Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • According to the beat writer for Western Kentucky’s hometown newspaper, star forward Sergio Kerusch was benched for much of Wednesday night’s 59-52 victory at Bowling Green. Coach Ken McDonald played the Sun Belt pre-season Player of the Year for only six minutes, citing a general lack of focus. In a similar move, McDonald also benched guard Khalil McDonald in a December 4 loss to Memphis because of on-court issues. The personnel changes opened an opportunity for freshman forward Stephon Drane the past two games, who has finally cracked the rotation.
  • Bob Marlin’s first season at Louisiana-Lafayette hasn’t started so smoothly with a 1-6 record. Clearly frustrated with his new team, Marlin called out his squad for a lack of competitiveness and even a subpar performance in the classroom. He’s got even bigger problems, though, after learning in late November that guard Josh Brown may miss three or four weeks after injuring his knee in practice. He’s expected to return for conference play. Brown led the team in scoring before his injury, and ULL has lost both contests without him.
  • Brandon Peterson, who started at forward for Arkansas State’s first six games, did not dress against Memphis last Wednesday because of an illness—and his team still battled the #14 Tigers to overtime without him. He returned to the court five days later in a win over Lyon College, scoring seven points in 20 minutes off the bench.

Shoutout Section

  • Tristan Thompson had a masterful four-game stretch for North Texas recently, averaging 26.5 points per game against Rice, Texas State, Texas Arlington and Grambling. Although Josh White and George Odufuwa are also All-Conference performers, nobody’s been better than Thompson. The senior is averaging 20 points per game and has taken the reigns offensively for the Mean Green. It should be noted that Thompson’s past two outings have been a bit rough—he shot 3-11 from the field at Texas Southern and scored only seven points against Sam Houston State. But don’t expect that to continue very long.
  • Tim Williams led South Alabama in scoring last year, but Martino Brock has that title right now as a sophomore. Brock doesn’t appear intimidated by USA’s big-time competition. He looked perfectly comfortable scoring 27 points against Louisville and also scored 15 against LSU. If the Jaguars want to rebound from last year’s injury-riddled nightmare, Brock will need to be a big part of it.

Quote of the Week

“We didn’t expect to wear red, so it was a surprise…that just set it off; we knew we had to perform.”

FAU forward Kore White, after his team beat South Florida wearing new red uniforms

Power Rankings

East Division

1. Western Kentucky (4-5): After ending a four-game losing streak with Wednesday’s ugly road win at Bowling Green, WKU still holds the top spot in the East—just barely. The Hilltoppers’ record is deceiving because of the murderer’s row schedule they’ve played, which has included games against Minnesota, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Memphis. Still, Western Kentucky is having a serious identity crisis early in the season, no matter the competition. Even in Wednesday’s victory, WKU turned the ball over 29 times while at the same time had its best defensive effort of the season. Ken Brown, who’s battling for minutes at the point guard position, committed seven of the turnovers, and sophomore Jamal Crook played only seven minutes at the point. Coach Ken McDonald has said he’s looking for more consistency out of his inexperienced point guards, and the growth of Brown, Crook, Snap Peters and Khalil McDonald could shape the rest of the season for Western Kentucky.

Up Next: Dec. 11 vs. Southern Illinois, Dec. 18 at Murray State, Dec. 24 vs. Louisville

2. Florida Atlantic (5-4): The Owls are living up to the pre-season hype. In the span of five days last week, FAU won at Mississippi State and beat South Florida at home, bringing its record to 5-4, tops in the East. Interestingly, the high-octane Owls slowed the tempo and ground out their last two wins, even playing a zone against South Florida to combat the Bulls’ size and athletic advantage. Florida Atlantic’s defensive struggles hurt it last season, but Mike Jarvis has to be pleased with his team’s progress on that end of the floor after holding USF to 32 percent shooting. The most astonishing part about FAU’s marquee wins is that point guard Ray Taylor has largely been a non-factor. After dealing with disciplinary issues early in the season, Jarvis is still bringing Taylor off the bench. He scored just seven points against Mississippi State and did not score against South Florida. After averaging more than 32 minutes per game last season, Taylor has logged more than 30 minutes just once. Thanks to Alex Tucker, who exploded for 18 points against USF, Taylor’s struggles haven’t made a difference. The emergence of forward Kore White, a transfer from Marshall, has also helped. There are still questions about consistency with this group—it lost to American and George Mason by double-digits in November—and center Brett Royster can’t seem to stay out of foul trouble. If the young Owls continue to grow, however, Western Kentucky will be in for a fight this winter.

Up Next: Dec. 11 at Hofstra, Dec. 13 at Siena, Dec. 16 at Troy

3. South Alabama (2-5): Much like WKU, it’s hard to get a gauge on this team right now because of its schedule. South Alabama has lost four straight to UAB, LSU, Alabama and Louisville—and it has looked downright bad throughout that stretch. The Jaguars’ opponents get a bit easier in the next few weeks, so we’ll see if they can hang with teams of similar caliber. With as well as sophomore Martino Brock has played lately and the established scoring of guard Tim Williams, this team appears to have enough talent to at least stay competitive with Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic.

Up Next: Dec. 12 vs. Houston Baptist, Dec. 18 at Georgia Southern, Dec. 21. vs. Alcorn State

4. Middle Tennessee (4-5): 95 minutes. That’s how many minutes of basketball the Blue Raiders played in a December 4 overtime win against SIU-Edwardsville and a double-overtime loss at Belmont Dec. 7. Belmont, an Atlantic Sun favorite that beat Arkansas State by 33 points, needed eight three-pointers from senior Jordan Campbell to edge Middle Tennessee at home. After losing three starters from last year’s 20-win team, this is an encouraging December loss.

