Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 21st, 2011

 

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

A Look Back: News and Notes

  • Dennis Harris wants a reunion with John Brady. Harris, who signed with Brady at LSU and remained at the school when Trent Johnson took over in 2008, announced his decision to transfer to Arkansas State earlier this month. He appeared in only four games this season, but saw significant minutes as a role player last year. His 6’11 frame and long wingspan has to frighten opponents in his new league, especially since Harris will play alongside Martavius Adams when he becomes eligible in the spring of 2011.
  • It’s not often we get to relay a human interest story to our Sun Belt fans, so let’s take this opportunity to recognize Denver guard Kyle Lewis for his heroic actions this month. According to Fox Sports Rocky Mountain, Lewis encountered a man in need of medical attention while walking on campus and called 911. Lewis told a sideline reporter for the television network that he actually kicked the man in the chest to resuscitate him. Lewis, named a team captain this year, had started for three seasons before taking on a bench role this year as a senior. So he’s an unselfish guy in more ways than one.
  • The exact reason for Arkansas-Little Rock coach Steve Shields’ suspension for a home game against Louisiana-Monroe January 12 hasn’t been released by either the Sun Belt Conference nor the athletic department itself. All we know is that the league wasn’t too happy with Shields’ antics after a heartbreaking overtime loss at Denver in early January, won on a late three-point play by Chase Hallam. Shields only missed one game, and his team shook off the suspension with an easy 81-50 win at home.

Shout-Out Section

Where in the world did Troy come from? After losing five starters from a division championship team, the Trojans stumbled to a 2-13 start. That’s when Mo Weathers and Vernon Taylor decided they’d had enough. The two guards fueled a home win against Western Kentucky January 13 and made it two straight by shocking North Texas 89-81 two days later. The whole team deserves a shout-out, but we’ll focus on Weathers and Taylor in particular, who are thriving in coach Don Maestri’s up-tempo style. Taylor, who’s becoming a league favorite thanks to his creative Fresh Prince-like hairstyle, scored 20 against WKU and 22 against the Mean Green. Weathers didn’t make that much noise in non-conference play, but since the middle of December, he’s been unstoppable. Weathers has dished out more than 10 assists on three different occasions and shot 60 percent from three-point land in those two SBC wins. Sun Belt Network commentator Dave Odom, an accomplished college coach at Wake Forest and South Carolina, said he hasn’t seen a single guard in this league better than Weathers yet.

We’ve followed UALR’s point guard situation throughout the season, and it’s safe to say now that Shields has two fine options in D’Andre Williams and Chuck Guy. And although Williams deserves a shout-out for leading the team in assists, it’s Guy who’s added a new element to the team in his freshman season. He’s scored in double-figures in each of his past five outings, and he’s lighting it up from beyond the arc—during those contests, he’s shooting almost 52 percent from three.

Quote of the Week

 

“Players win the games. And they did just that in overtime.”

–Denver coach Joe Scott after an overtime win at home against Florida International kept the Pioneers undefeated in league play

Power Rankings

East

1. Florida Atlantic (14-6, 6-0): These Owls are for real. Of course, we’ve known this for weeks now. But we really know it now, especially now that FAU hasn’t lost since before Christmas. Most recently, Florida Atlantic dismantled Western Kentucky team at Diddle Arena by jumping on the reeling Hilltoppers immediately and never looking back. The most impressive thing about this team is how well it’s defending and how patient it’s been on offense. One of the youngest teams in college basketball last season, the Owls are growing more mature by the day. That’s due in large part to the consistency of point guards Ray Taylor and Alex Tucker, who are helping leading-scorer Greg Gantt get shots. Mike Jarvis has taken this group of youngsters and coached them into a disciplined team, both offensively and defensively. Now, FAU can show this improvement to a national audience Saturday against Arkansas-Little Rock, televised on ESPN2.

Up Next: Jan. 22 vs. UALR, Jan. 27 vs. MTSU, Jan. 29 vs. WKU

2. Florida International (8-10, 3-3): After racing to a 3-0 start with wins against the bottom of the league, FIU is back to earth after facing the Sun Belt’s top competition from the West. The Golden Panthers have dropped three straight games to North Texas, Denver and Arkansas-Little Rock, all of whom are in the mix in the West Division. FIU hung with UNT and UALR for the most part and fell to overtime against the Pioneers with DeJuan Wright sidelined, so it’s not as if this team was overwhelmed against the other division. There’s still work to do, most notably on the defensive end.

