Set Your Tivo: 03.08.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 8th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Only two games affect the bubble tonight, but four of the five listed here are for auto-bids or will go towards deciding one. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Princeton @ Pennsylvania – 7 pm on ESPN3.com (***)

Coach Sydney Johnson Will Gladly Take Another 25 From Mavraides -- As Long As It Results In a Win

The formula for Princeton is simple: win tonight and beat Harvard in a playoff on Saturday (4 pm at Yale) to earn the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Should the Tigers lose tonight, Harvard will claim the title and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

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Sun Belt Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 5th, 2011

Daniel Spewak is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference. With SBC tournament action set to tip on Saturday, get up to speed with RTC’s preview and regular season wrap-up.

Tournament Preview

The Favorite: The Sun Belt Conference tournament is what ESPN’s Championship Week is all about. There is no talk of “bubble” in the Sun Belt. The only team in the league with a chance at avoiding a 16-seed is Florida Atlantic, a team with a strong overall record and several quality wins. And even that’s a long shot. The Owls are the easy favorite to cut down the nets next Tuesday, but they’re not invincible. Just two weeks ago, they scored 42 points in a loss at Denver and fell at home to Louisiana-Lafayette.

On Fire: The last time Louisiana-Lafayette lost, Egypt was still an authoritarian country, the NFL was still playing and Michigan State was actuall yranked! The Rajun’ Cajuns don’t at all resemble the team that started 3-14, which is why the 11-game winning streak isn’t necessarily a fluke. They’re only one of two teams to win at FAU in league play this year, and a rematch may await next week.

The Sleeper: Sure, there’s an argument to be made that North Texas and Western Kentucky are strong “sleeper” picks, because underachievers often feel like they have new life once the conference tournament starts. We’re going to stray away from those teams, though, and pick Denver as the SBC sleeper. Of course, DU’s been an underachiever since that undefeated start in league play, but the Pioneers are in a different situation. After losing star Nate Rohnert, Joe Scott’s team wasn’t expected to compete in the West this year. Denver has exceeded expectations, in spite of the poor finish, and it has the pieces to win four games in a row. As we said earlier, Denver plays one of the nation’s slowest tempos and thrives when its methodical, Princeton offense can create open threes and layups. As long as the shots are falling and DU’s offense is executing, this team has a shot to pull a shocker.

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Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 18th, 2011

 

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

A Look Back

  • At least it’s not a guard this time, we suppose. Senior center Cliff Dixon is the latest victim in the Western Kentucky saga, as coach Ken McDonald dismissed him from the team last weekend for violating team rules. Brown already dismissed point guard Ken Brown for academic violations, while freshman guard Snap Peters is academically ineligible. That’s left WKU with a thin backcourt and only two players capable of running the point, and now the team will have to deal with the departure of a frustrating but still potentially useful big man.
  • Breast cancer is a disease we can all get behind—and that includes Louisiana-Monroe coach Keith Richard. The school held “Pack The Place Pink Night” during a men’s and women’s double-header against Arkansas State February 10. For every student that attended, Richard and his wife, a cancer survivor, donated one dollar to research. ULM’s men’s team lost by 19 points, but more than 2,500 fans showed up, meaning breast cancer research just received a nice boost. No matter a person’s income, it’s impressive for Richard’s family to take on a task like this.
  • It’s just one day, but the league moved North Texas and Arkansas-Little Rock’s make-up contest to March 1 from February 28, according to ArkansasSports360.com. The two teams had a game postponed two weeks ago due to a snowstorm, and the rescheduled game falls just four days before the start of the Sun Belt Conference tournament.

Shout-Out Section

  • Solomon Bozeman has always been a scorer, but he’s never been a shooter. Until this season. The UALR two-guard is the most efficient three-point shooter in the conference with a 47.8 percent mark from behind the arc. That’s amazing considering he’d never shot better than 33.3 percent during his first three seasons. The improved point guard play of D’Andre Williams and Chuck Guy has helped ease the pressure off Bozeman, and that’s reflected in the statistics.
  • We’ll reveal our award-winners from the SBC later this season, but here’s an early hint: Jason Jones is an obvious candidate for Newcomer of the Year. The UTEP transfer has added a new element to Middle Tennessee State in the frontcourt, and he’s played a factor in MTSU’s surge toward the top of the East standings. Even better for the Blue Raiders is that he’s got two more years of eligibility.

Quote of the Week

“Fifty-seven percent, case closed… We just don’t guard and it is disappointing. Our guys just don’t accept the challenge to guard for 40 minutes.”

