Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2010

Daniel Spewak is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference.

A Look Back: News and Notes

  • The wait is over for Florida International. Jeff Goodman of FoxSports reported Tuesday that freshman forward Dominique Ferguson, a consensus top-100 recruit, is eligible for the second semester. Earning a start in his debut against Florida A&M Wednesday night, Ferguson missed nine of 12 shots from the field. Coach Isiah Thomas’ other high-profile freshman, point guard Phil Taylor, likely will not join the squad this season after also sitting out the first semester. But after adding Ferguson to the mix with six new transfers from the Division I and juco ranks, Thomas should have more than enough to work with in the East division.
  • Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald dismissed point guard Ken Brown after nine games because of a “violation of a team academic policy.” Brown led the team in turnovers and hadn’t been the answer to WKU’s point guard problems, but he also led the team in assists and may have been the Hilltoppers’ quickest guard.  He appeared to have a bright future with the program, but his departure will now mean more minutes for sophomore Jamal Crook. Freshman Snap Peters, who’s played the point sparingly early in the season, will also see time at the position.
  • Troy’s leading scorer, Vernon Taylor, went down with an injury in a win over Western Michigan Tuesday. He missed Troy’s loss to Idaho State Thursday night, but he’s not expected to miss extended time.
  • The SBC must have ACC-syndrome. That’s the only explanation for why Florida Atlantic began conference play Dec. 16 with an 82-77 overtime win at Troy, two weeks before the rest of the Sun Belt kicks off. FAU won at Louisiana-Monroe three days later and now sits at 2-0 in the league. League competition begins for everyone else next week.

Shoutout Section

  • Ray Taylor is his old self again. Suspended for the season opener because of disciplinary problems, the FAU point guard did not start his first game until the SBC opener at Troy. He’s made the most of his return to the starting lineup, averaging 18.3 points per game during the past three contests. Considering he’s barely left the floor in those games, it’s obvious that he’s back on coach Mike Jarvis’ good side.
  • Taylor’s teammate, Brett Royster, isn’t scoring very much this season. At 7.6 points per game, he’s hardly worthy of our pre-season First-Team All-Conference selection, right? Not exactly. The reigning SBC Defensive Player of the Year has actually elevated his game defensively and has blocked an astonishing 26 shots in his past five games. Excluding Dominique Ferguson, who’s only played one game, Rosyter leads the Sun Belt in blocks by nearly two per game. And among players who have appeared in at least 10 games, Royster is fourth nationally in blocked shots.
  • Denver freshman Chris Udofia scored a career-high 14 points in a win over Northern Colorado Dec. 18. He followed up that performance in another victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff with 10 points in 22 minutes. Teammate Travis Hallam, a former high school rival of Udofia’s, had high praise for the freshman’s freakish athleticism in a television interview with Fox Sports Net after the UNC victory. Udofia’s minutes should continue to increase into league play.
  • Augustine Rubit is on fire. He’s recorded a double-double in three of South Alabama’s past four games and has grabbed at least 12 rebounds in each of those contests. Rubit tallied 18 rebounds against Georgia Southern and 17 against Alcorn State. And he’s only a freshman, too.

Quote of the Week

“That sad thing is that it was two of our, supposedly, better shooters in Regis (Huddleston) and Travis (Lee). They were just terrible from the 3-point line. They couldn’t hit a shot. I don’t know what the reason was, but if they hit any shots at all, we win the game. I’m not putting the blame on them, I don’t think any one person loses a game, but they could have won it for us.”

–Troy coach Don Maestri after a 77-73 loss to Idaho State

Power Rankings

East

1. Western Kentucky (5-7): Louisville just put up 114 points on WKU—at home. Ken Brown’s off the team. And the Hilltoppers are two games under .500 and blew every opportunity to bolster their resume against top competition by losing games to Minnesota, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Memphis and Murray State. It may be overkill to use the word “disastrous,” but that’s the term frustrated WKU fans may use to describe the non-conference season. In fact, Hilltopper Haven, one of the main message boards for Western Kentucky, polled its users about the fate of coach Ken McDonald—and 24 of 32 respondents want to “fire him immediately.” The 5-7 start hasn’t been pretty, and watching Louisville make 16 three-pointers had to have been discouraging. The fans are frustrated with a perceived lack of effort, but we’ve got a message for them: stay patient. WKU has one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the nation, and the only thing we’ve learned from these first 12 games is that Western Kentucky won’t be making the top-25 any time soon. If the shaky play continues next week, it’ll be time to be worried.

Up Next: Jan. 1 at Arkansas State, Jan. 6 vs. Denver, Jan. 13 at Troy

2. Florida Atlantic (8-6, 2-0): It wasn’t easy, but Florida Atlantic found a way to open the Sun Belt season with two road victories. After outlasting Troy in overtime Dec. 16, FAU escaped Louisiana-Monroe three days later with a 60-58 win after Tommy Sykes missed two free throws with 0.2 seconds on the clock. Known for its high-flying offensive attack, Florida Atlantic is showing the ability to win games at slower tempos this season. This is a different team defensively than last season, which has helped FAU grind out wins even when it hasn’t done the job offensively.