Up Next: Jan. 22 at USA, Jan. 27 vs. WKU, Jan. 29 vs. MTSU

3. Middle Tennessee State (8-11, 3-3): It’s another typical Kermit Davis team in Murfreesboro this season. Although the coach is often criticized being for unable to take Middle Tennessee State to an elite level, there’s no denying his consistency. In 2010-11, he’s got another scrappy team with the ability to compete with anyone. MTSU already knocked off North Texas, and the Blue Raiders evened their league record to 3-3 by cooling off Troy Thursday night with a 63-51 win at home. If James Washington continues to lead, this team won’t go away.

Up Next: Jan. 22 vs. Denver, Jan. 27 at FAU, Jan. 29 at FIU

4. Troy (4-14, 2-4): The Shout-Out section covered most of Troy’s emergence, but we can’t understate how surprising the Trojans’ two wins against WKU and North Texas were. The first was understandable—after a slow start, Troy slowly crept back into the game and demoralized an emotionally crippled Western Kentucky squad. The win against UNT came out of nowhere. Don Maestri has this team playing with a new kind of energy, and offensively the Trojans couldn’t be stopped against the Mean Green. Troy suffered a setback last night in a road loss at MTSU, but after a 2-13 start, a two-game winning streak in conference and a convincing win against the defending champs is a miracle.

Up Next: Jan. 22 at WKU, Jan. 27 vs. USA, Jan. 29 at ULM

5. Western Kentucky (6-11, 1-4): It’s finally happened: Western Kentucky has won a Sun Belt Conference game. It only took about a month, right? With rumors swirling about coach Ken McDonald’s job status, WKU found a way to win at South Alabama last night by nine points, but it wasn’t easy (what else is new?). The Hilltoppers nearly blew a 24-point second-half lead during a second half collapse. If there’s one thing WKU has done well consistently this year, it’s been offensive rebounding—and the Toppers dominated that statistic Thursday night. The victory is at least a start for this squad during this nightmare of a season. At the very least, it’s never seemed as if WKU has just plain quit at any point this year. Even among all the losses, Western Kentucky has always shown small spurts of greatness. A full 40 minutes just hasn’t materialized yet.

Up Next: Jan. 22 vs. Troy, Jan. 27 at FIU, Jan. 28 at FAU

6. South Alabama (7-10, 1-5): Hopes of a bounce-back season have all but faded for Ronnie Arrow’s team. Since a home win against Middle Tennessee State, USA has lost four straight Sun Belt games. It’s now hit rock bottom, with two consecutive home losses to winless teams (UL-Monroe and Western Kentucky). So what does Arrow do from here? He’s got a good group of guards and an emerging post presence in Augustin Rubit, but South Alabama isn’t guarding well enough to win games.

Up Next: Jan. 22 vs. FIU, Jan. 27 at Troy, Jan. 29 vs. ULL

West

1. North Texas (15-4, 4-2): One glance at the West Division standings shows North Texas two games out of first place. We’re not telling you to ignore the results on the court, but try to consider UNT’s body of work this season. Road losses at Middle Tennessee State and especially Troy are red flags, but the Mean Green’s work in the non-conference is proof that the two losses are an anomaly, not a growing trend. North Texas has serious issues defensively and got lit up by a red-hot Troy team that made everything it threw up, and this isn’t a perfect squad. But this same team beat LSU by 20 points on the road, beat Texas Tech at home, hung with Kansas for one half and has a roster full of NCAA Tournament experience. Don’t jump off the bandwagon because of two losses—and mark your calendars for a Jan. 29 showdown between Denver and North Texas.