 

South Alabama coach Ronnie Arrow, expressing his frustrations with his team’s shooting defense (via Yahoo! Sports)

Power Rankings

1. Florida Atlantic (18-9, 10-3): Two weeks ago, we said the East was “all but over.” With a month left in the season and teams crumbling around the conference, Florida Atlantic looked immune to struggle. The Owls were perfect: efficient offensively, dominant defensively and playing as one cohesive unit. So much for all that stuff. FAU has lost two straight games and three of five, which included an ugly 69-42 loss at Denver February 10. Gregg Gantt scored two, yes, two points against DU in that defeat. And that’s your leading scorer for the league’s top team, ladies and gentleman. Florida Atlantic still leads Middle Tennessee State by two games with three remaining and already swept that series, so it’d take a collapse of epic proportions for FAU to lose its division title. Still, the Owls aren’t invincible anymore, which means we’re heading toward a wide-open conference tournament next month in Hot Springs.

Up Next: Feb. 19 at FIU, Feb. 24 vs. Troy, Feb. 27 at USA

2. Middle Tennessee State (14-13, 9-5): This conference is officially insane. Middle Tennessee State, which appeared dead two weeks ago, suddenly had life with FAU’s stumble… before promptly losing at Troy last night in overtime, meaning it will need a miracle to take the East crown. Losing at Troy isn’t the worst offense a team can commit. After all, Troy beat Denver at home last weekend and has lost just two conference home games this season. It’s simply maddening, though, for coach Kermit Davis’s team to win five straight games, get back into contention and then shoot 0-9 in the overtime period against a beatable team with just eight overall wins this year.

Feb. 19 at UALR, Feb. 22 at Houston Baptist, Feb. 26 at WKU

3. Western Kentucky (13-13, 7-6): Would you look at that! A .500 record for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers! It took until February for WKU to reach even again after a 2-5 start in November, but Ken McDonald’s squad has finally figured out how to play basketball—together, you know, as a team. Point guard Jamal Crook, one of the catalysts of this modest turn-around, made the game-winning shot last night to lift WKU to an important win at Arkansas-Little Rock. Star forward Sergio Kerusch only scored three points, but frontcourt mate Steffphon Pettigrew helped him out with 18 points and 10 boards. They’ve both been inconsistent this season, along with newcomer Juan Patillo, but lately at least one of these forwards seems to emerge in each game.

Up Next: Feb. 19 at ULL, Feb. 24 vs. FIU, Feb. 26 at MTSU

4. Troy (8-17, 6-7): Don Maestri’s guys have been quite the pests this season. Although Troy played like one of the Sun Belt’s worst teams in November and December, the Trojans are just one game under .500 in conference play and, like we stated earlier, has lost just two league games at home. Will Weathers may turn the ball over too much, but he makes plays for star Vernon Taylor and controls his team’s up-tempo pace. Troy can score—we know that—and when it defends, it can win. Heading into the SBC tourney, this is a typical “sleeper.” Troy has no expectations after losing five starters and nothing to lose, so there’s no reason it can’t make a run in March.

Up Next: Feb. 19 vs. ASU, Feb. 24at FAU, Feb. 26 at FIU

5. Florida International (9-16, 4-9): The swagger the Golden Panthers had early in January has vanished. The team started 3-0 but has won just one game since—a one-point victory at Troy in early February. There is obvious talent on this team, but it hasn’t quite come together. Poor free throw shooting has doomed FIU in particular. One positive from this recent slide: freshman point guard Phil Taylor, who missed most of the season due to eligibility issues, is logging a ton of minutes in the backcourt. Better yet, he’s producing—he scored 21 points in a loss at Middle Tennessee State last weekend.

Up Next: Feb. 19 vs. FAU, Feb. 24 at WKU, Feb. 26 vs. Troy

6. South Alabama (10-14, 4-9): You heard it from coach Ronnie Arrow above. USA’s not defending well enough to win right now, and it’s not getting enough from Tim Williams, last year’s leading scorer. He’s shooting less than 40 percent from the field and has a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. After a mid-season revitalization, South Alabama has lost three straight and doesn’t look like a team able to compete in the league tourney.

Up Next: Feb. 19 at Denver, Feb. 24 vs. UALR, Feb. 27 vs. FAU

West

1. Louisiana-Lafayette (11-14, 8-5): It’s the most improbable climb imaginable. Louisiana-Lafayette is atop the West Rankings after sitting one spot from the cellar two weeks ago. The team that started 3-14 has now won eight straight games, and it’s one of only two SBC teams to win at Florida Atlantic in league play. Just a game out of first place, the Rajun’ Cajuns are our pick to stun the conference and earn the number one seed in the West Division. It’s difficult to explain just how surprising this winning streak is. Until the past few weeks, we’ve treated this as a “throw-away” season of sorts for coach Bob Marlin in his first year. His track record at Sam Houston State speaks for itself, but he dealt with too many injuries and lack of personnel to win this year, right? Apparently, that’s not the case. ULL’s playing physical basketball and has a tall, tough starting lineup, and Marlin has his players defending—they held FAU without a basket for the final 11 minutes of the game. There aren’t many offensive stars on this team, but that’s the beauty of Louisiana-Lafayette. With Travis Bureau and J.J. Thomas playing hard-nosed basketball on the boards, this is an efficient squad on both sides of the floor. For what it’s worth, we did say in November that Marlin would at least keep this team competitive in the West. But there’s no way anyone could have predicted this.