Up Next: Dec. 30 vs. Manhattan, Jan. 3 vs. Florida Memorial, Jan. 6 vs. South Alabama

3. South Alabama (5-5): The Jaguars didn’t fare very well against SEC and Big East schools early in the month, but they’ve responded with a three-game winning streak by defeating Houston Baptist, Georgia Southern and Alcorn State. Those three teams have a combined five victories, but USA will at least enter conference play with a little momentum. Augustine Rubit’s mini-tear has helped, but we’ll see if the freshman’s 6 foot 6 frame holds up in conference play. He did have 15 points and 14 rebounds against Louisville from the big, bad Big East.

Dec. 27 vs. Mobile, Dec. 30 at Arkansas State, Jan. 2 vs. Middle Tennessee

4. Florida International (5-6): Former Kentucky and Illinois guard Alex Legion has joined the team for the second semester, and freshman stud Dominique Ferguson is now academically eligible. So how can we rank the Golden Eagles fourth in their own division? There are still question marks for Isiah Thomas’ team. It has beat only three Division I schools this season and most of its roster is either a junior college or D-I transfer. Legion signed with Kentucky out of high school as a big-time recruit, but he’s never caught fire during his career, and Ferguson had never played a game until Wednesday night. Thomas, who finished 7-25 in his first season, is another unknown as a college coach. Still, if all the pieces come together for FIU, there’s no telling how good this squad could be.

Up Next: Dec. 28 at Utah Valley, Jan. 2 at Louisiana-Monroe, Jan. 6 vs. Arkansas State

5. Middle Tennessee (4-8): Kermit Davis’ team took a bit of a tumble during the past two weeks, losing four straight games. Middle Tennessee fell apart in a 15-point loss to Furman Dec. 12 and then lost at Evansville by two points– after beating the Aces at home earlier in the season. The Blue Raiders have struggled to find consistent scoring, but their 4-8 record is a little deceiving. They’ve lost in overtime twice, lost to Evansville on a buzzer-beater and have been blown out in only three losses.

Up Next: Dec. 29 vs. Tennessee State, Kan. 2 at South Alabama, Jan. 5 vs. North Texas

6. Troy (2-10, 0-1): The Trojans can’t play without leading scorer Vernon Taylor much longer. If he’s back for the start of Sun Belt play, his team can’t be taken lightly on any night. Despite the horrid record, Troy hasn’t been a pushover for anyone. Florida Atlantic knows that as well as anyone after the Trojans forced overtime. Coach Don Maestri’s track record can’t be questioned, and this team showed signs of life in an overtime win at Western Michigan Tuesday. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of firepower on this team at the moment, especially without Taylor.

Up Next: Dec. 23 at Utah State, Jan. 6 at Louisiana-Lafayette, Jan. 8 at Arkansas-Little Rock

West

1. North Texas (10-2): LSU doesn’t have Shaquille O’Neal, Pistol Pete or Tyrus Thomas on its roster anymore, and the Tigers will probably slide to the bottom of the SEC West this winter. But that doesn’t make North Texas’ 75-55 win in Baton Rouge Wednesday night any less satisfying for anyone involved. Against the inexperienced Tigers, the grizzled Mean Green veterans dominated from start to finish and won the game with stifling defense and efficient offense. North Texas missed just one free throw and held LSU to less than 37 percent from the field. That has to please coach Johnny Jones, a former LSU point guard. North Texas has now ripped off three straight wins after a humbling loss at Sam Houston State by recommitting itself to the defensive end.

Up Next: Dec. 28 vs. Panhandle State, Dec. 30 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, Jan. 1 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

2. Arkansas State (4-8): The record hasn’t exactly reflected it yet, but Arkansas State is improving with each week. After starting 1-6—a stretch that included a 33 point loss to Belmont—ASU has won three of five games, with two respectable losses at Georgia and Missouri State. This team still has issues. Most notably, Donald Boone hasn’t been the scorer we all expected him to be. And this team still can’t quite put everything together. In stretches, Arkansas State has played very well: in second-half rallies against UGA and Missouri State, in an overtime loss to Memphis, and in the first half of the season opener against Mississippi.

Up Next: Dec. 28 vs. Central Baptist, Dec. 30 vs. South Alabama, Jan. 1 vs. Western Kentucky

3. Arkansas-Little Rock (7-6): Steve Shields has won four division titles at UALR, so last season’s 8-22 record was an anomaly. That’s evident here in 2010-11, as the Trojans are one of the league’s more improved squads. After losing at Oral Roberts by 26 in November, Arkansas-Little Rock got revenge with a three-point win in Las Vegas Wednesday night. At 7-6, UALR has overachieved with solid point guard play, leadership from its four seniors and an improved defensive effort. The Trojans have lost only once at home, to Mississippi.