Up Next: Jan. 22 vs. Arkansas State, Jan. 27 at ULL, Jan. 29 at Denver

2. Denver (10-9, 6-0): Denver is certainly not a pretender in this conference, not with a 6-0 record and a 74-36 beat-down of Arkansas State last night. The Pioneers are playing better than anyone in the league, and it’s not even close. Just how good were they last night in that victory? DU made 13 of 19 threes, forced ASU into 21 turnovers and held it to 17 points in the first half. And Denver even out-rebounded the Red Wolves, which is surprising because that’s not the strongest part of this team’s game. Denver still has to beat North Texas next week to prove it’s the outright best team in the West, but Joe Scott has this team rolling. It’s hardly the same team that limped to a 2-9 start and looked lost offensively. Scott’s offense, a Princeton-style system predicated on layups and threes, is a perfect fit for his personnel, and individually nearly every player is playing at a higher level. That’s true for freshman Chris Udofia in particular, who recorded a double-double against FIU and has established himself as a primary contributor on this team. Do note that Denver hasn’t yet been tested on the road; its only road contests in league play came at bottom-feeders WKU and ULM.

Up Next: Jan. 22 at MTSU, Jan. 29 vs. UNT

3. Arkansas-Little Rock (12-9, 4-2): After losing at UNT and Denver to start SBC play, Arkansas-Little Rock has done everything necessary to stay in contention in this division. The Trojans defended their home court—like they usually do—against three inferior opponents in Troy, Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette. UALR then notched an important road win last night at Florida International (remember, this team didn’t win a road game last season). It’s easy to forget about the Trojans this season. After all, they weren’t very good last year, and Denver, FAU and North Texas get most of the attention in this league. Plus, Shields is known for his methodical, grinding style of play, and that’s not of interest to any fans. But Arkansas-Little Rock has quietly pieced together a solid campaign and has a senior-laden backcourt. The Trojans don’t have much size, but they’re scrappy and will put up a fight in this division.

Up Next: Jan. 22 at FAU, Jan. 29 vs. Arkansas State

4. Arkansas State (10-11, 4-3): It’s the kind of score that causes a double-take: Denver 74, Arkansas State 36. After a three-game winning streak, it looked like the Red Wolves were turning the corner. Last week, ASU dug a hole against Lamar in a non-conference match-up but rallied for a home win. Two months ago, it wouldn’t have completed that comeback—but Arkansas State was a new team. Right? After scoring 17 points in the first half against Denver, maybe this is the same ASU team after all. No players scored in double figures last night and John Brady’s normally stout defense allowed the Pioneers to shoot nearly 58 percent from the field. The good news is, ASU has a chance to correct things when it travels to North Texas Saturday.

Up Next: Jan. 22 at North Texas, Jan. 27 vs. ULM, Jan. 29 at UALR

5. Louisiana-Lafayette (4-14, 1-5): Centenary was just what ULL needed. Bob Marlin is having a rough first season: point guard Josh Brown is injured again, center Colby Batiste is off the team and the Rajun’ Cajuns have lost five of six Sun Belt games. That’s why a game against Centenary, which is in the process of moving to Division III, came at the perfect time. Louisiana-Lafayette played the Gentleman on Wednesday night and won by 32 points. Former Centenary guard David Perez, playing immediately this season because of that reclassification, scored zero points against his former team and missed all six shots he took.

Up Next: Jan. 22 vs. ULM, Jan. 27 vs. UNT, Jan. 30 at South Alabama

6. Louisiana-Monroe (6-14, 1-5): The Warhawks lost at UALR by 31, at UTEP by 30 and at Stephen F. Austin by 24. So ULM’s 67-65 win at South Alabama was a bit surprising last week. Star guard Fred Brown scored 25 points in that victory. He’s playing more efficiently lately and has benefited from the development Tommy Sykes beside him. With a league win under his belt, coach Keith Richard can now focus his attention on a rivalry game this weekend. Louisiana-Lafayette and ULM will battle for second-to-last-place tomorrow, so throw out the records! In all seriousness, the winner will have a little momentum for the rest of the year, and the loser may be destined for dead last.