Up Next: Feb. 19 vs. WKU, Feb. 24 vs. Denver, Feb. 26 at ULM

2. Denver (13-13, 9-4): It’s hard to slide the team with the best record in its division to the second spot in the power rankings, especially since Denver did beat ULL on its home court. That game happened back in December, though, and it’s obvious that the Rajun’ Cajuns have changed, both in terms of momentum and just sheer roster moves. The two teams play each other Feb. 24 to possibly decide the West title, so we’ll see then which team deserves the championship. Denver has been difficult to figure out lately. The Pioneers embarrassed Arkansas State 74-36 at home in January, leaving fans shaking their heads at the putrid offensive output of ASU. Less than a month later, the two teams met again in Jonesboro, and Denver was the team that finished with 35 points in a 25-point blowout. Yet DU found a way to limit the league’s best team in a 69-42 win over FAU Feb. 10. The real problem with this conference is that nobody can win on the road.

Up Next: Feb. 20 vs. USA, Feb. 24 at ULL, Feb. 26 at UNT

3. Arkansas State (14-14, 8-5): Speaking of road woes, Arkansas State’s got them too. It has won only one league road game this season and even lost at Savannah State Feb. 1. It’s a good thing, then, that Arkansas State is perhaps the Sun Belt’s most dominant home team. With an undefeated record at home, ASU could realistically win this division if it can win at Troy tomorrow, considering its final two games are at the Convocation Center. Maybe senior D-Ray Boone can lead his team to a title in his last hurrah. We’ve been waiting for Boone, who led the team in scoring two years ago but missed the 2009-10 season, all year. He may have finally emerged, as he’s scored in double figures in five straight games.

Up Next: Feb. 19 at Troy, Feb. 24 vs. North Texas, Feb. 26 vs. UALR

4. North Texas (17-8, 6-6): UNT’s season isn’t over yet by any means. Mathematically, the Mean Green are still in the West race with four games remaining. More importantly, this season can still be a success with a conference tournament title, and this senior-laden squad is more than capable of pulling that off, especially considering how wide open the field appears. If the Mean Green don’t act fast, though, there’s no chance they’ll improve enough to get on a roll. Frankly, they’d been putrid the past few weeks before knocking off South Alabama yesterday. Point guard Josh White is the key to a potential turn-around. He’s the Sun Belt’s leading active scorer, but he’s not making plays with the same frequency as a senior. North Texas doesn’t have a whole lot of offensive punch on the bench, and it needs White to find another gear before time runs out.

Up Next: Feb. 19 vs. ULM, Feb. 24 at ASU, Feb. 26 vs. Denver, March 1 at UALR

5. Arkansas-Little Rock (14-13, 6-6): The team that didn’t win a road game last year finally got it done away from home, winning at ULM February 12 for its third road win of the season. And then, UALR suffered the most heartbreaking loss of the season when WKU’s Jamal Crook secured the ball in a scramble situation and made a game-winner with less than a second to play at the Jack Stephens Center last night. The Trojans had played so well at home throughout the 2010-11 campaign, and after securing a rare road victory, the loss makes a West title nearly impossible.

Up Next: Feb. 19 vs. MTSU, Feb. 24 at USA, Feb. 26 at ASU, March 1 vs. UNT

6. Louisiana-Monroe (6-22, 1-13): This season was lost from the day it started for the Warhawks, so disregard the record and all the bad losses and remember this: ULM still hosts Louisiana-Lafayette one more time in the season finale Feb. 26. This season is still meaningful for coach Keith Richard. He’ll be a god if he can find a way to knock his archrival out of first place in the West division on the final day of the season, no matter how many losses his team has already suffered.