Up Next: Dec. 12 vs. Furman, Dec. 18 at Evansville, Dec. 21 vs. Vanderbilt

5. Florida International (4-4): Two weeks ago, we urged you to hold off on evaluating FIU, despite a 3-1 record. Two of those wins came against non-Division-I schools, while the other was Utah Valley. Well, the Golden Panthers responded by blasting Chattanooga 80-59. Since then, Florida International has lost at Marshall, Louisville and Jackson State, so there’s nothing to suggest that this team will make much noise in the East Division right now. However, the win over Chattanooga, a team that currently owns a 2-0 record in the Southern Conference and has a recent NCAA Tournament appearance to its name, boosts it ahead of Troy. But that’s not saying much. If high-profile freshman Dominique Ferguson gains eligibility for the second semester, coach Isiah Thomas might have something to work with, especially since he’s already getting Illinois transfer Alex Legion in a few weeks. For now, it’s juco transfer Eric Frederick doing the scoring. Although he hasn’t started a game in a month, he’s averaged around 30 minutes per game during the past three contests and went for 26 against Marshall. With a combination of its famous head coach and the possible arrival of Ferguson, Florida International may have the most compelling team in the Sun Belt.

Up Next: Dec. 12 at Bowling Green, Dec. 18 vs. Sam Houston State, Dec. 22 vs. Florida A&M

6. Troy (1-6): The Trojans may be replacing five starters, but they’re not giving up. Despite a 1-6 record, there are positives for legendary coach Don Maestri’s squad. Troy took Mississippi State to overtime Nov. 26, trailed by just two at halftime against UAB and scared Arkansas by getting within seven points late in the second half. Nobody’s going to hang a banner for any of those “accomplishments.” But it’s a sign that Troy won’t roll over in Sun Belt play. Maestri still has an experienced core of three seniors in the starting lineup in Vernon Taylor, Levan Patsatsia and Bernard Toombs, all of whom came off the bench for a team that won 20 games and reached the SBC title game last season.

Up Next: Dec. 11 at Miami OH, Dec. 16 vs. Florida Atlantic, Dec. 18 vs. Belmont

West Division

1. North Texas (7-2): The first eight games—besides a loss at Kansas—were mostly a breeze for the senior-laden Mean Green. At 7-1, North Texas looked primed for another Sun Belt title and NCAA Tournament appearance. And then came Sam Houston State, which exposed every flaw of Johnny Jones’ team Wednesday night in a 92-74 win. First, there are issues of depth with this team right now. After the first six or seven in the rotation, there’s an obvious drop-off. This team looks like it could use Eric Tramiel, the graduated forward who received looks from NBA squads. Although Kendrick Hogans appears to be an adequate replacement for him, neither Jacob Holmen nor Nebraska transfer Alonzo Edwards have shown too much in backup roles. It’s only December, though, and Holmen and Edwards aren’t logging serious minutes yet. The other issue for North Texas is the defensive end. UNT hid this deficiency against inferior opponents, but Sam Houston State torched it from the field and seemed to have little trouble with North Texas’ athletic defenders. One road loss at SHS doesn’t change a thing for this team’s expectations, however. North Texas is still the clear front-runner in the conference.

Up Next: Dec. 11 vs. Jackson State, Dec. 19 vs. Texas State, Dec. 22 at LSU

2. Arkansas State (2-6): In our last SBC check-in, we didn’t panic at Arkansas State’s winless record. Luckily, the Red Wolves made us look smart by winning two games and taking Memphis to overtime during the past two weeks, which keeps them slotted at number two in the West. Sure, the two wins were at Southeast Missouri State and against Lyon at home. That Memphis game should be enough to convince you of the talent level on this team, though. ASU fell behind 23-5 but slowly chipped away, trailing throughout the entire game before tying it in the final minute of regulation. Arkansas State had no business hanging that close with Memphis, but it even held a four-point lead in overtime. The Tigers didn’t play especially well, but John Brady’s guys clearly outplayed them. Even more impressively, the Red Wolves played harder than Memphis, staying in contention with second-chance points and a strong effort on the offensive glass. Consider this: Arkansas State shot about 39 percent from the floor, missed 13 of 18 three-point attempts and didn’t get a stellar performance from any of its scorers (leading scorer Daniel Bryant finished with 16 on just 5-17 from the field). Somehow, it took the 14th-ranked team in America to overtime on its home floor.

Up Next: Dec. 11 vs. Alabama State, Dec. 18 at Georgia, Dec. 20 vs. Savannah State

3. Arkansas-Little Rock (6-3): So the team that won zero road games in 2009-10 still can’t win on the road. Big deal. Arkansas-Little Rock is at least playing well at home, having knocked off both Louisiana Tech and Tulsa in recent weeks. The latter is an especially impressive win over a team that’s already beaten Oral Roberts, Missouri State and Stanford. UALR’s 34-point road loss to Missouri State looks ugly, especially since it has also lost by 26 to Oral Roberts and 13 to Saint Bonaventure. But coach Steve Shields appears to have found a starting point guard in D’Andre Williams, who got the majority of the minutes over freshman Daylon Guy against Tulsa and dished out six assists. And Shields also has a road win under his belt—a season-opening win at SMU—so he’s got to be thrilled with his team’s 6-3 start.