Up Next: Jan 22. at ULL, Jan. 27 at ASU, Jan. 29 vs. Troy

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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

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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 »

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Checking in on… the Summit League

Posted by rtmsf on January 29th, 2010

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

The Summit League    (Conf. W-L  — Overall W-L)

  1. IUPUI                9-1                          16-7
  2. Oakland                9-1                          15-8
  3. Oral Roberts              7-3                          12-10
  4. South Dakota State          7-3                          11-10
  5. IPFW                 5-5                          10-10
  6. North Dakota State          4-6                          7-13
  7. UMKC               3-6                          9-11
  8. Western Illinois        2-8                          8-12
  9. Centenary         2-8                          7-14
  10. Southern Utah            1-8                          5-15

Top Storylines

  • Last Saturday, Oakland was able to tie the record for consecutive conference wins with 16, but they couldn’t beat the record, getting hammered by IUPUI 78-54. The Jags capture the top spot in the conference, and all of the sudden, it’s a four horse race for first.
  • Oakland center Keith Benson earned another Summit League Player of the Week award with his 22.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in two games against North Dakota and South Dakota. Pro scouts are starting to attend Benson’s games on a regular basis now, and he has a good shot at landing a seat on an NBA sideline.

Last Week

IUPUI crushed Oakland on Thursday, making them the front-runner in the conference. I have said all year long, Oakland does not impress me, and they are beatable on any night. The Jags are picking up momentum, and they are the best team in the Summit as of today. Oral Roberts dropped a close game to their crosstown rival, the Tulsa Hurricanes. The loss was a big punch to the gut of the Golden Eagles (usually blowing a 15-point second-half lead does that), but it may have been a blessing in disguise. Since that loss, ORU has rallied to win back-to-back conference games in blowouts, and they still have their eyes on first place.

  • Alpha-squads: Oakland, IUPUI, Oral Roberts
  • Contenders: South Dakota State
  • Long-Shots: IPFW, North Dakota State
  • Bottom-feeders:  UMKC, Western Illinois, Centenary, Southern Utah

Team Breakdowns

In my standings I have three alpha squads and one contender, but in reality, only three teams can win the conference.  Oakland, IUPUI, and Oral Roberts have a combined conference record of 25-5. The bottom seven teams? 24-44.

  • IUPUI—very impressed with the Jags. Not a single team has been able to stop Alex Young (18.1 points) and Robert Glenn (18.2 points), and having two guys that can carry the team is a really nice asset. They are my pick to win the whole thing.
  • Oakland–don’t get me wrong, I still like these guys, as they have the most talent in the conference and it should be their turn to make the Big Dance. But they just haven’t been able to close the deal as a favorite… ever. So I will believe it when I see it.
  • Oral Roberts—seven of their ten losses came by a combined 30 points. That’s 4.3 points per loss. A couple more buckets, a few more free-throws, fewer injuries, and this team could be 19-3, and might be a darkhorse favorite when the conference tournament rolls around. Don’t forget, #12 New Mexico, Missouri, and Stanford fell to this injury-depleted team. Oakland and IUPUI could as well.
  • South Dakota State—lost to Oakland by three on Saturday, and their only bad game in the conference came early in the season against IUPUI. I still think lightning could strike and they end up in the conference semifinals or heck, even the final, but there is no chance they win the conference.
  • IPFW—4-1 in their last five conference games (dropped a close one to SDSU 65-64), but their next two games are against IUPUI and ORU, so that run could come to a screeching halt.
  • North Dakota State—they can be dangerous if they are shooting well, but they just don’t have the guard power that is needed to contend in the Summit. Whenever they face an upper-level team, they get exposed by the better point guards.
  • UMKC– they haven’t showed me enough to even be considered a long shot. They don’t have the ability to score more than 60 or 65 points a game, and like most of the teams at the bottom of the conference, they lack depth on their bench. 3-6 so far in the conference, and to be honest, I don’t think anyone expected much more this year.
  • Western Illinois—they are 8-12, but their wins have come from Truman State, Central Arkansas, Greenville, Culver-Stockton, Savannah State, Centenary, and Southern Utah. I don’t think those wins will boost your RPI.
  • Centenary—the hot start had all the Centenary fans believing (4-2), but since that time they have gone 4-12. David Perez has cooled off considerably, with his scoring average dropping to 16.9 points. On defense they are giving up 81 points per game.
  • Southern Utah—the Thunderbirds still have eight games to turn this season around and make it respectable, but they have only won one game since Christmas, so those prospects are grim.