Up Next: Feb. 19 at UNT, Feb. 26 vs. ULL

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Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

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

A Look Back

  • Sun Belt Conference, look out: Tony Mitchell is here. After failing to qualify at Missouri, the five-star power forward enrolled at North Texas last month, landing the Mean Green one of the most celebrated recruits in Sun Belt history. Mitchell signed a letter of intent for Mike Anderson last fall, but the NCAA ruled him ineligible because of disputed high school credits. If he completes 24 credits at North Texas during the next two semesters, he will gain eligibility for the second semester next season. Mitchell isn’t the only highly-touted freshman forward heading to Denton next year. Texas natives Jordan Williams and Forrest Robinson, who both received scholarship offers from numerous power conference schools, will team with Mitchell next season to help replace eight graduated seniors.
  • Not even the radio crew for Arkansas-Little Rock had any idea why forward Eric Kibi played Thursday night against Denver. Although he was ruled academically ineligible last month, the junior college transfer magically reappeared to score two points in 24 minutes of action. Kibi had not played since January 2, but it seems he’s made his way back to the Trojans. That’s good news for a team in need of some size.
  • For the first time in school history, the Florida Atlantic men’s basketball program hosted a nationally televised game against UALR January 22. And the first-place Owls didn’t disappoint, pulling away for an 88-71 win in front of a frenzied crowd that seemed to really enjoy the atmosphere.The league’s next ESPN game is between North Texas and Western Kentucky February 12.

Shoutout Section: It’s hard to tell what position Travis Bureau plays for Louisiana-Lafayette. The 6’7 senior has a lot of skills, including rebounding: and boy, was that evident last weekend in a win at South Alabama. Bureau grabbed 20 rebounds to help ULL win its fourth straight game after a 3-14 start. He now leads the Rajun’ Cajuns in rebounding, even though he’s considering a guard by most. Miraculously, Bureau’s team is now just three games out of first place in the West. Three weeks ago, with coach Bob Marlin’s roster decimated due to injuries and personnel changes, that would have sounded impossible.

For the first time this season, we’ll go ahead and give a shoutout to an entire game. That’s because the Denver/UALR matchup last night, won 75-72 by the Trojans in overtime, was the Game of the Year in the Sun Belt. The Pioneers needed overtime to win at home in December in the first meeting, and although they initially led 10-0 and held a 13-point lead in the second half Thursday, UALR stormed back to open a five-point lead in the final minutes. That’s when the Hallam brothers struck. Travis Hallam banked in a three to cut the Trojans’ lead to one before Chase Hallam sank a contested three from the right corner to tie the game with 1.3 seconds remaining. It’s a good thing UALR had Matt Mouzy on its side. Mouzy didn’t attempt a shot from inside the arc all game, but he made eight of 10 three-pointers—literally from everywhere on the court, making threes with hands in his face and open treys from NBA range. It was one heck of a game, broadcast unfortunately to a miniscule audience online.

Quote of the Week:

“We can’t be the best kept secret in Boca. We should have every middle school, every elementary school, youth league and there should be groups coming here in waves coming through here every night. I wouldn’t care if we were giving the tickets away because we could make money at the concession stand.”

–Florida Atlantic coach Mike Jarvis on how to promote his program

Power Rankings

East

1. Florida Atlantic (17-7, 9-1): The East is all but over—it’s Florida Atlantic’s division in 2011. FAU leads Middle Tennessee by three games with six to play and already swept the Blue Raiders. With more wins than all of last year, the Owls continued their breakout season last night by snapping North Texas’ 17-game home winning streak at The Super Pit. Florida Atlantic roughed up the defending champs 72-55 with its lone senior, Brett Royster, on the bench for much of the game in foul trouble. Against a team that relies almost exclusively on seniors, Florida Atlantic’s underclassmen looked like the tougher and more mature players. We may be witnessing the birth of a program in Boca Raton, which begs this question: how long until the national publications decide to throw a redemption party for coach Mike Jarvis? If the Owls make the NCAA Tournament, you can bet the writers will have a field day rehashing his rocky tenure at St. John’s.

Up Next: Feb. 5 vs. FIU, Feb. 10 at Denver, Feb. 12 at ULL

2. Middle Tennessee State (11-12, 6-4): If only the Blue Raiders could move to the West Division. Kermit Davis’ team pulled another upset two weeks ago by ruining Denver’s undefeated conference season, and MTSU has lost just one game to a West opponent. There’s no catching Florida Atlantic in the East, but Middle Tennessee has established itself as the second-best team in this muddled division. Davis’ team has won four of five games and looks like a prime spoiler pick at the SBC tourney in Hot Springs this March.

Up Next: Feb. 5 vs. USA, Feb. 10 at WKU, Feb. 12 vs. FIU

3. South Alabama (10-11, 4-6): There are only five players in college basketball averaging more rebounds per game than freshman Augustine Rubit. Included in that list are Maryland’s Jordan Williams and Syracuse’s Rick Jackson, as well as freakish future pro Kenneth Faried of Morehead State.A nd Rubit’s right there with him— standing tall at 6’6. That’s right: the nation’s sixth-leading rebounder is a 6’6 freshman from South Alabama. Rubit’s the frontrunner for SBC Newcomer of the Year, and he’s a big reason why Ronnie Arrow’s team has rebounded from a poor start to win three of four games. A division title is out of the question, but with underclassmen Rubit and Martino Brock leading the way, the Jaguars have a chance to build a little momentum heading into next season.