Up Next: Dec. 11 vs. Mississippi, Dec. 16 at Rice, Dec. 21 at Akron

4. Denver (2-6): The Pioneers haven’t played the kind of schedule Western Kentucky has, but they’ve still challenged themselves outside of the conference here in the first two months. That has resulted in an ugly loss to St. Mary’s this week, as well as a competitive loss at home to Utah State. Sandwiched in between those losses was a home win against CSU-Northridge, in which budding star Brian Stafford scored 18 points. Denver is trying to find other options outside of Stafford and forward Chase Hallam. Case in point: those two combined for 12 points against St. Mary’s, and their team lost by 30 points.

Up next: Dec. 11 vs. Portland, Dec. 14 at Wyoming, Dec. 18 vs. Northern Colorado

5. Louisiana-Lafayette (1-6): ULL got off to a blazing start at McNeese State Dec. 1 but couldn’t finish the game, falling by three points. And three days later, the Rajun Cajuns were deadlocked with Tulane in the second half… and couldn’t finish the game, falling 63-52. It’s a work in progress for Bob Marlin, who has lost guard Josh Brown until conference play due to a knee injury. All kinds of injuries and sicknesses have affected Louisiana-Lafayette during this discouraging 1-6 start. The squad hasn’t been horrendously bad in any of the losses, so there’s hope for conference play if Brown returns fully healthy.

Up Next: Dec. 12 vs. Texas College, Dec. 15 at UCF, Dec. 19 vs. Lamar

6. Louisiana-Monroe (2-7): Fred Brown scored 18 points in a loss to Louisiana Tech. That doesn’t seem too peculiar, until you read the rest of his stat line: Brown took 28 shots and missed 11 three-point attempts. He did tally seven assists, but the point is clear: he’s relied upon to do everything for this team. He’s averaging about 17 shot attempts per game, but the pressure might be getting to Brown, whose assist-to-turnover ratio is less than 1:1. It’s been a rough start to the season for ULM, which also lost by double-digits to South Dakota and Kent State the past month.

Share this story

Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

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

A Look Back: News and Notes

  • Ray Taylor is the speedy point guard and primary playmaker for Florida Atlantic, but he’s dealing with disciplinary issues here in November. Coach Mike Jarvis suspended him for the team’s two exhibition games—one of which FAU lost—and he missed his team’s season opener against UC-Davis. The Owls better hope the suspension keeps Taylor in line, because their high-powered offense can’t survive without him.
  • Travis Bureau sat out Louisiana-Lafayette’s 60-55 loss to Cleveland State last week due to illness. The senior guard, who rotated in and out of the starting lineup last year, opened the season with a promising 21-point performance against New Mexico State. Bureau seems to have recovered from his sickness—he scored 10 points in 22 minutes against Houston four days after the CSU game.
  • In his first game at Louisiana-Monroe, former Kansas State guard Fred Brown torched old conference foe Texas Tech for 25 points. But against Iowa the next week, coach Keith Richard kept his star guard in Louisiana because of academic problems. Predictably, the game got out of hand. That’s the only game Brown missed, and his team can’t afford to lose him again.
  • The rumors have circulated for months, but now it’s official: Denver will leave the Sun Belt for the Western Athletic Conference in 2012. As Andy Katz wrote back in September, Denver isn’t a very logical fit for the SBC anyway from a geographical standpoint.

Power Rankings

East

1. Western Kentucky (3-2): It’s clear already that there is no limit on the potential of this Western Kentucky team. That’s an odd statement to make after the team’s performance in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, considering WKU finished 1-2 in the tournament and needed a frantic comeback in the final four minutes against Hofstra to avoid returning home without a victory. Just keep in mind that coach Ken McDonald is playing a combination of sophomores and newcomers at guard. Also, the Hilltoppers weren’t helped by star Sergio Kerusch’s subpar play in Puerto Rico; he looked nothing like the forward that lit up St. Joseph’s for 31 points in the season opener. McDonald is still trying to set his rotation and find a consistent point guard, and he’s not lacking for options at the point. Ken Brown looked a bit overwhelmed against Minnesota and lost his starting spot to sophomore Jamal Crook, but it was newcomer Khalil McDonald who helped orchestrate that rally against Hofstra at the point guard position. Even Snap Peters played a little lead guard—point is, McDonald was trying everything this weekend and everything should eventually work itself out. Kerusch, Steffhon Pettigrew and Juan Patillo will be fine up front, and once the guards gets on the same page, there’s no telling how good this team could eventually become. The success of this team may also depend on the defense, which has been one of the team’s downfalls the past few years. The Hilltoppers’ active, athletic guards show a ton of potential defensively and were able to force turnovers this weekend, but Minnesota shot a blistering 62.5 percent from the field.

Next Four: 11/27 vs. South Carolina, 12/1 at Vanderbilt, 12/4 at Memphis, 12/8 at Bowling Green

2. Florida Atlantic (3-3): After losing an exhibition game to an NAIA school, FAU has looked just fine through its first six games. Plagued by poor defense last season, the Owls didn’t defend well enough in losses to American or Portland, but they clamped down in a solid road victory at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Florida Atlantic even stayed close with Florida and trailed by just two points at halftime. We know FAU will score, especially when point guard Ray Taylor re-enters the starting lineup after undisclosed disciplinary problems. But can Mike Jarvis get his team to defend and rebound consistently? Depth is another issue, as only six players scored against the Gators—five of whom reached double-figures.

