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 Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2010

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

Current Standings

East Division (conf/overall/streak):

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

West Division (conf/overall/streak):

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

East Division update:

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

West Division update:

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

Upcoming games

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

Posted by jstevrtc on January 23rd, 2010

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

Current Standings

East Division (conf/overall/streak):

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

West Division (conf/overall/streak):

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

Team Updates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 jstevrtc on November 28th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Current Standings:

East Division

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

West Division

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

Conference play has not started in the Sun Belt and most teams have played around five games.  Heading into the second full weekend of match-ups, no teams in the conference are undefeated.  Nine of the 13 teams in the conference, however, have a winning percentage of .500 or better.

Western Kentucky lost by one point (63-64) on Tuesday night to Indiana State in a close game.  South Alabama is off to a great start in their season with the best record (5-2) among the Sun Belt’s members.  Their two loses come from Tulsa and Rice University.  Both Denver and North Texas had decisive wins earlier this week against Wyoming and Jackson State, respectively, advancing their win percentages to .750.

It is too soon to tell what teams will lead the conference since four western division teams are tied with 3-1 records. Things will obviously become clearer once conference play begins in the next two weeks.

This week’s conference player of the week is University of New Orleans senior guard Billy Humphrey.  Humphrey averaged 24.5 points and shot 94% from the free throw line to help the Privateers pick up wins against Southern-New Orleans and Texas State last week.

Team Summaries:

Arkansas State.  Arkansas State has started off well this season, winning both their exhibition games and the first three match-ups of the season.  They defeated MacMurray College, Southeast Missouri State, and Texas-El Paso.  None of the games had close scores as Arkansas scored at least 20 points more than each opponent.  The early season is shaping up to be a good one for the Red Wolves.  Last season, the team appeared to be on its way to the best season in three years but things fell apart midway through the season.  They started off at 5-4 in the conference and 13-7 overall but then lost nine consecutive conference games and 10 overall.  They finished the year second to last in the SBC. They will have some tough games ahead, but anything will be an improvement from how they wrapped up last season.

Arkansas-Little Rock.  The Trojans currently have the worst record in the SBC, and have lost to Ole Miss, Tulsa, Creighton, and Louisiana Tech.  Their only win this season comes from a game against St. Gregory’s where they outscored them 100-56.  Their other losses have not been close; they have a losing margin of around 20 points. Despite the slow start to the season, last year UALR was the powerhouse of the SBC’s West Division.  They had the best regular season record for two consecutive years, but have yet to win a conference title.

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Morning Five: 11.10.09 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on November 10th, 2009

morning5

  1. Opening night went pretty much as predicted in terms of winners and losers, but we did see a couple of notable events.  Ohio State (16) rolled over Alcorn State 100-60 behind Evan Turner’s triple-double of 14/17/10; OSU’s only other trip-dub was in 1986 when Dennis Hopson drilled Ohio University with 27/11/10.  Elsewhere, Syracuse exorcised the Le Moyne demons and put Jim Boeheim into the 800-win club by beating Albany 75-43; California was up by as many as 18, then got a little more than they wanted from a very game Murray State squad, but the 13th-ranked Bears still prevailed 75-70; and defending champs North Carolina (6) started the celebration of their 100th year of college basketball by donning throwback uniforms (with red highlights!  *gasp!*) of the undefeated 1957 title team (a message being sent, there?) and spoiling Isiah Thomas’ coaching debut with Florida International by beating them 88-72.  If you need more information, we’ve got detailed writeups of each game in our After the Buzzer post from last night.
  2. You’ve heard enough from us — Luke Winn is all over last night with his Opening Night Impressions.  His points, as usual, are all right on the money, especially his concerns about Cal’s lackluster play and the “teams of November.”
  3. In the Syracuse win, guard Andy Rautins rolled his left ankle on an opponent’s foot and told the media afterwards, “It hurts.  I rolled it pretty good.”  He claimed that he would “take it day to day, see how it feels.”
  4. Seton Hall guard Keon Lawrence was arrested and charged with DWI and driving with a suspended license after crashing his car into another motorist while driving the wrong way just before 3 A.M. on Monday.  He and his passenger were taken to hospital and treated for minor injuries; although the exact value has not yet been released, his blood-alcohol level by blood testing was said to have been over the 0.08 legal limit.  Despite media reports of the DWI charge and the fact that he has been suspended from the SHU team, Lawrence is denying that either of those is true.
  5. With their win over FIU on Monday night, North Carolina (1,985) is within three games of all-time wins leader Kentucky (1,988).  Kentucky will get a chance to stretch the lead back out to four wins this Friday when they open their season against Morehead State in Lexington.  If both teams stay out of the loss column until then, they would be at 1,995 to 1,992 when they meet each other at Rupp Arena on December 5th.
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Set Your Tivo: 11.09.09 – 11.13.09