Up Next: Dec. 23 vs. Stetson, Dec. 30 at North Texas, Jan. 2 at Denver

4. Denver (4-9): The team that donned the Denver uniforms in November is not the same team that’s playing now. The Pioneers have won two straight games and cannot be taken lightly in SBC play. Joe Scott’s teams normally run the Princeton offense as effectively as anyone, but early in the season it hadn’t been crisp enough for his liking. In two home wins over Northern Colorado and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the entire offense has improved. Chris Udofia’s giving Denver a lift off the bench, and the three-pointers are starting to fall—DU made 10 against UNC and nine against Pine Bluff. Travis Hallam, who’s scored at least 17 points in the past three contests, also seems to be developing into a go-to scorer.

Up Next: Dec. 30 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Jan. 2 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, Jan. 6 at Western Kentucky

5. Louisiana-Lafayette (2-9): Bob Marlin finally has a full team. With Josh Brown and Travis Bureau back in the lineup, ULL beat Lamar and lost by just six points to a New Mexico State team that beat the Rajun Cajuns by 16 on their home floor in November. Thanks to a rash of personnel issues, Louisiana-Lafayette suffered through a seven-game losing streak before beating Lamar, but Marlin’s squad may have seen the worst of its season. Much like Don Maestri’s Troy squad, it’s hard to bet against the proven success of Marlin. As his players continue to get acclimated to him—and as they get healthier– there’s a chance for ULL to move up the standings.

Up Next: Dec. 30 at Denver, Jan. 1 at North Texas, Jan. 6 vs. Troy

6. Louisiana-Monroe (4-9, 0-1): After letting the game get out of hand early against UTEP in a blowout loss, the Warhawks responded with two encouraging performances last week. First, they nearly knocked off East contender Florida Atlantic in its SBC opener. Then, they edged Northern Colorado at home, holding one of the nation’s better three-point shooting teams to just 33 percent from beyond the arc. ULM was even able to win the game with do-it-all guard Fred Brown on the bench for much of the game due to foul trouble. He took only six shots and scored 10 points, allowing for forward Lawrence Gilbert to explode for 28 points. That’s great news for a team that must find other options besides Brown.

Up Next: Dec. 29 at Stephen F. Austin, Jan. 2 vs. Florida International, Jan. 4 vs. Union

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Morning Five: 12.14.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 14th, 2010

  1. You know it’s coming every week, and yet you still get excited when you see the words:  Seth DavisHoop Thoughts.  In this week’s edition, Davis breaks down 26 of the nation’s teams from the perspective of whether they can make foul shots, and he comes up with some interesting conclusions by looking at contenders through that prism.  He also has some insider information on page two of his piece about Kyrie Irving’s toe injury that you’re going to want to read, especially if you’re a Duke fan interested in reading tea leaves.
  2. Clemson guard Demontez Stitt had arthroscopic surgery on Monday to clean out his left knee and will miss several weeks as he rehabilitates it.  The senior guard is having a productive season, hitting for 14/3 in nearly 31 minutes per game for the Tigers.  The schedule lightens up for his 5-4 squad during the time he is projected to be out of the lineup, with only a troublesome game at College of Charleston as a potential pitfall.  Brad Brownell hopes to have him back in action for their second ACC game against Miami (FL) on January 8.
  3. It’s no secret that Xavier’s 6-2 start to the 2010-11 season represents a little bit of fool’s gold because the Musketeers have already escaped with two overtime wins over IUPUI and Wofford (3OT) and dropped early contests to ODU and Miami (Ohio).  Paul Daugherty writes that XU’s struggles in the pre-conference season are a result of identity searching for a team who lost some very good players in the form of Jordan Crawford and Jason Love.  Still, who among us is willing to bet against the Musketeers figuring out their strengths and causing major problems for the A-10 and the rest of the country by March?
  4. It’s not often that you hear of a school offering to forfeit games that they’ve already won, but Arkansas State is proposing that very thing to the NCAA in its summary disposition report to the NCAA Infractions Committee.  As a result of inadvertently using several ineligible players who were not making satisfactory progress toward their degrees a few years ago, the Red Wolves program is offering to cut a basketball scholarship for the upcoming two years and give back 27 wins that they earned in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.  Could you imagine Kentucky or Connecticut doing something like that?
  5. There’s very little else going now, so presumably we’re going to talk about the long-awaited debut of point guard Josh Selby for Kansas all week.  Mike DeCourcy notes that Bill Self said in his teleconference on Monday that Selby is unlikely to start in KU’s weekend game versus USC, and that he will probably play off the ball for most of his first game as a Jayhawk.  Even though much has been written in the weeks leading up to his debut about his Rivals #1 ranking, it’s peculiar that two other scouting services rated Selby as low as #12 in the Class of 2010 rankings.  We’re sure he’s going to be a great Jayhawk in time, but maybe we also shouldn’t get too caught up in the hype machine this week until, you know, we’ve actually seen the kid play.
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The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Arthur Agee

Posted by rtmsf on September 3rd, 2010

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: an Interview Series, which we hope to publish weekly on Friday mornings throughout the year.  If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Arthur Agee is one of the inimitable names in basketball circles for his excruciatingly real portrayal of a hotshot recruit with dreams of the NBA in one of the greatest documentaries of all-time, Hoop Dreams.  The movie tracked Agee and his Chicago compatriot, William Gates, as they moved through the shady underworld of high school basketball star-making and college basketball recruiting in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Agee, the player who seemed more likely to end up on the wrong path as a result of his tough home life, ended up winning the Chicago Public League championship in 1991 and attending Arkansas State on scholarship.  While he nor Gates never made it to the NBA, they both have found meaning through their experiences captured on film to pass on their lessons to youngsters in the community: Gates as a pastor, and Agee as a motivational speaker who travels around the country inspiring students to follow their “hoop dreams” in all walks of life.  Agee was kind enough to speak with us last week.