Next Four: 11/27 at George Mason, 11/30 at Mississippi State, 12/4 vs. South Florida, 12/11 at Hofstra

3. South Alabama (2-2): When South Alabama has lost this season, it hasn’t been pretty. At all. USA fell 93-58 to Southern Mississippi and 82-58 to UAB, and in those two games, the Jaguars averaged six assists. Stud scorer Tim Williams is doing his job and scored 33 points to lead USA to a win over Central Michigan at home, but a lack of size is killing the Jaguars so far. Against Southern Miss, the rebounding margin was atrocious, and there’s only one player on the roster taller than 6’6.

Next Four: 11/28 vs. LSU, 12/1 at Alabama, 12/4 at Louisville, 12/12 vs. Houston Baptist

4. Middle Tennessee (3-3): The Blue Raiders blew a 17-point lead at Auburn last week, but they handled a young and fairly talented Evansville team Wednesday night, blowing the game open in the second half. There will be growing pains for Kermit Davis’ rebuilding team, which lost three starters. Point guard James Washington has to be the leader this year, and he’s looked the part during the first six games. UTEP transfer Jason Jones also appears to be making an impact already.

Next Four: 11/30 at Tennessee, 12/4 at SIU-Edwardsville, 12/7 at. Belmont, 12/12 vs. Furman

5. Troy (1-4): After losing all five starters from a championship squad, we knew it wouldn’t be pretty for Troy. And it hasn’t been—the team’s only win is against Huntingdon. In losses to Alabama, Georgia State and Texas-San Antonio, the Trojans haven’t even come within single-digits. There are encouraging signs from senior Vernon Jones, who played 33 games off the bench last year. He scorched UTSA for 25 points and isn’t having much trouble adjusting to his new role.

Next Four: 11/26 at Mississippi State, 11/29 vs. UAB, 12/4 at Arkansas, 12/11 at Miami OH

6. Florida International (3-1): Maybe it’s unfair to rank a team tied for the best record in the league last in its division. Let’s take a look at Florida International’s three wins, though: Florida Memorial, Barry and Utah Valley. And FIU lost to Florida State by 23 points. Had Troy played the Golden Panthers’ schedule, it would be 3-1 as well. For now, all we can say is that Florida International has handled inferior competition as well as it can. Let’s wait to evaluate this squad in a couple of weeks.

Next Four: 11/27 vs. Chattanooga, 11/29 at Marshall, 12/1 at Louisville, 12/4 at Jackson State

West

1. North Texas (3-1): the Mean Green trailed Kansas by nine at halftime Nov. 19 and had aspirations of ending the Jayhawks’ 61-game home winning streak. But things got away from Johnny Jones’ team in the second half, losing by 33 points. At least the Mean Green have one Big 12 win under their belt—they knocked off Texas Tech in overtime three days earlier. The most impressive win during UNT’s 3-1 start, though, might be a gutty home win over Rice this weekend. North Texas trailed for much of the game but found another gear late in the second half, as senior Tristan Thompson scored 26 points to help his team seal the victory. The second half against Kansas wasn’t pretty, but the SBC favorites haven’t disappointed early on.

Next Four: 12/27 at Texas State, 12/30 vs. UT-Arlington, 12/2 vs. Grambling, 12/4 at Texas Southern

2. Arkansas State (0-5): That’s not a mistake: Arkansas State is 0-5 and still sits at number two in the West power rankings. The season couldn’t have started more disastrous. John Brady’s team has played good competition, but it’s 0-5 with an especially embarrassing loss to Belmont by a score of 93-60. Yes, Belmont is an Atlantic Sun contender and consistent program, but no team picked to finish second in its division should lose like that on a neutral floor. That loss is even more surprising considering the Red Wolves actually led Ole Miss for a good portion of the second half and hung tough with MVC contender Missouri State and Pacific, which won 23 games last year. Let’s not give up on Arkansas State just yet though. Senior guard Donald Boone, who led the team in scoring two years ago but missed 2009-10 with a knee injury, hasn’t found his stroke yet. This team is also still figuring out how to play without Brandon Reed, the SBC Freshman of the Year who transferred to Georgia Tech. Brady has more than enough to work with on this roster to turn this season around—so for now, ASU stays in the second spot in the West power rankings.

Next Four: 11/27 at SEMO, 12/1 at Memphis, 12/6 vs. Lyon, 12/11 vs. Alabama State

3. Arkansas-Little Rock (3-2): after failing to win a road game all of last season, the Trojans’ season-opening victory at SMU came out of nowhere. UALR was since been blown out in its last two road contests against St. Bonaventure and Oral Roberts, but things could be worse for Steve Shields. The Trojans also earned a home win against Illinois State, which is rebuilding in the Missouri Valley but still reached the post-season last year. Keep an eye on the point guard situation down in Little Rock. Slashing guard Solomon Bozeman can score from anywhere on the court, but he’ll need someone to get him the ball. Right now, Shields is splitting time evenly between freshman Daylon Guy and juco transfer D’Andre Williams. Williams is getting more of the minutes lately, but he turned the ball over four times Wednesday night and tallied only one assist.

12/26 vs. Louisiana Tech, 12/1 at Missouri State, 12/5 vs. Tulsa, 12/7 vs. Philander Smith

4. Louisiana-Lafayette (1-4): Don’t let the 1-4 start deceive you. Not surprisingly, coach Bob Marlin has his team playing good basketball in his first season at Louisana-Lafayette. All four losses have been to strong teams, and besides a 16-point loss to New Mexico State to open the season, the Rajun’ Cajuns have played Creighton, Cleveland State and Houston very competitively. Guard Randell Daigle looked like an All-American with seven three-pointers to keep ULL close in Omaha, and Houston needed a second-half rally just to win on its home court. Marlin has a few pieces to find success this year with his variation of the Princeton offense. Once Centenary transfer David Perez finds his groove after an inconsistent start, Marlin’s guard play with point guard Josh Brown and Daigle will be enough to stay competitive in the West.

