Checking In On… the Sun Belt

Posted by jstevrtc on November 28th, 2009

checkinginon

Laura Hathaway of the Clarion is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference.

Current Standings:

East Division

  1. South Alabama (5-2)
  2. Troy (3-2)
  3. Middle Tennessee (3-3)
  4. Western Kentucky (2-2)
  5. Florida Atlantic (2-3)
  6. Florida International (2-5)

West Division

  1. North Texas (3-1)
  2. Denver (3-1)
  3. Arkansas State (3-1)
  4. New Orleans (3-1)
  5. University of Louisiana-Monroe (3-3)
  6. Louisiana-Lafayette (1-2)
  7. University of Arkansas-Little Rock (1-4)

Conference play has not started in the Sun Belt and most teams have played around five games.  Heading into the second full weekend of match-ups, no teams in the conference are undefeated.  Nine of the 13 teams in the conference, however, have a winning percentage of .500 or better.

Western Kentucky lost by one point (63-64) on Tuesday night to Indiana State in a close game.  South Alabama is off to a great start in their season with the best record (5-2) among the Sun Belt’s members.  Their two loses come from Tulsa and Rice University.  Both Denver and North Texas had decisive wins earlier this week against Wyoming and Jackson State, respectively, advancing their win percentages to .750.

It is too soon to tell what teams will lead the conference since four western division teams are tied with 3-1 records. Things will obviously become clearer once conference play begins in the next two weeks.

This week’s conference player of the week is University of New Orleans senior guard Billy Humphrey.  Humphrey averaged 24.5 points and shot 94% from the free throw line to help the Privateers pick up wins against Southern-New Orleans and Texas State last week.

Team Summaries:

Arkansas State.  Arkansas State has started off well this season, winning both their exhibition games and the first three match-ups of the season.  They defeated MacMurray College, Southeast Missouri State, and Texas-El Paso.  None of the games had close scores as Arkansas scored at least 20 points more than each opponent.  The early season is shaping up to be a good one for the Red Wolves.  Last season, the team appeared to be on its way to the best season in three years but things fell apart midway through the season.  They started off at 5-4 in the conference and 13-7 overall but then lost nine consecutive conference games and 10 overall.  They finished the year second to last in the SBC. They will have some tough games ahead, but anything will be an improvement from how they wrapped up last season.

Arkansas-Little Rock.  The Trojans currently have the worst record in the SBC, and have lost to Ole Miss, Tulsa, Creighton, and Louisiana Tech.  Their only win this season comes from a game against St. Gregory’s where they outscored them 100-56.  Their other losses have not been close; they have a losing margin of around 20 points. Despite the slow start to the season, last year UALR was the powerhouse of the SBC’s West Division.  They had the best regular season record for two consecutive years, but have yet to win a conference title.

Denver.  The Pioneers are coming off one of their best seasons in recent years.  Denver is led by lone senior Nate Rohnert and is one of the youngest teams in the league.  They have defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Montana and Wyoming, now boasting a three-game win streak.  Denver has not hit the road yet and that is where they struggle most.  Last season, they broke their winless road game streak which had been going for two seasons, but they still struggle in road-game play.  To have another successful season, the Pioneers will have to be consistent on the road and at home.

Florida Atlantic.  It is too soon to tell but Florida Atlantic looks to bounce back after last year’s disappointing season.  They finished last in the SBC with a record of 2-16. Like the Pioneers, Florida Atlantic needs to focus on the performance away from the home court.  They did not win any road games last season.  This season Florida Atlantic has lost three games but also beat Manhattan and Southeastern Louisiana.  Friday night they lost to USF 78-58.  Their schedule includes some larger universities in the non-conference play, most of which are away.   

Florida International.  This season, FIU is looking to expand on the success they had last year. Florida International got past the first round of the playoffs but was knocked out by tournament champion Western Kentucky. So far, however, they are not doing as well as expected.  Along with South Alabama and Arkansas-Little Rock, FIU has lost to Tulsa.  But they also took on loses against UNC, Monmouth, James Madison, and Murray State.   

Louisiana-Lafayette.  The Ragin Cajuns have not left their home court in the Cajundome and have a 1-2 record. Their win was solid, but each loss was a close game.  Senior power forward Tyren Johnson, who led the team in rebounding and blocks, looks to be a big contributor for the Cajuns once again.  Louisiana-Lafayette had a mediocre season last year, but look to improve their conference record to a winning one.  This will require some of the players from last year to step up as they didn’t bring in too many new guys.

