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.

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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.

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Checking in on the… Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on February 26th, 2009



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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