Posted by nvr1983 on November 9th, 2009

tivo

It is time to rejoice college basketball fans. After seven long months college basketball is back (officially). Since the last game of importance (UNC dismantling Michigan State), we’ve put up with the drama of Billy Gillispie getting fired and John Calipari getting hired (technically before the title game) along with John Wall, Lance Stephenson, and Renardo Sidney taking a ridiculously long time to decide where they would go to college (maybe just for one year) then waited to see if they would be eligible to play, which will probably be an ongoing drama throughout the season, and put up with a lot of really bad behavior by players and coaches. Now it is time for the games to begin. To be honest, the opening week is a little light on great games, but the pace should pick up next week as the early season tournaments get underway and we know that college basketball fans are craving a fix of real games so this week should still be exciting.

Monday (11.09.09)
FIU at #4 UNC at 7 PM on ESPNU: I’ll admit it. This game is more interesting for the sideshow that will be Isiah Thomas more than it will be compelling basketball unless Isiah decides to lace them up one more time. As for the actual basketball, I’ll be “watching” (quotation marks since this game is on ESPNU which nobody has) UNC to see how they have reloaded with the departure of Tyler Hansbrough (last seen filming awful commercials), Ty Lawson (last seen talking about how he wished he had left Chapel Hill after his freshman year), and Wayne Ellington (last seen on the bench in Minnesota). My guess is that we will be seeing a lot out of the frontcourt with John Henson, Deon Thompson, and Ed Davis. Watch for the emergence of Ed Davis as Roy Williams will no longer have the option of hiding this budding superstar in what some believed was an attempt to keep his draft stock down and keep him in Chapel Hill for at least one more year (see Roy blowing off my question at the press conference after the Miami-UNC game last year). http://tarheelblue.cstv.com/inside/roywilliams/index-index.html?&url=http://mfile.akamai.com/8108/wmv/cstvcbs.download.akamai.com/8108/open/unc/08-09/video/m-baskbl/01jan/011709_unc_m-baskbl_pcpostmiami.wmv
Albany at #25 Syracuse at 9 PM on ESPNU: A week ago I wouldn’t have even thought this would be a contest, but that was before the world learned about Le Moyne. While Albany is a nice middle-of-the-pack America East team they shouldn’t be much of challenge for the Orange, but that depends on how shellshocked they are after the Le Moyne debacle. Watch for Jim Boeheim to try to pound the Great Danes on the inside. Virgina transfer Will Harris will have his hands full on the inside with Wesley Johnson, Rick Jackson, and Arinze Onuaku.
Murray State at #12 California on ESPN U:

Monday (11.09.09)

FIU at #4 UNC at 7 PM on ESPNU: Ok, I’ll admit it. This game is more interesting for the sideshow that is Isiah Thomas more than it will be compelling basketball unless Isiah decides to lace them up one more time. As for the actual basketball, I’ll be “watching” (quotation marks since this game is on ESPNU which nobody has) UNC to see how they have reloaded with the departure of Tyler Hansbrough (last seen filming awful commercials), Ty Lawson (last seen talking about how he should have left Chapel Hill after his freshman year), and Wayne Ellington (last seen on the bench in Minnesota). My guess is that we will be seeing a lot out of the frontcourt with John Henson, Tyler ZellerDeon Thompson, and Ed Davis. Watch for the emergence of Ed Davis as Roy Williams will no longer have the option of hiding this budding superstar in what some believed was an attempt to keep his draft stock down and keep him in Chapel Hill for at least one more year (see Roy blowing off my question about Ed at the press conference after the Miami-UNC game last year–it’s the last question on the video as he is folding up his papers both while I am asking the question and as he is dodging the question).