Up Next: Feb. 5 at MTSU, Feb. 10 vs. Troy, Feb. 17 at UNT

4. Western Kentucky (9-12, 4-5): It was a glorious sight: in the midst of a nightmarish season with rumors of coach Ken McDonald’s firing, Western Kentucky rolled off four straight wins. After stunning Florida Atlantic in front of a “whiteout” crowd in Boca Raton, WKU was .500 in league play and had five straight home games looming. The Hilltoppers were back from the dead… that is, until a loss to South Alabama last night at Diddle Arena. Old habits returned for Western Kentucky. All of the positive energy had vanished, the Jaguars lit up WKU from beyond the arc and point guards Jamal Crook and Khalil McDonald regressed after playing commendably during the four-game winning streak.

Up Next: Feb. 5 vs. ULM, Feb. 10 vs. MTSU, Feb. 12 vs. UNT

5. Florida International (9-13, 4-6): Talk about a feel-good story gone wrong. Isiah Thomas’s fresh roster won its first three SBC games before dropping six straight games, all by 10 points or less. FIU finally broke the slump with an overtime win at Troy last night, but even that win was difficult. The Golden Panthers lost their lead in the final minute of the extra period by fouling Regis Huddleston on a three-point attempt. DeJaun Wright bailed FIU out with a layup in the final seconds, helping Florida International avoid the East cellar.

Up Next: Feb. 5 at FAU, Feb. 10 vs. ULL, Feb. 12 at MTSU

6. Troy (5-17, 3-7): It’s quite amazing that Troy has two of the league’s best guards in Vernon Taylor and Mo Weathers and still can’t climb out of the basement of the Sun Belt East. Coach Don Maestri doesn’t have the necessary depth to run his up-tempo style this season, and they’ve especially struggled on the road. Last weekend’s win at Louisiana-Monroe was the Trojans’ first road win.

Up Next: Feb. 10 at USA, Feb. 12 vs. Denver, Feb. 17 vs. MTSU

West

1. Denver (11-11, 7-2): The Pioneers can’t win when they don’t make threes. It’s that simple. When Denver runs Joe Scott’s offense to perfection, it’s a thing of beauty. All five players act as interchangeable parts, sharing the ball from side to side and taking only the most open of jumpers. When that offense isn’t running smoothly and the threes aren’t falling, though, Denver can’t win. Consider DU’s loss to Middle Tennessee two weeks ago. It made just three shots from beyond the arc in a loss to Middle Tennessee after inexplicably attempting just six threes. And when Denver went cold in the second half against UALR last night, it allowed the Trojans to grab the lead with a 16-1 run.

Up Next: Feb. 5 at ASU, Feb. 10 vs. FAU, Feb. 12 at Troy

2. North Texas (16-7, 5-5): There was talk in December that North Texas could run the table in the Sun Belt. Now, the Mean Green are simply hoping to finish above .500. They’ve lost three straight games and look nothing like a team that starts five seniors. Coach Johnny Jones is struggling to find quality depth on his bench, especially in the frontcourt. The top six scorers on this team are seniors, and all have made multiple trips to the NCAA Tournament. There’s no reason for North Texas to sit at 5-5 and lose at home by double-digits, as it did last night to FAU. In that loss, Josh White played poorly and SBC leading scorer Tristan Thompson barely played in the second half for unknown reasons. It’s panic time for North Texas, and the clock is running out on the seniors who entered the year as the league’s consensus favorite.

Up Next: Feb. 10 at UALR, Feb. 12 at WKU, Feb. 17 vs. USA

3. Arkansas-Little Rock (13-11, 5-4): Last week, an initial 11-0 deficit against Arkansas State doomed UALR at home in a 75-64 loss. Last night against DU, another poor start had coach Steve Shields’ experiencing déjà vu. Fortunately for him, his team responded by frustrating Denver’s offense in the second half and getting just enough stops in overtime to stay in the hunt in the West. Now just two games out of first place, Arkansas-Little Rock needs to steal a few games away from home.

Up Next: Feb. 5 at ULL, Feb. 10 vs. UNT, Feb. 12 at ULM

4. Arkansas State (12-13, 6-4): The league’s most inconsistent team took another weird turn this week with a loss at 4-17 Savannah State. It’s a good thing the game didn’t count toward ASU’s league record, because the loss was ugly in every sense of the word. The game wasn’t even as competitive as the 67-61 margin suggests, as Arkansas State shot 35 percent from the field and trailed the entire way. The Red Wolves can beat anyone at home in Jonesboro, but they’re an entirely different team on the road. The winner of the West will likely be the team that figures out how to play in unfamiliar environments.

