Like all but four coaches in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament, Belmont's Rick Byrd wishes he could have earned a higher seed than 14th in the Midwest Regional.
Unlike most coaches, Byrd sees a possible silver lining in his club facing No. 3 seed Georgetown today at 3:10 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio.
"Anything that places a chip on your shoulder," he noted earlier this week. "That's a good thing."
Another tough draw aside for the Atlantic Sun champs, few men have had a better thing going the last 26 years than Byrd at Belmont. He's won 637 games in that span, which means the Bruins are averaging 24.5 wins a season under Byrd.
Moreover, Belmont, Kansas and Memphis are the nation's only three schools to receive as many as five automatic NCAA bids in the past seven years. That's better than all four of this year's No. 1 seeds -- Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina and Syracuse -- as well as Duke.
Of course, Belmont almost beat Duke this season inside the Blue Devils' Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Bruins losing 77-76.
Not that Byrd necessarily saw the closeness of that defeat as a good thing.
"It probably didn't help overall," the coach said in explaining the Bruins' 27-7 record. "You can't take days off, and a couple of times we probably did that [after the Duke game]. We're always getting everybody's best shot [in the A-Sun]. I think it's accurate to say that everybody in our league would rather beat Belmont than anybody else."
The Bruins will be in a different league next year, the Ohio Valley Conference.
Given that OVC champ Murray State got a No. 6 seed while Belmont got a No. 14, Byrd was asked if he felt being in a different league might improve his seeding a year from now.
"Maybe an 11 or 12," he said. "I mean, we were 30-4 last year and got a No. 13 seed. But Murray's also had an amazing year. I really don't think it will make that much difference, not like it would if we were going to the Atlantic 10 or Missouri Valley, for instance."
But the Bruins players say Byrd never brings the seeding up as an excuse.
"Coach Byrd wants to win as badly as anyone I've ever seen," said Kerron Johnson, the MVP of the A-Sun tourney. "As a player, we enjoy that and feed off of that. To see how badly he wants it makes us want to play that much harder for him."
Johnson also wanted to clear up any misconception that the team was proud of its near-miss at Duke five months ago.
"The Duke game was important, in that we proved that we could play with a tremendous, national program on their court and be right there," said Johnson. "But we proved that last year and the year before that. We're past moral victories, and hanging around with teams like Duke."
If that sounds like it could be the shoulder chip Byrd is hoping for, so be it.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...