Matt Poindexter is a regular RTC contributor.
Predicted Order of Finish:
- Western Kentucky (17-1)
- Troy (14-4)
- Middle Tennessee (11-7)
- Florida Atlantic (6-12)
- South Alabama (5-13)
- Florida International (2-16)
- North Texas (15-3)
- Denver (12-6)
- Arkansas-Little Rock (11-7)
- Louisiana-Lafayette (9-9)
- Louisiana-Monroe (8-10)
- Arkansas State (5-13)
- New Orleans (2-16)
- 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.
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.