Albany at #25 Syracuse at 9 PM on ESPNU: A week ago I wouldn’t have even thought this would be a contest, but that was before the world learned about Le Moyne. While Albany is a nice middle-of-the-pack America East team they shouldn’t be much of challenge for the Orange, but that depends on how shell-shocked they are after the Le Moyne debacle. Watch for Jim Boeheim to try to pound the Great Danes on the inside. Virgina transfer Will Harris will have his hands full on the inside with Wesley Johnson, Rick Jackson, and Arinze Onuaku.

Murray State at #12 California at 11 PM on ESPN U: This might be the most interesting game of the night even if it might be the least interesting to the casual fan, but we will be courtside covering the game for this year’s opening RTC Live (and we’ll be back two nights later when Detroit comes to Berkeley). I’m not expecting the Racers to pull off the upset although I think this game could be closer than a lot of people expect as Billy Kennedy brings a team that has the potential to win the Ohio Valley Conference into Berkeley. Kennedy will rely on his talented trio of Danero Thomas, Ivan Aska, and Isacc Miles against Mike Montgomery‘s talented group of perimeter players led by Jerome RandlePatrick Christopher, and Theo Robertson. Montgomery’s trio (with some help from Duke transfer Jamal Boykin) should be enough to hold off the Racers, but if they come in believing the considerable hype we might just have our first upset of the regular season.

Friday (11.13.09)

Hofstra at #1 Kansas on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: I’m not really expecting this to be a competitive game, but it is worth watching to see the consensus preseason #1 open up. Expect to see Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich play about 20-25 minutes in what should be a glorified exhibition. Hofstra has a pretty big name for a mid-major, but coach Tom Pecora will have the unenviable task of having to replace Antoine Agudio, the school’s all-time leading scorer, and he also lacks an interior presence to battle Aldrich on the inside–expect to see Aldrich dominate Greg Washington and Miklos Szabo on the inside. One match-up that might turn out to be interesting is at point guard with Collins going against Charles Jenkins (the only returning player in D1 to average more than 19 PPG, 4 RPG, and 4 APG last season). Outside of that check out the game to see Xavier Henry, who will have to work for his minutes this season on a deep and talented Jayhawk team.

Morehead State at #5 Kentucky on ESPNU: We would like to talk about how we think that one of the contenders for the Ohio Valley Conference title could take down Kentucky’s vaunted group of freshmen in their opening game, but it’s more likely that this could be a preview of a NCAA tournament game — a 1st round NCAA tournament game. Donnie Tyndall‘s team will have its hands full going into Rupp Arena with 23,500 rabid Kentucky fans ready to witness the rebirth of their program. One match-up that might be interesting will be Patrick Patterson (yes, Kentucky does have players outside of its freshmen) against Kenneth Faried, the odds-on favorite to win OVC POY. For the NBA scouts who might be reading this, you’ll have to wait to see John Wall who is sitting out as part of his suspension, but there will still be NBA talent on the court with Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins on the inside for the Wildcats.

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Full Breakdown Of The Top November Tournaments

Posted by zhayes9 on November 8th, 2009

seasonpreview

What’s the best part of the college basketball season kicking off? The early-season tournaments, of course! Coaches vs. Cancer, Preseason NIT, Maui Invitational, Anaheim Classic…these are our first opportunities to see the top teams in the nation, gauge exactly how much of a force they could pose this season, evaluate the progression of upperclassmen and estimate the talent level of the much-ballyhooed freshmen. The preseason tournament fields this season are not quite as loaded as in year’s past (you’ll recall last season Maui featured three top-ten teams, although two — Texas and Notre Dame — didn’t pan out), but there’s plenty of potential for memorable early-season classics. Let’s delve into the cream of the crop in November:

2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer (Regionals: November 9-11, NYC: November 19-20)

* RTC Live will be at the California subregional and the NYC semis and finals.