Up Next: Feb. 5 vs. Denver, Feb. 10 at ULM, Feb. 17 at ULL

5. Louisiana-Lafayette (7-14, 4-5): Bob Marlin can rest easy. His team beat rival Louisiana-Monroe at home, it upset North Texas and now sits just a game under .500 in Sun Belt play. Point guard Josh Brown’s return from injury has been one of the catalysts in a recent four-game win streak, and freshman forward J.J. Thomas is starting to blow up. He’s scored in double-figures in five ULL’s last eight games and went for 28 in a win at South Alabama this week.

Up Next: Feb. 5 vs. UALR, Feb. 10 at FIU, Feb. 12 at FAU

6. Louisiana-Monroe (6-18, 1-9): There’s no question that ULM is the Sun Belt’s worst team. Playing in the more difficult West Division with a rebuilt roster, Keith Richard’s first season here wasn’t tailor made for success. The Warhawks at least fought MTSU last night to the final minute and narrowly lost to Arkansas State on a free throw by Martavius Adams with six seconds to play a few weeks ago. That’s called progress in our book.

Up Next: Feb. 5 vs. Denver, Feb. 10 at ULM, Feb. 17 at ULL

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Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • According to the beat writer for Western Kentucky’s hometown newspaper, star forward Sergio Kerusch was benched for much of Wednesday night’s 59-52 victory at Bowling Green. Coach Ken McDonald played the Sun Belt pre-season Player of the Year for only six minutes, citing a general lack of focus. In a similar move, McDonald also benched guard Khalil McDonald in a December 4 loss to Memphis because of on-court issues. The personnel changes opened an opportunity for freshman forward Stephon Drane the past two games, who has finally cracked the rotation.
  • Bob Marlin’s first season at Louisiana-Lafayette hasn’t started so smoothly with a 1-6 record. Clearly frustrated with his new team, Marlin called out his squad for a lack of competitiveness and even a subpar performance in the classroom. He’s got even bigger problems, though, after learning in late November that guard Josh Brown may miss three or four weeks after injuring his knee in practice. He’s expected to return for conference play. Brown led the team in scoring before his injury, and ULL has lost both contests without him.
  • Brandon Peterson, who started at forward for Arkansas State’s first six games, did not dress against Memphis last Wednesday because of an illness—and his team still battled the #14 Tigers to overtime without him. He returned to the court five days later in a win over Lyon College, scoring seven points in 20 minutes off the bench.

Shoutout Section

  • Tristan Thompson had a masterful four-game stretch for North Texas recently, averaging 26.5 points per game against Rice, Texas State, Texas Arlington and Grambling. Although Josh White and George Odufuwa are also All-Conference performers, nobody’s been better than Thompson. The senior is averaging 20 points per game and has taken the reigns offensively for the Mean Green. It should be noted that Thompson’s past two outings have been a bit rough—he shot 3-11 from the field at Texas Southern and scored only seven points against Sam Houston State. But don’t expect that to continue very long.
  • Tim Williams led South Alabama in scoring last year, but Martino Brock has that title right now as a sophomore. Brock doesn’t appear intimidated by USA’s big-time competition. He looked perfectly comfortable scoring 27 points against Louisville and also scored 15 against LSU. If the Jaguars want to rebound from last year’s injury-riddled nightmare, Brock will need to be a big part of it.

Quote of the Week

“We didn’t expect to wear red, so it was a surprise…that just set it off; we knew we had to perform.”

FAU forward Kore White, after his team beat South Florida wearing new red uniforms

Power Rankings

East Division

1. Western Kentucky (4-5): After ending a four-game losing streak with Wednesday’s ugly road win at Bowling Green, WKU still holds the top spot in the East—just barely. The Hilltoppers’ record is deceiving because of the murderer’s row schedule they’ve played, which has included games against Minnesota, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Memphis. Still, Western Kentucky is having a serious identity crisis early in the season, no matter the competition. Even in Wednesday’s victory, WKU turned the ball over 29 times while at the same time had its best defensive effort of the season. Ken Brown, who’s battling for minutes at the point guard position, committed seven of the turnovers, and sophomore Jamal Crook played only seven minutes at the point. Coach Ken McDonald has said he’s looking for more consistency out of his inexperienced point guards, and the growth of Brown, Crook, Snap Peters and Khalil McDonald could shape the rest of the season for Western Kentucky.