12/1 at McNeese State, 12/4 at Tulane, 12/12 vs. Texas College, 12/15 at Central Florida

5. Denver (1-4): Without departed star Nate Rohnert, the Pioneers’ season got off to a frustrating start at a three-game tournament in the Pacific Northwest, losing games to UCSB, Oregon and North Dakota State. Denver then lost a fourth straight game– at home against Colorado State– before knocking off Alcorn State this week. It’s not panic time yet for Denver though. The rest of the squad besides Rohnert is back, and frankly NDSU is the only loss Denver should feel even the least bit embarrassed about. The other three are simply better teams.

Up Next: 11/27 at Boise State, 12/1 vs. Utah State, 12/4 vs. CSU-Northridge, 12/8 at St. Mary’s

6. Louisana-Monroe (1-3): New coach Keith Richard almost had his first D-I victory this week, but his team fell to Stephen F. Austin on a three-pointer in the final seconds Tuesday night. At least Richard did beat Southeast Oklahoma State after losing ugly at Texas Tech and Iowa. This team is riding Fred Brown, which was our pick as SBC Newcomer of the Year. He’s averaging 20 points per game and played all 40 minutes Tuesday.

11/26 vs. Jacksonville State, 11/27 vs. Illinois State, 11/28 vs. South Dakota, 12/2 at Kent State

Shoutout Section

  • Dixon’s Time: It’s time for Cliff Dixon to come alive for Western Kentucky. He’s got the 6 foot 10 frame, the soft touch and the sneaky athleticism for a big man. And he’s the half-brother of a guy named Kevin Durant. But he didn’t adjust that well in 2009-10 after transferring from junior college. The skills were there, but coach Ken McDonald couldn’t get consistent effort out of the talented big man. Dixon looks like a different player as a senior. The coaching staff has fallen in love with him, and he’d be in the starting lineup if WKU didn’t have the deepest frontcourt in the Sun Belt. He grabbed eight rebounds in just 17 minutes against Davidson and scored eight points, and in the opener against St. Joseph’s he scored 11 points off the bench. Dixon is a difficult match-up for opposing centers because of his quickness and provides a nice change of pace to the bruising Juan Pattillo.
  • Stafford steps up: Denver’s Brian Stafford has taken the reigns from Nate Rohnert. The Pioneers need the 6’4 guard to develop into a reliable scorer, and he exploded for 26 points in a loss to Colorado State. He’s always been a strong outside shooter, but he’s become a more complete offensive player this year. There’s a lot more to Stafford’s game besides shooting—so remember his name once conference play rolls around.
  • Daigle on fire: There was no reason for Louisiana-Lafayette to even stay within single-digits of Creighton earlier this month, but Randell Daigle single-handedly kept an undersized Rajun Cajuns’ team within striking distance. No matter what the Bluejays did, Daigle kept gunning from three-point land and finished with 25 points on 7-13 from three. If ULL had any answer for Doug McDermott and Kenny Lawson Jr. in the paint, Daigle would have led his team to a win at the Qwest Center.

Quote of the Week

“We had 12 minutes tonight where we don’t win and don’t score and that’s a deadly combination. To give this team 43 points in the second half is ridiculous and makes no sense to me.”

–ASU coach John Brady after a loss to Pepperdine

Share this story

RTC Conference Primers: #21 – Sun Belt

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 14th, 2010

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


Predicted Order of Finish

East:­

  1. Western Kentucky (12-4)
  2. Florida Atlantic (11-5)
  3. South Alabama (11-5)
  4. Middle Tennessee State (6-10)
  5. Troy (4-12)
  6. Florida International (4-12)

West:

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

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Josh White, North Texas (14.5 PPG, 3.5 APG)
  • G: Ray Taylor, Florida Atlantic (14.2 PPG, 5.9 APG)
  • F: Sergio Kerusch, Western Kentucky (14.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG)
  • F: Steffphon Pettigrew, Western Kentucky (14.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG)
  • F: Brett Royster, Florida Atlantic (10.0 ppg, 7.4 RPG, 3.0 BPG)

6th Man

  • Tim Williams, South Alabama (15.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG)

Impact Newcomer

  • Fred Brown, Louisiana-Monroe. The transfer from Kansas State appeared in two postseasons as a Wildcat, including an NCAA Tournament in 2007-08 alongside superstar Michael Beasley. Brown’s perimeter shooting and defensive ability will earn him immediate playing time for the Warhawks, who return just five players and introduce a rookie head coach in Keith Richard. Brown edges former Oklahoma defensive standout Juan Pattillo in this category, who joins East division favorite Western Kentucky, as well as Louisiana-Lafayette’s David Perez, a streaky shooter from Centenary.