Rush The Court: Arthur, talk to us a little bit about what you’re doing these days with your foundation (Arthur Agee Foundation) and your upcoming Hoop Dreams Tour (@HoopDreams2010 on Twitter) in October.

Arthur Agee: My Arthur Agee role model foundation involves me speaking and doing motivational things for kids.  The tour coming up with Mike Brown at Hoop Connection will have us traveling around from city to city [scheduled cities: Chicago, Orlando, Dallas, Sacramento] in October to help young athletes in those places pursue their hoop dreams.  We’ll be picking one person in each of those places to tell his or her story about their struggle and try to help them achieve their hoop dream — whether it’s a scholarship to college, a job in coaching or whatever else.  Our hope is that a reality televison show will pick it up and air what happens while we’re on this tour.

Agee Reached his Athletic Pinnacle at Marshall, But Much More Was on the Way

RTC: It’s amazing that this low-budget independent movie still has so much resonance over fifteen years later.  We hear from basketball fans regularly that it’s their favorite movie of all-time.  Can you discuss how you’re trying to use the opportunities it is still providing for you now?

AA: Well, realize that my family didn’t see any money from “Hoop Dreams” the movie.  Maybe $150,000 to $200,000.  The filmmakers saw it as a stepping stone project for themselves, but often times we were forgotten about.  That said, they have authorized me to use the name Hoop Dreams to brand it.  A consultant we talked to says there might be about $4 million left in it, so we got permission from the filmmakers to start a full clothing line — sneakers, hats, and so on.  So that’s the business challenge that I’m currently facing with it — branding Hoop Dreams and making it profitable.

RTC: What about the movie itself?  What has changed from those days and what life lessons can you give to young people today as a result of your experiences?

AA: Well, the basketball landscape has changed.  From the mid-90s until a few years ago, you could jump straight to the NBA from high school.  But the statistics on actually making it to the pros is really small.  Kids should be thinking about the primary goal to get a scholarship to college, and let the rest take care of itself.  I use a phrase, “Education is a necessity… basketball is a privilege,” and it’s true.  In the movie we did a couple of years ago, “Hoop Reality,” which was a fifteen-year follow-up to “Hoop Dreams,” I helped Patrick Beverley achieve his hoop dream.  We focused on him in the movie, and he eventually went to Arkansas on a scholarship and just recently signed a $1.5 million deal with the Miami Heat.  At Arkansas State, I had to do everything on my own to get noticed, and some agents came to me because of the movie, but that was about it.

Many of the Lessons From 20 Years Ago Are the Same

RTC: How is your relationship with co-star William Gates [a minister in the Chicago area now] from the movie?

AA: Will is great, and I keep up with him quite a bit. You have to keep in mind, though, that William Gates in the movie was still a lot better player than a lot of people with two good knees.  His son, Will Jr., is sixteen now [Class of 2013] and at St. Joseph’s just like we were.  Still with Coach [Gene] Pingatore!  I’d tell him what I’d tell anybody with a hoop dream — live your hoop dreams and control your own destiny, which means to go hard after whatever you want and don’t let anybody else get in your way.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 05.27.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 27th, 2010

  1. A group in the Kansas athletic department has allegedly been bilking the university by an estimated $1-$3 million dollars in tickets to KU basketball and football games over the past half-decade as a result of a “blind spot” in the school’s auditing processes.  Over 17,000 basketball tickets and 2,000 football tickets were used in ways that included selling choice seats to brokers and offering freebies to neighbors.  This LA Times article about the two prominent SoCal ticket brokers who may have been involved in the scheme said other schools (unnamed) were also involved. Athletic Director Lew Perkins was not named in any of the allegations, but he is accepting responsibility for what transpired for happening on his watch.  It really hasn’t been a very good academic year in Lawrence, has it?
  2. The best part of this Gary Parrish article about loyalty (or lack thereof) among players and coaches?  John Brady and the word “coach” in the same sentence (three times).
  3. Big East consultant and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said yesterday that the conference is trying to be proactive with respect to dealing with expansion, if or when it comes to pass in the Big Ten.  He believes that the future success of the league ultimately will begin with the Big East’s long-standing relationship with ESPN.  We certainly don’t have the talent or experience to call his strategy into question, but at what point does ESPN reach saturation point with its multiple contracts with various leagues?
  4. We haven’t discussed the Ed O’Bannon ‘likeness’ case against the NCAA in a while, but it is moving forward in Oakland and some prognosticators say that several more big names will be joining the lawsuit soon.  Fanhouse asks if this case could end up becoming the NCAA’s Erin Brockovich, and they paint a compelling picture as to how it might come to pass.
  5. You know we love Vegas odds around here, so here are the very early lines you can get at Sportsbook.com as of now.  K-State, Georgetown, Missouri and Washington all look like good values.
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Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on February 27th, 2010