Games to Watch

  • February 6 – Oral Roberts @ Oakland – Oral Roberts’ last chance to close the gap on Oakland before the tournament.
  • February 13 - IUPUI @ Oral Roberts – IUPUI will be looking to put away ORU, and perhaps clinch the number one spot.
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Checking in on… the Summit League

Posted by rtmsf on January 16th, 2010

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

Standings

  1. Oakland                                               12-7       (6-0)
  2. IUPUI                                                     12-7       (5-1)
  3. South Dakota State                         9-8          (5-1)
  4. Oral Roberts                                      9-9          (4-3)
  5. UMKC                                                    8-8          (2-3)
  6. North Dakota State                         5-10       (2-3)
  7. IPFW                                                     7-9          (2-4)
  8. Centenary                                           6-11       (2-5)
  9. Western Illinois                              7-9          (1-5)
  10. Southern Utah                                  5-12       (1-5)

Top Storylines

  • IUPUI beat Oral Roberts at home 90-87. You can now legitimately argue that IUPUI is just as good as Oakland, if not better, and the Golden Grizzlies will be looking over their shoulder the rest of the way.
  • Oakland is on a 12-game conference win streak right now, dating back to late last year. The record is held by Cleveland State with 16. The way things are going for Oakland, they are going to blow that record away.
  • In Thursday night’s game, both IUPUI coach Ron Hunter and ORU coach Scott Sutton went an entire game shoeless to draw awareness to Samaritan’s Feat, a nonprofit organization that accepts shoe donations and distributes them to needy children worldwide.

    Last Week

    The Summit was quiet last week, with only four games played. However we still learned a couple new things: 1) IUPUI is good. Oakland is still better, but how much better? I can’t wait until these two meet again.  The power struggle between these two will be the top storyline going forward this year. 2) Maybe ORU can’t overcome the bad hand they have been dealt by injuries. It’s a shame, because it was looking like IUPUI, Oakland, and ORU were going to battle until the end. ORU just can’t win on the road, and even though the two losses to Oakland and IUPUI were by a combined six points, it’s still clear that they are on the outside looking in.

    Alpha Squads: Oakland, IUPUI

    Contenders: South Dakota, Oral Roberts

    Long Shots: North Dakota, UMKC

    Bottom FeedersIPFW, Centenary, Southern Utah, Western Illinois

    Team Breakdowns

    In a nutshell, there are three teams that can win the conference from this point in the season and South Dakota State and Oral Roberts are fighting for that third position. The Golden Grizzlies and the Jags are rolling while Oral Roberts is reeling, but they can bounce back. It is going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.

    • Oakland: Still Rolling.  I am really impressed with preseason player of the year, Jonathan Jones. Is it safe to change his name to Jon Jones yet? This guy is a man, and he owns every guard in this conference. He is clearly the number one player. His stat line is not huge, just 12/6/2 stls, but he doesn’t have to score with all those weapons available to him at Oakland.
    • IUPUI: Hear those footsteps? That‘s IUPUI closing the gap on Oakland.  Big conference win over Oral Roberts at home. People are paying attention now.
    • South Dakota: The enigma team. They shouldn’t be doing this well, but they are. It probably has something to do with having three players shooting 82% or better from the line. No other team has more than one. That can get you wins in close games they might have lost in the past.
    • Oral Roberts: Their three conference losses came from the three teams above, does that mean they are the fourth best team? Maybe, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish right here in fourth.  Scott Sutton is a great coach, but no coach in America can survive a long season after losing half his team.
    • UMKC: Just a little short on talent to compete with the big boys, but on a good night, they could squeak by South Dakota and Oral Roberts.
    • North Dakota State: They are a long way from the days of Ben Woodside. 5-10 is not where you want to be to say the least.
    • IPFW: I had a fan ask me during one Summit League game “what is a Mastodon (the IPFW mascot) anyway?” I said, “kind of like an elephant.” They could use an elephant in their roster; they’re too small to be a serious threat to anyone.
    • Centenary: The Gents are already having a better season than last year, and although his production dropped, David Perez is still scoring 17 points a game.
    • Southern Utah: They lost to IPFW and only managed to score 56 points. They are in serious need of offensive production.
    • Western Illinois: They blew out Centenary by 19, so we know they can still win. I hate to see teams play poorly, so I hope they can start getting things together in the second half of the season.