What You Need to Know

  • Tightening Up: The Sun Belt Conference may have lost New Orleans to the Division III ranks, but the rest of the league stayed intact for 2010-11. Moving to a 16-game format from an 18-game schedule with the Pioneers’ departure, the conference figures to be stronger than ever. North Texas represented the Sun Belt in the NCAA Tournament last year after winning 24 games and returns all but one starter. Western Kentucky graduated its top scorer and said goodbye to an NBA Draft pick, but coach Ken McDonald welcomes a promising class of newcomers to team with two potential All-Conference forwards. Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic and South Alabama could all be in the mix for postseason bids and will compete in their respective divisions.
  • Never a Dull Moment: Several Sun Belt teams dealt with offseason drama. Arkansas State coach John Brady saw stud guard Brandon Reed transfer to Georgia Tech after earning SBC Freshman of the Year honors—and then made harsh statements about his departure. That wasn’t the only transfer Brady dealt with. Former Nebraska and Jacksonville State guard Jay-R Strowbridge stayed in Jonesboro for two weeks before leaving, citing a possible postseason ban, which the school denies. Perhaps the most notable drama came from Florida International. Divisive head coach Isiah Thomas agreed to help the New York Knicks as a consultant, but backed down after public criticism. His top recruiting class also took a hit during the offseason, thanks to the first-semester ineligibility of elite recruits Dominique Ferguson and Phil Taylor. Their status for the second semester is unknown. South Alabama coach Ronnie Arrow kicked off two newcomers before they ever played a minute of basketball, including Kentari Nettles, a forward who garnered high-major interest out of junior college.
  • Musical Chairs: The conference also introduces two new head coaches. Richard replaces Orlando Early at Louisiana-Monroe, while Louisiana-Lafayette hired the established Bob Marlin away from Sam Houston State. Interestingly, Robert Lee, the former Ragin Cajuns’ coach, now works for Richard at ULM as an assistant.

With a loaded roster, it’s time for Johnny Jones and North Texas to make some noise in March. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Predicted Champion

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by jstevrtc on January 23rd, 2010

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

Current Standings

East Division (conf/overall/streak):

  1. Western Kentucky              (4-2/11-6/L1)
  2. Florida Atlantic                               (5-3/9-10/W2)
  3. South Alabama                     (4-3/12-7/W1)
  4. Troy                                   (4-3/9-9/L2)
  5. Middle Tennessee               (4-3/9-10/W1)
  6. Florida International          (3-6/6-16/L2)

West Division (conf/overall/streak):

  1. Arkansas State                     (6-1/11-7/W4)
  2. Denver                                   (5-3/12-7/L2)
  3. North Texas                          (4-4/11-7/L1)
  4. Louisiana-Lafayette              (3-3/6-11/L1)
  5. Louisiana-Monroe                  (3-5/8-11/W2)
  6. New Orleans                          (2-5/7-11/W1)
  7. Arkansas-Little Rock             (1-7/5-14/L1)

Team Updates:

Western Kentucky. Player of the Week goes to Western Kentucky’s star player Steffphon Pettigrew. Pettigrew led WKU in two of their most recent victories, averaging 18.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. He was 11 for 16 from the field in the Hilltoppers’ win against Florida Atlantic last week. This junior is the second WKU player to be honored as Player of the Week. A.J. Slaughter has received the award twice already this season. Slaughter also has moved up on the list of WKU all-time scoring leaders. He has scored 1,219 points as of Jan. 9 and is 24th on the list. A statistic recently released shows that Western Kentucky is holding opponents to an average of 61.9 PPG in the friendly confines of Diddle Arena.

Florida Atlantic. I’m not buying it that Florida Atlantic will remain second in the East Division standings. At halftime on Thursday night, the Owls were losing to the worst team in the conference, Arkansas-Little Rock, and they barely survived, coming back to win by only three.  However, there is some positive Owls news: if Greg Gantt hits 14 more three-pointers he will break the team’s freshman record, and Raymond Taylor is most likely going to break the freshman and overall school records for assists in a season. Taylor is averaging 6.4 APG. Brett Royster is ranked 18th in the NCAA in blocks with an average of 2.9 BPG.

South Alabama. The Jaguars snagged a big win against Troy on Saturday, winning a nail biter, 69-67. Head coach Ronnie Arrow has become South Alabama’s all-time win leader with 172. Freshman Martino Brock recorded his third double-double this season, and in doing so got a career-high 12 rebounds. Junior Gary Redus continues to miss games because of his right leg injury.

Troy. Senior Yamene Coleman had a fine week last week, recording his fifth double-double and scoring 20 points against South Alabama. Twenty points is the most Coleman has ever scored against a Division I opponent. Point guard Michael Volger is 17 assists away from tying the school’s all-time leader in dime-dishing. Volger is also 21st in the NCAA in assists with 5.6 APG. Brandon Hazzard continues to lead the SBC in scoring at 18.3. Troy avoided a three-game losing streak by beating Western Kentucky on Thursday night, 77-69.

Middle Tennessee. This team had 46 rebounds in one game against Florida Atlantic last week. That is a season high for the Blue Raiders. Senior Montarrio Haddock had his fourth 20-point game after a disappointing loss to Florida International last week. If Middle Tennessee lets games like that one slip through the cracks, the post season isn’t looking likely for them. A high note for the Blue Raiders was Desmond Yates’ 35 points against FAU.  An interesting stat about Middle Tennessee is that as of Jan. 7, they are 23rd in the NCAA for free-throw percentage at 74.8% (BYU leads this category at 78.9%).

Florida International. The Golden Panthers won their third conference game of the season last week, but that might end up as one of their last wins of the season. They do have a shot in Saturday night’s game against Arkansas-Little Rock, which should be a relatively easy home win.