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

Current Standings

East Division (conf/overall/streak)

  1. Troy                                    (12-5/17-11/W4)
  2. Middle Tennessee               (12-5/18-12/W2)
  3. Western Kentucky             (11-6/18-12/W5)
  4. Florida Atlantic                  (10-7/14-14/L2)
  5. South Alabama                     (8-10/16-14/W1)
  6. Florida International          (4-13/7-23/L7)

West Division (conf/overall/streak)

  1. North Texas                          (12-5/20-8/W7)
  2. Arkansas State                     (11-6/16-12/W1)
  3. Louisiana-Lafayette              (10-7/13-15/L1)
  4. Denver                                   (9-8/16-12/L1)
  5. Louisiana-Monroe                  (6-11/11-17/L3)
  6. New Orleans                          (3-14/8-20/L2)
  7. Arkansas-Little Rock             (3-14/7-21/L6)

News and notes

Western Kentucky’s A.J. Slaughter was named conference player of the week. He has now received this honor three times this season and also was picked as the preseason player of the year. In his senior year, Slaughter has shown why he was picked as such,as he had four straight 20-plus point performances in the last few weeks. Western Kentucky will be a force in the conference tournament as always. Despite their third-place conference record in the SBC East, their overall record is the second best in the SBC and they play much harder teams during non-conference play.

The Sun Belt Conference tournament is fast approaching at with one more night of conference play and several games that shouldn’t make too much of a difference. The standings probably won’t change at all either except for Troy and Middle Tennessee. If Middle Tennessee beats Florida Atlantic and Troy loses to Arkansas State, then the seed positions for the conference tournament might change a bit. The Troy versus Arkansas State game will be a good matchup and an important final regular season game.

Some easy wins will be for Western Kentucky against Florida International and Denver, on their home court, versus Louisiana-Lafayette. Denver has struggled on the road this season, losing nearly every game away from home so it will be a positive note for them to end regular season play at home with a win. Unfortunately, the Pioneers will have to take the road again for the conference tournament in Arkansas. This will be a huge factor in their performance. It is a shame for senior and star Nate Rohnert that the team plays so poorly on the road, because in reality they are better than many of the SBC teams. It’s a mystery as to why they can’t perform on the road. One that will have to be answered next season perhaps.

You can pretty much forget about New Orleans, Arkansas-Little Rock, Florida International and Louisiana-Monroe now. If any of these teams survive the first round of the conference tournament, I would be surprised. A good matchup though for a season closer will be the New Orleans versus UALR game, since the teams have almost exact records.

For the conference championship I’d like to see a match-up between West Division leader North Texas and East Division Western Kentucky. These two teams have the best overall records and a game against each other would be fun to see in the tournament. The Mean Green did it. They pulled off leading the West Division again. Early in the season, they had the lead, lost it and now have it back. Something changed in the last half of the season and North Texas pulled it together and took the top spot just in time. For awhile, I wasn’t sure if Denver or Arkansas State who would clinch that spot instead.

It will be interesting to see which team (if any) can beat Western Kentucky and prevent them from going to the NCAA Tournament again as the SBC representative.

Upcoming games

All games are on Saturday, Feb. 27

  • North Texas v. Louisiana-Monroe              1 p.m.
  • Middle Tennessee v. Florida Atlantic          6 p.m.
  • Louisiana Lafayette v. Denver                     6 p.m.
  • New Orleans v. Arkansas-Little Rock           7 p.m.
  • Western Kentucky v. FIU     7 p.m.
  • Troy v. Arkansas State                                  7:05 p.m.

Wednesday, March 6 through Friday, March 9

  • Sun Belt Conference Championships in Hot Springs, Ark.
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Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2010

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

Current Standings

East Division (conf/overall/streak):

  1. Middle Tennessee               (8-3/13-10/W5)
  2. Florida Atlantic                   (8-3/12-10/W5)
  3. Troy                                   (7-4/12-10/W2)
  4. Western Kentucky              (5-5/12-10/W1)
  5. South Alabama                     (4-7/12-11/L4)
  6. Florida International          (4-7/7-17/L1)

West Division (conf/overall/streak):

  1. Arkansas State                     (8-2/13-8/W2)
  2. Louisiana-Lafayette              (6-4/9-12/W1)
  3. North Texas                          (6-5/13-8/L1)
  4. Denver                                   (6-5/13-9/L2)
  5. Louisiana-Monroe                  (4-8/9-13/L2)
  6. Arkansas-Little Rock             (2-8/6-15/W1)
  7. New Orleans                          (2-9/7-15/L4)