The Field: The powers-that-be decided to avoid any clunker matchups at MSG in mid-November, so they’ve given the four hosts — North Carolina, California, Ohio State and Syracuse – an automatic pass to the semifinals in NYC, so don’t expect any Gardner-Webb Cinderella stories invading the Big Apple. The tournament kicks off Monday and Wednesday at all four sites with Syracuse battling Albany and Robert Morris, California taking on Murray State and Detroit, North Carolina facing Florida International and North Carolina Central and Ohio State matched up against Alcorn State and James Madison. The semifinal games are set for November 19 with Syracuse vs. California as the under-card and North Carolina vs. Ohio State in the nightcap.

The Sleeper: The bigger news, in my opinion, that came out of the Carrier Dome last Wednesday when Syracuse stunningly fell to Le Moyne was not the final score, but Wesley Johnson scoring 34 points after a clunker in the exhibition opener. Big-time programs have been stunned in exhibitions before — you’ll recall Michigan State fell to Grand Valley State a few years back and still reached the Sweet 16 — and Syracuse was primarily experimenting with a man-to-man defense that Jim Boeheim could very well scrap for the season. Johnson exploding for 34 points shows he could be the go-to scorer Syracuse needs with Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf no longer manning the orange.

The Pick: I’ve been on their bandwagon all off-season so why not? My pick is Ohio State. Dallas Lauderdale keeps saying he should be ready to play. They return all-around performer Evan Turner who has a triple-double in his plans this season. William Buford and Jon Diebler can shoot the lights out and should really extend the Carolina defense. Receive steady point guard play from P.J. Hill and Jerime Simmons and that’s a possible top-ten team. I’ll take the Buckeyes to knock off UNC and California.

CBE Classic (Regionals: November 15-19, Kansas City: November 23-24)

*RTC Live will be at the semis and finals.

The Field: Much like the 2K Sports Classic, the semifinals are already set for Kansas City pitting Texas against Iowa and Pittsburgh against Wichita State. The four regional games are as follows: Texas facing UC Irvine and Western Carolina, Binghamton and Eastern Kentucky visiting Pittsburgh, Fairleigh Dickinson and Arkansas-Monticello taking on Wichita State and Iowa getting Duquesne and UTSA. The one possible upset here (not that it matters) is a high-scoring Duquesne team upsetting Big Ten bottom-feeder Iowa.

The Sleeper: It’s really hard to see Texas not annihilating this field, but could Wichita State knock off Pittsburgh? The Panthers won’t have Gilbert Brown (suspension) and possibly Jermaine Dixon (foot injury) for this one while already attempting to overcome the loss of DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields and Sam Young. Gregg Marshall returns seven of his top ten scorers for a squad that could linger near the top of the MVC led by senior guard Clevin Hannah and junior forward J.T. Turley, who is poised to become a star. If the Shockers can contain freshman forward Dante Taylor, they could live up to their name and pull a shocker in Kansas City.

The Pick: I have Texas ranked #2 in my preseason top-25 and they don’t have much sterling competition in this field. Pittsburgh was depleted by losses and may not even be an NCAA tournament team this season, Wichita State is a few rungs behind Creighton and Northern Iowa in the MVC and Texas’ first round opponent, Iowa, won’t be able to stay on the floor with the supremely talented Longhorns. Rick Barnes’ team is extremely deep at every position and could be a national title contender if Florida transfer Jai Lucas or newly-eligible J’Covan Brown provides stability at point guard. Damion James and Dexter Pittman are constant double-double threats inside.

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He’s Back

Posted by nvr1983 on October 17th, 2009

When Jeff Jordan, the son of Michael Jordan, announced his intention of trying to rejoin the Illinois basketball team we figured it would only be a matter of time before coach Bruce Weber welcomed him back to the team. Last night Weber made it official with the announcement that Jeff was officially back on the team. In a statement released to media, Weber stated “After meeting with him and discussing the situation, we are pleased to give him this opportunity. He has obviously missed a great deal of time away from the program the last six months, and he has a lot of work ahead of him.” Like we said earlier, this won’t be a major shift in the balance of power in college basketball, but it should bolster the Illini’s backcourt. We only have 2 questions about Jeff’s return:

Not Quite the Same, But We'll Take It (photo credit: cnnsi.com)

Not Quite the Same, But We'll Take It (photo credit: cnnsi.com)

  1. Will Jeff get his scholarship back?
  2. Is there any way that Illinois could schedule FIU next year (assuming Isiah Thomas hasn’t run the program and the university into the ground)? This would be a ratings hit (as much as a game involving Illinois and FIU could be) because of the possibility of two things occurring–MJ showing up for a game (and possibly trying to get in uniform to stick it to Isiah one more time) and the return of the “Jordan Rules” (if Isiah is looking for a little payback for the Hall of Fame speech).
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2009-10 Conference Primers: #20 – Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on October 17th, 2009

seasonpreview

Matt Poindexter is a regular RTC contributor.