    Games to Watch

    • Tulsa @ Oral Roberts, Wednesday, January 20. 7 p.m. – Rumor has it that this game is already sold out. Over 11,000 fans expected for this one, and it should be split right down the middle. Crosstown rivals will be battling for the Mayor’s Cup, and city pride on the line. This game is always good, and both teams want to win it and can.
    • Oakland @ South Dakota State, Saturday, January 23, 7:30 p.m. - I cant imagine Oakland losing this one, but its #1 vs. #3 in the conference, and it could be a great opportunity for South Dakota to prove something.
    • North Dakota State @ Oral Roberts, Thursday January 28, 7 p.m. - Oral Roberts is looking to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss at home that won the Summit League regular season crown for NDSU. There is a lot of bad blood between these two schools, and no Ben Woodside to save NDSU. Expect a good, close game.
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    Checking in on… the Summit League

    Posted by jstevrtc on December 18th, 2009

    checkinginon

    Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

    Standings:

    1. IUPUI  (2-0)  8-3
    2. Oral Roberts  (2-0)  6-6
    3. Oakland  (1-0)  5-5
    4. UMKC  (1-1)  5-4
    5. Centenary  (1-1)  4-5
    6. North Dakota State  (1-1)  4-5
    7. South Dakota State  (1-1)  4-7
    8. IPFW  (0-1)  3-5
    9. Western Illinois  (0-2)  4-6
    10. Southern Utah  (0-2)  3-8

    Top Stories:

    The top story continues to be the mounting injuries for the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles.  After losing sixth-man Warren Niles to a broken hand, it looks like this year’s team just may be cursed or something along those lines.  How else do you explain losing four players for the season, plus two more with broken bones, and one continuing to play with a sprained ankle?  The rash of injuries is unprecedented, and it leaves ORU with only seven healthy/eligible players.

    Oakland’s Center Keith Benson ranks among the nation’s top 10 in three individual statistical categories.  He is fifth in blocks with 3.9 BPG, seventh in double-doubles with six and 10th in rebounding with 11.4 RPG.  The man is simply unstoppable in this conference, and he will really take off once the weaker conference teams grace Oakland’s schedule.

    Last week Oral Roberts showed some heart, upsetting Missouri in at home 60-59, a season defining win for a team that has half the team out with injury.  Imagine how dangerous this team would be if they were full strength?  They followed up the emotional win with two losses to Indiana State and a blowout to Louisville, the same for Oakland, who dropped hard against Michigan State.  IUPUI took the liberty of establishing themselves as a real threat to win the regular season title, and an automatic berth in the NIT.  I can now guarantee with unwavering confidence that there are only three teams that can win the conference title in March.  Everyone else is simply awful.  Oakland, ORU, and IUPUI have a combined conference record of 5-0.  The remaining seven teams have a combined record of 4-9.

    Alpha-squads– Oakland, ORU, IUPUI.

    The Contenders– North Dakota State

    The Long-shots– IPFW, UMKC, South Dakota State

    The Bottom-Feeders– Western Illinois, Centenary, Southern Utah

    Oakland — We still haven’t been able to see how dominant Oakland will be in the conference, having only played one game so far.  They are still the favorites as the first half of the season comes to a close.  Their Center, Keith Benson, continues his dominance, being named player of the week in the Summit.  The junior is averaging 18/11 and 4 blocks a game.

    IUPUI —  The Jags are coming on strong, pushing their record to 8-3 and leading the conference right now.  I like the way the Jags are playing, and they are going to be a tough team to beat going forward.  They are getting big numbers from sophomore guard Alex Young and senior Robert Glenn, both combining for 36 PPG.  They are my dark horse pick to win the whole thing.

    Oral Roberts — Scott Sutton still has his team playing hard even though the team is completely decimated by injury. The big morale-boosting win at home against Missouri will give the remaining players some confidence.  This team will be at the top until the end, but there is no way they are winning the conference with seven players who are mostly walk-ons and newcomers.

    North Dakota State — North Dakota has a chance to move up in the conference and they could shock the top teams in this conference if Saul Phillips can keep his guys playing well. They have three guys in the top 15 in scoring. Their defense will have to improve if they want to compete with Oakland and IUPUI.

    IPFW – The Mastodons are 1-4 on the road so far this season, and have given up 84 PPG to conference opponents. Next up:  #12 Michigan State.