East Division update:

  • Middle Tennessee, along with Florida Atlantic, has been hot in the last two weeks. Each team has a five-game winning streak. This conference is officially unpredictable; or, at least the East division is unpredictable. Two weeks ago, Middle Tennessee was the fifth-ranked team in the division and now the Blue Raiders are flying high topping the entire Sun Belt. However, the overall standings for the East Division are still relatively tight, with the exception of Florida International and South Alabama who are several games behind.
  • The most consistent team seems to be Troy. The Trojans started out conference play on top but have settled into the middle for the rest of the season. However, don’t count them out yet. They have the capability to be a tough opponent in the conference tourney, with players like Brandon Hazzard leading the way. Hazzard has been scoring an average of nearly 17 points per game. The Trojans are only one game back from the conference lead.
  • A team you can probably count out though is Florida International and at the rate South Alabama is going right now, they’re probably in that category too. The Jaguars have lost seven of their last eight games. Another team that has lost a lot of games recently is Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are not topping anyone right now, losing five of their last six although WKU’s most recent loss came in overtime against North Texas and by only one point. Don’t doubt this team yet though, as the most recognizable team in the SBC because of their previous performances in the conference tourney.
  • With only three weeks left of regular season play, every team needs to step it up on the road to finish strong. This is going to be most challenging for Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky as they have four and five road games each.

West Division update:

  • The biggest news here is that Denver has slipped in the rankings during their recent road trips. They haven’t won an away game since November against South Dakota State. In fact, over the last couple of seasons the Pioneers had a 40+ game road losing streak. It looks like this season won’t be much different, as DU is 1-8 on the road this season. One reason why they might be losing on the road is because they have to travel so far from Denver. The Pioneers should probably play in a conference that has more teams on the west side of the country.
  • Arkansas State remains the team to beat in the West Division. A challenge for the Red Wolves though will be two games against Western Kentucky before the season ends. They have yet to play the Hilltoppers, unlike Denver and North Texas who have each beaten WKU.
  • Even though Louisiana-Lafayette is ranked second in the West, they still have a losing overall record and can falter at anytime. Before the last two weeks, the Ragin’ Cajuns had a 5-10 record. It seems like their current wins can be attributed to playing worse teams, with the exception of Denver who just can’t win away from home. The teams they have played recently are ULM, UALR and UNO.
  • There is still nothing new to say about the bottom three teams in the West division. Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas-Little Rock and New Orleans are three of the five teams in the conference with a losing record. The best these teams can hope for are a couple more wins and maybe an upset or two down the stretch.

Upcoming games

  • Sat, Feb. 6       North Texas v. Florida International      1 p.m.
  • Sat, Feb. 6       Middle Tennessee v. South Alabama 1 p.m.
  • Sat, Feb. 6       Florida Atlantic v. Denver                     5 p.m.
  • Sat, Feb. 6       Troy v. Western Kentucky                    7 p.m.
  • Thurs, Feb. 11  Arkansas State v. Western Kentucky    7 p.m.
  • Thurs, Feb. 11  Denver v. Middle Tennessee                 7 p.m.
  • Thurs, Feb. 11  Florida International v. South Alabama  7:05 p.m.
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Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on December 11th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Current Standings

East Division

  1. South Alabama (7-2)
  2. Troy (5-3)
  3. Florida Atlantic (4-3)
  4. Western Kentucky (4-3)
  5. Middle Tennessee (3-5)
  6. Florida International (3-8)

West Division

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

News and Notes

  • Small Changes…  Still no conference games have been played in the SBC but over the past two weeks there have been subtle changes in the standings. Arkansas-Little Rock jumped from last place with one win to being ranked fourth in the West division of the conference. Denver also took its place at the top of the Western division rankings as they barely scraped past South Dakota State and Cal State Northridge. Changes in the East division were also minimal with Troy keeping its spot near the top and Florida International falling further and further behind.
  • Team of the last couple weeks…  This honor definitely goes to South Alabama, who currently has a four-game win streak and is slowly but surely extending their lead over the conference competitors. If they keep winning, the rest of the league doesn’t stand a chance of catching them. It shouldn’t be too hard for them to beat their first conference opponent UALR and then tack on two more wins against the Florida SBC teams.
  • Player of the last couple weeks…  Denver captain Nate Rohnert was named Sun Belt Conference player of the week, an honor he earned by scoring a career-high 32 points against Wyoming. The score of the game was 80-77 meaning Rohnert scored nearly half of the Pioneer points in the game. Who knows what they would do without him? Rohnert also currently leads the Sun Belt in points per game at 19.2 and is second in assists. As the only senior on the DU team, Rohnert has learned how to take responsibility and lead. Rohnert’s hard work and dedication to the Pioneers is finally starting to pay off as they took the lead of their division and rank second overall in the SBC.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #20 – Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on October 17th, 2009

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Matt Poindexter is a regular RTC contributor.