Arkansas State. The Red Wolves are pretty hot right now. They are definitely the team to beat in the West Division. That win against North Texas was big in more ways than one.  Arkansas State scored its highest point total in conference play with 83 points. Freshman Brandon Reed led ASU against the Mean Green, putting up 18. Three other players on the Red Wolves scored in the double digits that game. Against South Alabama later that week, freshman Brandon Peterson swatted his 35th block of the season. Arkansas State is ranked 14th in the NCAA in three-point field goal defense.

Denver. The Pioneers are second in the NCAA in field goal percentage at 51.9%. and 19th in three-point field goal percentage at 40.5%. Now, the bad news. Denver lost their weekend games in Louisiana to ULM and ULL. They just can’t cut it on the road. If Denver can beat South Alabama this Saturday they will extend their 11-game home win streak. Keep an eye on freshman Chase Hallam who had a career-high four three-pointers against ULM. Hallam leads DU by making 47.8% of his three-pointers.

North Texas.  Tristan Thompson did the most in helping the Mean Green get by Troy last week with his 21 points. Senior Eric Tramiel is back in the line-up after suffering a wrist injury and missing four games. During the game against Troy, Tramiel scored 11 points, then added 12 against Arkansas State. Fun fact: North Texas has won at least one game in 11 of the SBC’s 13 venues since the 2006-07 season.

Louisiana-Lafayette. Well, my predictions from two weeks ago about Louisiana-Lafayette losing three of their next five games may be proven wrong. If the Ragin’ Cajuns win either of their next two games, I’ll have to admit that I was way off about this team. And moving up isn’t impossible for the Cajuns. They have maintained that middle spot in the West Division standings all season, while the three teams above them flip-flop around.

Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks had a surprising victory over South Alabama last Thursday, 61-58. And then used that momentum for another surprising victory over Denver on Saturday, 64-53. ULM only missed four free throws against Denver, shooting 26-30.  Senior guard Tony Hooper has 198 career-steals, putting him four away from the school record. Brian Spencer holds the record at 202, from 1985-88.

New Orleans. Big news for UNO player Carl Blair, he is second in the NCAA for triple-doubles…with a total of one. Another UNO player with some noteworthy stats is Billy Humphrey who is 33rd in the NCAA in FT% at 88.3%. However, Humphrey was sidelined last week due to a knee injury. The Privateers managed to win without him, defeating UALR, 67-66, in overtime. If they hadn’t been playing the worst team in the conference that might not have been the outcome without Humphrey. UNO lost their 13th straight game in the Louisiana-Lafayette Cajundome on Thursday night.

Arkansas-Little Rock. The Trojans finally won a conference game. Not saying much considering they beat Louisiana-Lafayette who also has a losing record. They unfortunately regained their usual form against FAU, dropping a close one, 77-74, to make it nine losses out of ten games.

Upcoming games

Sat., Jan 23     Middle Tennessee @ WKU 12 p.m.

Sat., Jan 23     South Alabama @ Denver 5 p.m.

Sat., Jan 23     Arkansas State @ Florida Atlantic 6 p.m.

Sat., Jan 23     Troy @ Louisiana-Lafayette 7:15 p.m.

Mon., Jan 25   WKU @ Southern Illinois 7:05 p.m.

Thurs., Jan 28            Denver @ UALR 7 p.m.

Thurs., Jan 28            North Texas @ WKU 7 p.m.

Sat., Jan 30     New Orleans @ WKU 3 p.m.

Sat., Jan 30     North Texas @ Middle Tennessee 7 p.m.

Sat., Jan 30     Denver @ Arkansas State 7:05 p.m.

Share this story

Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by jstevrtc on January 11th, 2010

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

Current Standings

East Division (conf/overall/streak)

  1. Troy                                             (4-1/9-7/W1)
  2. Middle Tennessee                  (3-1/8-8/W1)
  3. Western Kentucky                 (2-1/9-5/L1)
  4. South Alabama                       (3-2/11-6/L2)
  5. Florida Atlantic                      (3-2/7-9/W2)
  6. Florida International            (2-4/5-14/L1)

West Division (conf/overall/streak)

  1. Denver                                          (5-1/12-5/W2)
  2. Arkansas State                           (4-1/9-7/W2)
  3. North Texas                                (3-3/10-6/W1)
  4. Louisiana-Lafayette                (2-2/5-10/W1)
  5. Louisiana-Monroe                   (1-5/6-11/L2)
  6. New Orleans                               (1-5/6-11/L2)
  7. Arkansas-Little Rock             (0-5/4-12/L7)

News and Notes

South Alabama junior Tim Williams was the Sun Belt Conference player of the week, and he deserved it after leading the Jaguars to three road victories and averaging 20.7 points in those games. Williams is the first South Alabama player to win the award since Brandon Davis in the 2008 season.

Denver extended their home win streak to 11 after defeating Western Kentucky Sunday afternoon, 72-67. Nate Rohnert and Rob Lewis led the Pioneers with 23 and 15 points, respectively. Western Kentucky’s star player A.J. Slaughter did indeed perform for the Hilltoppers, scoring 28 points.

Another good conference match-up was Arkansas State’s victory over South Alabama on Saturday, 69-63. Thanks to Arkansas State freshman guard Brandon Reed’s 26 points, the Red Wolves increased their win streak and conference standing.

Troy senior Brandon Hazzard leads the conference in scoring averaging 18.9 PPG, followed by New Orleans’  Billy Humphrey at 18.3 PPG. Third in line is Florida Atlantic freshman Raymond Taylor, averaging 17.2 PPG, who’s  having a fine debut season so far despite FAU’s losing record.