    UMKC — The Kangaroos are still searching for an identity and someone to step up as a proven leader for this team. They are near or at the middle of nearly every statistical category, which means they are just an average team in this conference.

    South Dakota State — Of all the teams in this conference, I am most disappointed with SDSU.  Coming into this year I had high hopes for this team.  They played well in the conference tournament, making a good showing by knocking off defending-champ ORU.  But this year they started off sloppy.  They are last in blocks, ninth in steals, and ninth in defensive rebounds.  They also need Garrett Callahan to start producing more; their star is only averaging 12.5 points.

    Southern Utah — They are going to struggle all year long, basically from a lack of talent.  But they play hard every night, and that will keep them in some games.  They will pull out a few wins during the long season.  They stuck with #23 UNLV for at least a half.

    Centenary — Centenary is not leaving Division I basketball quietly, continuing to battle hard, even though this will be their last year in the Summit League.  Led by the Conference’s top scorer, David Perez (21.4 PPG), the Gents are 1-1 in the conference and 4-5 overall, hardly the worst team in the conference, as was predicted.  It won’t last, but let’s give them their due for now.

    Western Illinois — The absence of an offense leaves WIU in a sad state.  Their top scorer, Matt Lander, is averaging a mere 10.9 PPG.  Eastern Illinois could only scrape together 44 points and they still beat Western.  What I am trying to say is… this team is bad.

    Upcoming games to watch:

    Saturday 12/19, 7:30 PM — Oakland @ Oregon.  To me, this is a must win game for Oakland.  This is a very beatable Oregon team.

    Tuesday 12/22, 7 PM — Oakland @ #10 Syracuse

    Wednesday 12/23 — #19 New Mexico @ Oral Roberts.  This is the first ranked team to visit the Mabee Center since 1996.

    With the midway point of the season approaching, this conference is Oakland’s to lose now that ORU is on the injured reserve.  Keep an eye on IUPUI, as they may make Oakland work for a championship.  Everyone else is playing for fourth.

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    Checking In On… the Summit League

    Posted by jstevrtc on December 4th, 2009

    checkinginon

    Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

    Current Standings (Overall Record/League Record):

    1. IUPUI  (6-2/1-0)
    2. Centenary  (4-2/1-0)
    3. Oral Roberts  (4-4/1-0)
    4. North Dakota State  (3-3/1-0)
    5. Oakland  (3-4/0-0)
    6. IPFW  (2-3/0-0)
    7. UMKC  (3-3/0-1)
    8. Western Illinois  (3-4/0-1)
    9. Southern Utah  (3-5/0-1)
    10. South Dakota State  (2-5/0-1)

    Top Storylines:

    • Whatever could go wrong has gone wrong for Oral Roberts University to start this season.  After getting an emotional win against Stanford, everything came crashing down to earth when they discovered that their junior point guard Rod Pearson became the third player THIS YEAR to suffer a season-ending ACL tear.  To make matters worse, the third string point guard, sophomore Beloved Rodgers, quit the team last week as well.  Apparently he was not happy with the minutes he was seeing.  So Scott Sutton was forced to activate his fourth-string emergency guard, redshirt freshman Mikey Mangum.  Who knew the most valuable player of the Golden Eagles season would not be a player at all, but the personal trainer?  Here is a suggestion:  stretch before games.
    • Oakland continues to roll, with Keith Benson earning player of the week honors, averaging 20/11/5 blocks in three games last week.  Also, Oakland guard Jonathan Jones became the conference’s all-time assist leader when he dished out 11 in a win over Central Arkansas on November 28; he now has 639 for his career.  The previous record holder was Valparaiso legend Bryce Drew (626).
    • The non-conference schedule is wrapping up for most of the Summit League, with only IUPUI, Centenary, and UMKC coming out on top with winning records.  Oral Roberts and Oakland remain neck and neck according to their records, but in reality, Oral Roberts has fallen back even further with the loss of four key players.  It’s never good when your second-string shooting guard, Kyron Stokes, now becomes your first-string point guard.  The Summit is still the 20th or 21st best conference in the country, so the one coveted bid will hinge on the conference play.  Anything can happen at this point, and this week will be a good indicator as to who are the true contenders.

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