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

  1. Western Kentucky (17-1)
  2. Troy (14-4)
  3. Middle Tennessee (11-7)
  4. Florida Atlantic (6-12)
  5. South Alabama (5-13)
  6. Florida International (2-16)

West

  1. North Texas (15-3)
  2. Denver (12-6)
  3. Arkansas-Little Rock (11-7)
  4. Louisiana-Lafayette (9-9)
  5. Louisiana-Monroe (8-10)
  6. Arkansas State (5-13)
  7. New Orleans (2-16)

All-Conference Team:

  • A.J. Slaughter (G) – Western Kentucky
  • Nate Rohnert (G) – Denver
  • Desmond Yates (F) – Middle Tennessee
  • Rudy Turner (F) – Louisiana-Monroe
  • Jeremy Evans (C) – Western Kentucky

6th Man: Brandon Hazzard (G) – Troy

Impact Newcomer: Isiah Thomas. Usually, this is where we pick out the best incoming freshman or transfer in the conference. But for the first time in a very long time, people are paying attention to a Sun Belt team in a month that is not March. One can’t be sure if Isiah’s hiring at FIU will be a huge boon for the conference in terms of exposure, or if his actions will make him a white elephant, but his impact will be unparalleled either way. As far as on the court, New Orleans guard Billy Humphrey, a transfer who averaged 12.2 PPG for Georgia before being dismissed from the team following a DUI, is the most proven and highest rated player to make a Sun Belt debut in 2009-10.

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What You Need to Know:

  • If you’re going to pick out guy to win Player of the Year, it has to be WKU’s A.J. Slaughter. He probably would have won the honors in 08-09, but his teammate Orlando Mendez-Valdez overshadowed him. Now that Mendez-Valdez has graduated, expect Slaughter to outshine everyone else in the Sun Belt.
  • For the past two years, Western Kentucky has been the team to beat in the Sun Belt. In 2008 and 2009, they won the conference tournament and went on to NCAA tournament upsets, beating a #5 seed each year in Drake and Illinois. If not for poor free throw shooting, the Hilltoppers very well could have claimed a victory over Gonzaga in last year’s tournament to go to the Sweet 16.
  • Isiah Thomas isn’t the only one who has moved out of a powerful program and into a Sun Belt coaching position.  John Brady, coach at LSU during their 2006 Final Four run, is now at Arkansas State and Mike Jarvis helmed the St. John’s program prior to his current job at Florida Atlantic. North Texas’ Johnny Jones was the last coach (for one season) at Memphis before some guy named Calipari took over.

Predicted Champion. Western Kentucky (NCAA Seed:  #11). Since North Texas made a run and won the conference tournament in 2007, it has been WKU all the way in the Sun Belt. Even though conference Player of the Year Mendez-Valdez is no longer with the Hilltoppers, the return of guard A.J. Slaughter should mean that the conference championship trophy stays in Bowling Green for another year. Couple that with the increased inside presence of WKU center Jeremy Evans and the fact that they return 4 starters from last year, and there’s no reason to bet against the Hilltoppers.

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Mid-South Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2009

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Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South and Deep South) are located here.

It’s time for the fifth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of landlocked states that produce some really good basketball players – the Mid-South.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Mid-South Region (KY, TN, MO, AR, OK)

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  • James Anderson – Jr, F – Oklahoma St. An obvious and unanimous choice for our Mid-South list, James Anderson cannot be blamed if he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder right now.  Let’s see:  he’s the third-leading returning scorer in the Big 12  for the upcoming season; last year the guy averages 18.2 points, 5.7 boards, shoots over 48% from the field as well as over 82% from the line and 41% from beyond the three-point line… and he gets left off the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list.  Anderson has coolly acknowledged his surprise at this slight, and we think he’s well within his right to do so.  No doubt this will provide motivation for the versatile forward as he embarks upon his junior season for a Cowboys squad that needs him in the leadership role.  Gone are Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris, leaving only Anderson and Obi Muonelo in terms of returning double-digit scorers.  That’s over 27 points a game for which to compensate, so Anderson will get the touches, without question.  Last year was the first trip to the NCAA Tournament for Oklahoma State in the last four years, and despite the aforementioned losses, Cowboy fans are most assuredly expecting another bid this season.  If it’s going to happen, it will be on Anderson’s shoulders.  We know that making our Impact Players list for the Mid-South region isn’t the same as making the preseason Wooden Award Top 50.  But at least we can say… hey James… we got your back, man.
  • Patrick Patterson – Jr, F – Kentucky. Patrick Patterson didn’t need a ton of motivation to return for a junior season in Lexington. The potential NBA riches were surely enticing, but with the news of John Calipari’s hire and subsequent commitments of a recruiting class for the ages, Patterson found himself in a spot where another season at Kentucky may mean a national championship, a far cry from the tumultuous two campaigns he spent in the Bluegrass State under the tutelage of Billy Gillispie. Patterson is a physical specimen in the paint for Kentucky and coach Cal has to be absolutely salivating at the thought of pairing Patterson and diaper dandy DeMarcus Cousins there to complement John Wall, Darius Miller and Eric Bledsoe on the perimeter (just think if Jodie Meeks had stuck around). Patterson nearly finished with a double-double last season at 17.9 ppg and 9.3 rpg, including a dominant 22/15 performance at future #1 seed Louisville, a 19/16 vs. Miami and 21/18 vs. Auburn. In fact, Patterson led the SEC with 15 double-doubles in 2008-09 and was the only player in the conference to finish in the top five in scoring and rebounding. A wildly underrated part of Patterson’s game is his 77% ft to go along with an efficient 60% from the field overall. Most NBA scouts think Patterson will only get stronger and continue to improve with another season in college, a scary thought for opposing SEC coaches and forwards, and a delightful proposition for Calipari. The 6’8″ big man already possesses an NBA-ready frame, a beast on the blocks that loves to bang inside and fight for any rebound in his vicinity. If Patrick Patterson gets the ball deep, he will score. Period. And with John Wall, possibly the top point guard in the nation this season, making those entry passes, Patterson should be able to average a double-double for Kentucky, only adding to the 1,000+ points he’s already totaled as a Wildcat. Barring injury (which isn’t a certainty as PP battled a stress fracture in his ankle in 07-08), Patterson seems about as surefire as anyone in the country to earn national accolades this season. But with realistic hopes of a Final Four at Kentucky for the first time in Patterson’s career, it won’t be about personal accomplishments for the determined forward; it’ll be all about wins.