Up Next: Dec. 11 vs. Southern Illinois, Dec. 18 at Murray State, Dec. 24 vs. Louisville

2. Florida Atlantic (5-4): The Owls are living up to the pre-season hype. In the span of five days last week, FAU won at Mississippi State and beat South Florida at home, bringing its record to 5-4, tops in the East. Interestingly, the high-octane Owls slowed the tempo and ground out their last two wins, even playing a zone against South Florida to combat the Bulls’ size and athletic advantage. Florida Atlantic’s defensive struggles hurt it last season, but Mike Jarvis has to be pleased with his team’s progress on that end of the floor after holding USF to 32 percent shooting. The most astonishing part about FAU’s marquee wins is that point guard Ray Taylor has largely been a non-factor. After dealing with disciplinary issues early in the season, Jarvis is still bringing Taylor off the bench. He scored just seven points against Mississippi State and did not score against South Florida. After averaging more than 32 minutes per game last season, Taylor has logged more than 30 minutes just once. Thanks to Alex Tucker, who exploded for 18 points against USF, Taylor’s struggles haven’t made a difference. The emergence of forward Kore White, a transfer from Marshall, has also helped. There are still questions about consistency with this group—it lost to American and George Mason by double-digits in November—and center Brett Royster can’t seem to stay out of foul trouble. If the young Owls continue to grow, however, Western Kentucky will be in for a fight this winter.

Up Next: Dec. 11 at Hofstra, Dec. 13 at Siena, Dec. 16 at Troy

3. South Alabama (2-5): Much like WKU, it’s hard to get a gauge on this team right now because of its schedule. South Alabama has lost four straight to UAB, LSU, Alabama and Louisville—and it has looked downright bad throughout that stretch. The Jaguars’ opponents get a bit easier in the next few weeks, so we’ll see if they can hang with teams of similar caliber. With as well as sophomore Martino Brock has played lately and the established scoring of guard Tim Williams, this team appears to have enough talent to at least stay competitive with Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic.

Up Next: Dec. 12 vs. Houston Baptist, Dec. 18 at Georgia Southern, Dec. 21. vs. Alcorn State

4. Middle Tennessee (4-5): 95 minutes. That’s how many minutes of basketball the Blue Raiders played in a December 4 overtime win against SIU-Edwardsville and a double-overtime loss at Belmont Dec. 7. Belmont, an Atlantic Sun favorite that beat Arkansas State by 33 points, needed eight three-pointers from senior Jordan Campbell to edge Middle Tennessee at home. After losing three starters from last year’s 20-win team, this is an encouraging December loss.

Up Next: Dec. 12 vs. Furman, Dec. 18 at Evansville, Dec. 21 vs. Vanderbilt

5. Florida International (4-4): Two weeks ago, we urged you to hold off on evaluating FIU, despite a 3-1 record. Two of those wins came against non-Division-I schools, while the other was Utah Valley. Well, the Golden Panthers responded by blasting Chattanooga 80-59. Since then, Florida International has lost at Marshall, Louisville and Jackson State, so there’s nothing to suggest that this team will make much noise in the East Division right now. However, the win over Chattanooga, a team that currently owns a 2-0 record in the Southern Conference and has a recent NCAA Tournament appearance to its name, boosts it ahead of Troy. But that’s not saying much. If high-profile freshman Dominique Ferguson gains eligibility for the second semester, coach Isiah Thomas might have something to work with, especially since he’s already getting Illinois transfer Alex Legion in a few weeks. For now, it’s juco transfer Eric Frederick doing the scoring. Although he hasn’t started a game in a month, he’s averaged around 30 minutes per game during the past three contests and went for 26 against Marshall. With a combination of its famous head coach and the possible arrival of Ferguson, Florida International may have the most compelling team in the Sun Belt.

Up Next: Dec. 12 at Bowling Green, Dec. 18 vs. Sam Houston State, Dec. 22 vs. Florida A&M

6. Troy (1-6): The Trojans may be replacing five starters, but they’re not giving up. Despite a 1-6 record, there are positives for legendary coach Don Maestri’s squad. Troy took Mississippi State to overtime Nov. 26, trailed by just two at halftime against UAB and scared Arkansas by getting within seven points late in the second half. Nobody’s going to hang a banner for any of those “accomplishments.” But it’s a sign that Troy won’t roll over in Sun Belt play. Maestri still has an experienced core of three seniors in the starting lineup in Vernon Taylor, Levan Patsatsia and Bernard Toombs, all of whom came off the bench for a team that won 20 games and reached the SBC title game last season.

Up Next: Dec. 11 at Miami OH, Dec. 16 vs. Florida Atlantic, Dec. 18 vs. Belmont

West Division

1. North Texas (7-2): The first eight games—besides a loss at Kansas—were mostly a breeze for the senior-laden Mean Green. At 7-1, North Texas looked primed for another Sun Belt title and NCAA Tournament appearance. And then came Sam Houston State, which exposed every flaw of Johnny Jones’ team Wednesday night in a 92-74 win. First, there are issues of depth with this team right now. After the first six or seven in the rotation, there’s an obvious drop-off. This team looks like it could use Eric Tramiel, the graduated forward who received looks from NBA squads. Although Kendrick Hogans appears to be an adequate replacement for him, neither Jacob Holmen nor Nebraska transfer Alonzo Edwards have shown too much in backup roles. It’s only December, though, and Holmen and Edwards aren’t logging serious minutes yet. The other issue for North Texas is the defensive end. UNT hid this deficiency against inferior opponents, but Sam Houston State torched it from the field and seemed to have little trouble with North Texas’ athletic defenders. One road loss at SHS doesn’t change a thing for this team’s expectations, however. North Texas is still the clear front-runner in the conference.