Louisiana-Monroe.  ULM has been going back and forth this season, basically alternating wins and losses. They have defeated Alcorn State, Grambling State and Centenary.  As with most teams in the SBC, Louisiana Monroe’s losses come from away games.  After displaying a league-low field goal percentage on both offense and defense, the Warhawks finished sixth in the west division of the SBC.  The Warhawks’ consist mostly of  junior college transfers or freshmen.  This season the Warhawks will have to make sure the majority of their players get the experience and confidence they need on the court to win games.

Middle Tennessee.  The Blue Raiders were projected to finish third in east division of the Sun Belt Conference.  They are led by senior forward Desmond Yates.  Yates has been on the Sun Belt Conference first team the past two seasons and was named to the Preseason All-Conference team this year.  Once again, their losses come from each road game, and their wins from the home games.  Friday night they smoked Cumberland 87-54 and had a close loss against Marshall last week, 60-63.

New Orleans.  The Privateers are beginning this season on a better note than last season.  After four straight losses last year, the team rebounded fairly well.  They entered the post-season tournament as the No. 11 seed, but lost in the first round to South Alabama.  UNO has a three-game win streak, their only loss coming from the season opener against Georgia.  They have defeated Southern-New Orleans, Texas State, and Mobile.

North Texas.  NT is starting this season as a winning one, as they have in recent years.  North Texas comes off three consecutive winning seasons.  The Mean Green had an exciting double-overtime game last week against UT-Arlington where they came out on top 101-99.  Continuing in road play, they lost to Oklahoma State and then beat Jackson State on Tuesday night.

South Alabama.  The Jaguars are picking up where they left off last season, which is with a winning record and playing competitively in the SBC.  South Alabama advanced to the SBC Tournament championship game only to lose to Western Kentucky 64-56 after a second-half comeback.  The Jaguars were predicted to finish fourth in the East Division; guard Tim Williams appears to be a playmaker for the team, which lost their top two leading scorers from last season.  The teams the Jaguars have defeated away are Houston Baptist and Sacramento State.  At home, South Alabama has beat Spring Hill, Alcorn State and Georgia State.

Troy.  The Trojans were picked to finish second in the SBC east division. This is the highest preseason ranking for Troy since they joined the conference four years ago.  Friday night they came back from their two-game losing streak by defeating UA Fort Smith on the road.  The Trojans scored more than 100 points in their wins against Piedmont and William Carey.  Four starters return to a squad that has a total of nine players with collegiate experience.  Senior guard Brandon Hazzard, who was voted to the SBC first team, leads the team as a captain and scoring leader.

Western Kentucky.  The Hilltoppers were picked to win the East Division of the SBC, a year after they won the East and the conference tournament.  Western Kentucky’s losses so far came from Indiana State and LSU.  The Hilltoppers came within three points of beating Indiana State and barely beat Cal State-Northridge a week ago, 68-67.  Western Kentucky takes on Tulane next week, a team to whom many other SBC teams have lost already.  Last year in the NCAA Tournament, the Hilltoppers represented the SBC well.  They upset Big Ten power Illinois in the first round and came within one play of upsetting No. 4-seed Gonzaga in the second round.  A.J. Slaughter was selected as the Preseason Player of the Year and heads the preseason All-Conference team.

Upcoming Games of Interest:

  • 11/29 – North Carolina State at NEW ORLEANS – 1 p.m.
  • 11/29 – ARKANSAS STATE at Indiana State – 2:05 p.m.
  • 11/30 – FLORIDA ATLANTIC at Albany – 6 p.m.
  • 12/2 – South Carolina at WESTERN KENTUCKY – 6 p.m.
  • 12/2 – Tulane at NEW ORLEANS – 7 p.m.
  • 12/3 – Florida A&M at FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL – 6:30 p.m.
  • 12/5 – Alabama at UNIVERISTY OF LOUISIANA-MONROE – 12 p.m.
  • 12/5 – DENVER at Colorado State – 8 p.m.
  • 12/6 – WESTERN KENTUCKY at Tulane – 1 p.m.
  • 12/7 – Texas A&M at NORTH TEXAS – 7 p.m.
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