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 jstevrtc on November 28th, 2009


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.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #20 – Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on October 17th, 2009


Matt Poindexter is a regular RTC contributor.

Predicted Order of Finish:


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


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

All-Conference Team:

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

6th Man: Brandon Hazzard (G) – Troy

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

sun belt logo

What You Need to Know:

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

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

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Mid-South Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2009


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

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

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

mid-south_impact_players copy

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

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Sun Belt Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 4th, 2009

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


Final Results Are In

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

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2008-09 Season Primers: #18 – Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on October 24th, 2008


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

Predicted Order of Finish:


  1. Middle Tennessee  (19-11, 13-5)
  2. Western Kentucky  (18-11, 12-6)
  3. South Alabama  (18-11, 11-7)
  4. Florida Atlantic  (17-14, 10-8)
  5. Florida International  (15 -16, 8-10)
  6. Troy  (12-20, 5-13)


  1. Arkansas-Little Rock  (17-9, 12-6)
  2. North Texas  (16-13, 10-8)
  3. Louisiana-Lafayette  (15-14, 10-8)
  4. Arkansas State  (14-15, 8-10)
  5. Denver  (12-17, 7-11)
  6. Louisiana-Monroe  (15-14, 7-11)
  7. New Orleans  (11-19, 4-14)

WYN2K.  The Belt took a step forward last season with the NCAA Tourney appearance of South Alabama, and the deep run of Western Kentucky into the Sweet 16, jumping from 17 to 14 in the RPI rankings.  Accordingly, recruiting is on the way up all around.  However, this year the final league standings should look different as both teams lose key contributors from last year’s roster (we’ll get to that later).  You can expect a couple games difference in parity within the final standings at season’s end.  Here are our preseason SBC All First Teamers and Player of the Year picks:

  • Desmond Yates – MTSU
  • Carlos Monroe – FAU  (Player of the Year)
  • Josh White – NT
  • Russell Hicks – FIU
  • Brandon Davis – USA

Trio of new Head Coaches a big plus for the League.  The SBC welcomes the return of Mike Jarvis to the coaching ranks as the new Head Coach for the Fighting Owls of Florida Atlantic.  Jarvis boasts a conference best resume with 350 career wins and a myriad of post season tournament appearances – 9 NCAA and 5 NIT.  He is confident the Owls are a stock on the rise, having all but promised that they will make a return trip to The Big Dance in the very near future.  Jarvis is known for the development of NBA Hall of Fame player Patrick Ewing, and also coached a talented Ron Artest while at St John’s University. He has added a pair of nationally recognized prep guards to the already solid nucleus he inherits at FAU. PF Carlos Monroe (15.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg) will get some much needed double team help from this duo.  A little further north and west, John Brady joins The Sun Belt assuming the reins of the recently rebranded Arkansas State Redwolves program.  Brady enjoyed very successful tutelages with Samford (89 wins), and LSU (192 wins), where he led the Tigers all the way to The Final Four in 2006.  A heralded recruiter, Brady has coached an impressive 25 All TAAC (now The Atlantic Sun) and Southeastern Conference selections.  He hit the JUCO recruiting trail hard in the off-season, with four transfer signees heading to Jonesboro for the upcoming season.  Rounding out the trio of newcomers, Ken McDonald returns to Bowling Green to take over for the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky.  McDonald previously served as an Assistant Coach at WKU and most recently as the top assistant under Rick Barnes at the University of Texas.  He is a talented recruiter and was instrumental in the Longhorns signing of NBA draftees Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin.  McDonald will have his hands full though, as this year’s team will be without the services of Courtney Lee, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic in the first round of the NBA draft (22nd).
Predicted Champion
Arkansas-Little Rock (#13 Seed NCAA).  Bold pick?  Absolutely.  Realistic?  Definitely. Destiny?  Perhaps.  Here’s why:  The Trojans have finished atop the West Division in three of the last five years, but have never won the crown.  Unlike all other West Division teams (and even the East minus MTSU), all five starters return for UALR.  Couple this with a weaker East Division, and a potential homecourt advantage for the SBC Tournament and you have the makings of a championship.  Rest assured that someone will knock out one of the higher eastern seeds given its parity this season – paving the way for UALR.  The Sun Belt has gained much needed size all around this year, but UALR will display the truest balanced attack.  They will feature the league’s lone true big man down low in Ole Miss transfer Mike Smith 6-7, 295Lbs (52.9 FG%).  And that will be a big advantage (pun intended) along the way.  Joining him will be SG Steven Moore who should emerge even more this season after shooting a staggering 42-97 (43.3%) from downtown last season.  The clincher:  come March they can both click their heels like Dorothy, and say “there’s no place like home.”  Despite the fact that the SBC front office claims the tournament site is neutral this season, the championship will be played in Hot Springs, AR, which is 52 miles from UALR.  This virtually ensures them home court advantage during the SBC Tournament.
Others Considered.  They will be formidable opponents on a number of nights this season, but Western Kentucky has flat out lost too much: a whopping 60.3% of total offense, 59.2% of total assists, 50.3%  of total steals, and 39.6% of total rebounds.  A lot of this can be attributed to the departure of both SG Courtney Lee (20.4 ppg), and PG Tyrone Brazelton (14.4 ppg).  The same goes for South Alabama who must find backcourt answers for the losses of 1st Team All SBC guard Demetric Bennett (19.7 ppg), and 2nd Team All SBC guard Daon Merritt (11.5 ppg, 5.5 apg).  North Texas could be in the race for the West Division with the return of PG Josh White (13.9 ppg), but like the others considered, they face key losses with only two starters returning.  MTSU should be atop the East Division as season’s end, and does have talented returnees in both Desmond Yates (16.0 ppg) and Demetrius Green (12.5 ppg), but it’s a long drive to Hot Springs come tournament time. 
Games to Watch.  Traditional powers South Alabama and Western Kentucky will face off in a nationally televised contest that is sure to be entertaining.  The Deuce will also air the SBC Championship live:

  • South Alabama @ Western Kentucky (02.07.09) 1:00PM ESPN2
  • Sun Belt Conference Championship Game (03.10.09) 9:00PM ESPN2

RPI Booster Games.  Quite a few non-conference games could help elevate the SBC in the RPI standings this season.  SEC opponents are strewn throughout league schedules, as well as a few quality west coast opponents.  Winning these contests would certainly offer nudges here and there.  And some are winnable.  But upsetting the bad boys below would do some serious damage.  Are they winnable?  Probably not.  Cliché alert: That is why they play the game. Well, that and some guarantee money.  Without any further ado, please cue: “Facing the Giants.” 

  • Florida Atlantic @ Arizona (11.17.08) 10:00PM
  • Tennessee @ Middle Tennessee (11.21.08) 7:00PM
  • Western Kentucky @ Louisville (11.30.08) 2:00PM

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids.  Last year was a pleasant surprise, with both WKU and USA making the tourney.  If the West Division represents the SBC in The Big Dance, there is a long shot that an East Division top finisher could get in.  But it is highly unlikely and would take some serious non-conference results to convince the committee.

65 Team Era.  During the era, the Sun Belt is 13-34 (.277), but with WKU’s two additional wins last year, the Hilltoppers are responsible for seven of those wins and both of the conferences trips to the Sweet 16.  In fact, WKU is the only Sun Belt team to win an NCAA game in the past sixteen seasons (Louisiana-Lafayette won a game in 1992).  Seven times during this era has the Sun Belt gotten more than one team into the Dance, including last year’s duo of S. Alabama and W. Kentucky.  Speaking of which, who can forget what was arguably the (second) most exciting moment of the 2008 Tournament?

Final thought.  The SBC is one to two years away from making the climb back to where it was prior to adding football as a sponsored collegiate sport.  Serious recruiting classes have come in during the off-season.  It will be fun to watch some of the young talent begin to develop and blossom on the hardwood this upcoming season.

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