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

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

West

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

All-Conference Team:

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

6th Man: Brandon Hazzard (G) – Troy

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

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 Class Schedule 2009-10: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by zhayes9 on September 22nd, 2009

seasonpreview 09-10

Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams has been down this road before.

After hoisting his first national title on that early April night in St. Louis, Williams had to endure an eerily similar task as to what faces him this upcoming season, his seventh in Chapel Hill. The 2004-05 champions lost center Sean May, swingman Marvin Williams, point guard Raymond Felton and shooting guard Rashad McCants to the riches of the NBA, yet Williams managed, in large part to a recruiting class led by Tyler Hansbrough with returnees David Noel and Reyshawn Terry, to finish 21-6 (12-4) and in the top 15 in both polls. The situation this season parallels the tremendous overload facing Williams after his first banner. Losing Hansbrough, ACC POY Ty Lawson and sharpshooters Wayne Ellington and Danny Green, a group that made up the large portion of the Heels scoring rampage a season ago, will be difficult to overcome. Luckily for Williams, he returns some decent pieces to complement a loaded recruiting class. Not to mention he’s the best coach in the nation.

21160330_North_Carolina_v_Miami[1]

North Carolina returns some high upside players that could truly emerge after playing behind the mentioned superstars of the previous few campaigns. There’s senior and experienced leadership still in the fray- notably forward Deon Thompson and defensive stopper Marcus Ginyard- that should help out all of the incoming young talent on the Heels roster. Knowing he’d lose such integral pieces, Williams loaded his 2009 class with top-50 talent such as skilled forward John Henson, guards Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald and big men David Wear and Travis Wear. Many believe sophomore Ed Davis is a surefire lottery pick and Tyler Zeller may emerge with a healthy full season. Last year’s backup to Lawson, Larry Drew II, is also back and will be the engine that controls the Heels attack.

Just because Williams has a predominantly young squad, he didn’t shy away from challenging his team early and often on this year’s schedule to go along with the rigors of the ACC. Let’s examine:

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 10. One way to sum up the Heels schedule this season: I’ll be stunned if North Carolina isn’t at the top of the strength of schedule list when we’re starting to look at those types of numbers in February and March. Forget playing NCAA tournament teams Duke and Georgia Tech twice in conference play (along with contenders Wake Forest, Boston College, Clemson and Wake Forest on the road), the Heels scheduled three preseason top-ten teams on the slate for this non-conference season. It wasn’t exactly planned like this; who could have planned Damion James would stick around for another year or John Calipari would completely overhaul Kentucky in such a short period of time? Still, give Williams credit for setting up these huge games against prestigious programs. North Carolina will take on possible Big Ten contender Ohio State in the semifinal of the 2K Sports Classic and likely top-15 California should they emerge victorious. Also planned is a visit to Rupp Arena to battle Kentucky in one of the top non-conference games on the season and a trip to Arlington to face Texas in Jerry Jones’ new monstrosity. Both Kentucky and Texas are projected top ten teams. Not enough for you, Roy? Michigan State will visit Chapel Hill in a national title game rematch as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, another squad that could finish their season in Indianapolis.

Cupcake City: The Heels do receive a few easy warm-ups before traveling to New York in Florida International (Isiah Thomas’ college coaching debut, marred by minor controversy) and North Carolina Central. Carolina also faces Gardner-Webb, Presbyterian, Marshall, Valparaiso and Albany at home while taking a trip to Charleston to face Bobby Cremins’ Cougars in a rare instance of a ACC school visiting a SoCon opponent. Not exactly cupcakes, but Nevada and Rutgers also make appearances at the Dean Dome this season.

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