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Isiah Thomas to FIU?

Posted by rtmsf on April 13th, 2009

If this were April 1st, we’d definitely be wondering about the veracity of this story, but both Jeff Goodman at Fox Sports and Andy Katz at ESPN are reporting that Mr. Congeniality, Isiah Thomas, may be close to accepting the head coaching job at Florida International University (apparently the school is located in Miami, which suddenly reveals a modicum of why to this story).  The former head coach, Sergio Rouco, was reassigned after a 55-94 record over five seasons. 

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You may remember Mr. Thomas (not to be confused with the mercurial rising star Isaiah Thomas from the Washington Huskies) from his days as a player at Indiana (national champs in ’81), or as a Detroit Piston (world champs in ’89 and ’90), or as a relatively successful Indiana Pacers coach, or his most recent disastrous stint as team president and coach for the New York Knicks.  If Thomas actually takes this coaching position, he’ll join other Sun Belt retreads John Brady (LSU to Arkansas St.) and Mike Jarvis (St. John’s to Florida Atlantic) as coaches with the uncanny ability to turn water to vomit in the blink of an eye.  Somewhere Stephen A. Smith, Bill Simmons and Will Leitch all began independently yet simultaneously typing in unison. 

The problem with Thomas in New York was his utter incompetence in the ability to successfully put a team together (well, that and the sexual assault thing).  He seemed to believe that having fifteen me-first guards on the roster was a healthy concoction, and the thought of him getting to craft and coach his own team of players in the combustible environment of Miami should break all kinds of blogosphere records throughout his tenure there. 

On its face, this job makes absolutely no sense unless Thomas is now importing packages through South Florida from Bolivia and he wants to keep a close eye on his product.  He has absolutely no college coaching experience whatsoever, and the truth is that he still could have gotten a bigger ‘name’ job had he heretofore shown any interest.  Additionally, why wouldn’t he wait for another NBA opening?  He may be damaged goods in many fans’ eyes, but that’s never stopped stupidity in the form an NBA GM before.  At least Thomas would still be in his comfort zone, though.  We can already envision Thomas trying to sell an unsuspecting mother of some 16-year old prodigy on the virtues of FIU Basketball, with his snakeskin shoes and 100-watt smile beaming across the room. 

Come to think of it, maybe this will make for a good fit after all. 

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Sun Belt Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 4th, 2009

Rick Henderson of The Owl’s Nest is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference.

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Final Results Are In

A couple things were expected.  And a lot was not.  WKU sitting out the first round is no shocker.  UALR atop the West was expected as well.  But MTSU was expected to do a lot better.  Additionally,  who would have “thunk” that head coaches Mike Jarvis and John Brady would finish at the bottom of their respective divisions and as 12th and 13th seeds?  Wow.  Lastly, how does Troy, a team that actually was picked to finish in the basement, obtain a first round bye and sit all alone in second in the East?  Weird wild stuff!  And, of course, why we all love the sport of basketball.  Anything can happen on any given night.  And especially over the course of a season.  Troy has a decent shot at making it to the finals given they can get past UALR.  But WKU will prove a tall order.  The Trojans lost both regular season games to the Toppers.

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Checking in on the… Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on February 26th, 2009

 

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It’s Down to the Wire

Inching closer to Tournament Time!  All but two teams have just two games remaining on their SBC schedule which will conclude tonight and this weekend.  Thankfully, the West has experienced some much needed separation except for the bottom of the pack who will be in a dog fight to avoid a first round road game.  In the East, the Toppers, having won against Troy in last weeks game of the week, are now seriously poised to nab the number one overall seed and possibly the whole enchilada given the next story.  Which is…

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