Team Updates

Since conference play started Troy University has surpassed South Alabama and now is leading the East Division. Troy had a big win against Western Division leader University of Denver, but lost its first conference game to Florida Atlantic. Senior Richard Delk set a career high with five steals last week and nabbed a team-best seven boards against Denver.

Middle Tennessee is trying to maintain a winning record and should be able to win at least one game this week against Florida International. Forward Desmond Yates leads the team with an average of 14 PPG but Montarrio Haddock has more solid overall statistics, chalking up 13.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 1.5 APG.

Western Kentucky is having a better season than I think most people expected. Despite their loss to Denver on Sunday, the Hilltoppers should be able to pick it back up for the next couple games against Florida Atlantic and Florida International. With the rebounding prowess of Steffphon Pettigrew and Sergio Kerusch, Western Kentucky is second in the conference in pulling down offensive boards.

After playing all of the Florida teams in the SBC, South Alabama produced a three-game win streak but then lost the next two at home, and it looks like they are better on the road right now.  Two of their last three games have gone into overtime, meaning anything is possible for the Jaguars.

Florida Atlantic did not have a good December, losing five of seven. Let’s hope January will be better for the Owls. So far it’s looking good but they have a long way to go to be anywhere near competetive for a conference championship. This week brings two tough games against Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee.

Florida International cannot win on the road. The Golden Panthers are 2-10 on the road and aren’t done traveling yet. This week they travel to the states of Kentucky and Tennessee to play the same teams as Florida Atlantic. It will be interesting to see which Florida team can get the job done. My bet is on Florida Atlantic (if either).

The University of Denver Pioneers continue to show that they’re not messing around this season. They are leading the conference by one win and should grab a few more on the road this week against the Louisiana teams. It could be interesting, though, because their road record is 1-4, most likely because they have to travel halfway across the U.S. each time they play an away game. Sophomore Brian Stafford and juniors Andrew Hooper and Rob Lewis are all averaging in double-figures.

Arkansas State is second in the conference. Can’t wait to see them in heir rematch against Denver at the end of January, but for now they continue traveling for three more games. Guards Brandon Reed and Daniel Bryant, who each average around 13.5 PPG, carry the Red Wolves right now.

The North Texas Mean Green are stuck right in the middle. Anything can happen for them in the next two months. After defeating New Orleans and Arkansas-Little Rock, the Green were able to move up to the No. 3 position in the West Division standings.

Louisiana-Lafayette is probably going to lose three of their next five games, which will keep them from moving up in the standings anytime soon. Their recent win against North Texas was a close game and could have gone either way.

Not much to say about Louisiana-Monroe, New Orleans and Arkansas-Little Rock. They all have losing records and at this point there is not much they can do to turn around their seasons. New Orleans does have two top players but after that the stats for their team members trail those of other teams. Arkansas-Little Rock has yet to win a conference game and has a seven-game losing streak. Not much hope for them.

Upcoming Important Match-ups

1/16 South Alabama vs. Troy 8:05 p.m.

1/18 Middle Tennessee vs. Western Kentucky 8 p.m.

1/21 Troy vs. Western Kentucky 8 p.m.

1/23 Denver vs. South Alabama 6 p.m.

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Sun Belt Conference Tourney Wrapup

Posted by nvr1983 on March 13th, 2009

Toppers Return to The Dance
As we predicted last time around, Western Kentucky will represent the Sun Belt Conference in the Big dance this year. This was no surprise to avid Belt followers. However, what was a surprise was the opponent they faced in the finals – South Alabama.

South Alabama came into the tournament as the sixth seed, and slid into the finals after winning their first two games by a combined total of five points. One of their opponents was Troy, who’s magical run came to a close by just three points. Not that they didn’t have their fair share of chances to get the win themselves. Trojan guard Michael Vogler missed the front end of a one-and-one and then two 3-point tries in the final 17 seconds as Troy tried to tie the game.
Ironically, South Alabama’s last leg into the final game came with little difficulty when they knocked off  Arkansas Little-Rock, a team that also struggled to find its range, by ten points. The Trojans had no answer for the loss of Moore, their top scorer, and it showed, as they went 16-61 from the floor on the night. However, South Alabama would not be so fortunate against WKU in the finals.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Sometimes This Stuff Writes Itself. . .

Posted by nvr1983 on March 12th, 2009

Here at Rush the Court we like to think of ourselves as one of the more intellectual college hoops sites out there, but on occasion we like to follow the advice of Chris Rock who once told the audience at the VMAs to “Take off your thinking caps and lower your standards,” when he introduced Kid Rock. Well today is one of those occasions. I was going through my RSS Reader when the title of an article caught my eye: “Longtime Arkansas State coach Dickey Nutt hired at Southeast Missouri St“.

I’ll let that name sink in for a while. Are you done laughing yet? Ok, now we can continue Dickey, who is the brother of current Mississippi and former Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt, falls into a long line of oddly named people who have spent time in the state of Arkansas. The state produced perhaps the most infamous Internet headline ever when ESPN titled a column “Coach Nutt replaces Johnson with Dick against the ‘Cocks,” which was later edited to the tamer version that you see now. And of course there is this famous photo:

arkansasAside from all the jokes about his name, we have to wonder how desperate Nutt was for a job. He is going from coaching a respectable program (189-186 in 13 seasons although he resigned last season after going 9-17) to one that is coming off a 3-27 season and faces potential NCAA sanctions. Apparently the Southeast Missouri State program can’t even cheat right. You would figure that cheating should at least get you to .500 playing against Ohio Valley Conference competition, but the Redhawks went winless in conference play.

Share this story