here, so we’re excited to get back in the Curb and show the Valley what we’ve got.”

The road ahead will be long, but if the past is any indication Belmont is prepared to take another giant step and prove any of its doubters wrong. And it all starts with game one.

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