Up Next: Dec. 11 vs. Jackson State, Dec. 19 vs. Texas State, Dec. 22 at LSU

2. Arkansas State (2-6): In our last SBC check-in, we didn’t panic at Arkansas State’s winless record. Luckily, the Red Wolves made us look smart by winning two games and taking Memphis to overtime during the past two weeks, which keeps them slotted at number two in the West. Sure, the two wins were at Southeast Missouri State and against Lyon at home. That Memphis game should be enough to convince you of the talent level on this team, though. ASU fell behind 23-5 but slowly chipped away, trailing throughout the entire game before tying it in the final minute of regulation. Arkansas State had no business hanging that close with Memphis, but it even held a four-point lead in overtime. The Tigers didn’t play especially well, but John Brady’s guys clearly outplayed them. Even more impressively, the Red Wolves played harder than Memphis, staying in contention with second-chance points and a strong effort on the offensive glass. Consider this: Arkansas State shot about 39 percent from the floor, missed 13 of 18 three-point attempts and didn’t get a stellar performance from any of its scorers (leading scorer Daniel Bryant finished with 16 on just 5-17 from the field). Somehow, it took the 14th-ranked team in America to overtime on its home floor.

Up Next: Dec. 11 vs. Alabama State, Dec. 18 at Georgia, Dec. 20 vs. Savannah State

3. Arkansas-Little Rock (6-3): So the team that won zero road games in 2009-10 still can’t win on the road. Big deal. Arkansas-Little Rock is at least playing well at home, having knocked off both Louisiana Tech and Tulsa in recent weeks. The latter is an especially impressive win over a team that’s already beaten Oral Roberts, Missouri State and Stanford. UALR’s 34-point road loss to Missouri State looks ugly, especially since it has also lost by 26 to Oral Roberts and 13 to Saint Bonaventure. But coach Steve Shields appears to have found a starting point guard in D’Andre Williams, who got the majority of the minutes over freshman Daylon Guy against Tulsa and dished out six assists. And Shields also has a road win under his belt—a season-opening win at SMU—so he’s got to be thrilled with his team’s 6-3 start.

Up Next: Dec. 11 vs. Mississippi, Dec. 16 at Rice, Dec. 21 at Akron

4. Denver (2-6): The Pioneers haven’t played the kind of schedule Western Kentucky has, but they’ve still challenged themselves outside of the conference here in the first two months. That has resulted in an ugly loss to St. Mary’s this week, as well as a competitive loss at home to Utah State. Sandwiched in between those losses was a home win against CSU-Northridge, in which budding star Brian Stafford scored 18 points. Denver is trying to find other options outside of Stafford and forward Chase Hallam. Case in point: those two combined for 12 points against St. Mary’s, and their team lost by 30 points.

Up next: Dec. 11 vs. Portland, Dec. 14 at Wyoming, Dec. 18 vs. Northern Colorado

5. Louisiana-Lafayette (1-6): ULL got off to a blazing start at McNeese State Dec. 1 but couldn’t finish the game, falling by three points. And three days later, the Rajun Cajuns were deadlocked with Tulane in the second half… and couldn’t finish the game, falling 63-52. It’s a work in progress for Bob Marlin, who has lost guard Josh Brown until conference play due to a knee injury. All kinds of injuries and sicknesses have affected Louisiana-Lafayette during this discouraging 1-6 start. The squad hasn’t been horrendously bad in any of the losses, so there’s hope for conference play if Brown returns fully healthy.

Up Next: Dec. 12 vs. Texas College, Dec. 15 at UCF, Dec. 19 vs. Lamar

6. Louisiana-Monroe (2-7): Fred Brown scored 18 points in a loss to Louisiana Tech. That doesn’t seem too peculiar, until you read the rest of his stat line: Brown took 28 shots and missed 11 three-point attempts. He did tally seven assists, but the point is clear: he’s relied upon to do everything for this team. He’s averaging about 17 shot attempts per game, but the pressure might be getting to Brown, whose assist-to-turnover ratio is less than 1:1. It’s been a rough start to the season for ULM, which also lost by double-digits to South Dakota and Kent State the past month.

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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

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ATB: Conference Chalkiness

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

Three More Dance Cards Drawn Tonight.  With tonight’s three conference titles from Butler, Oakland and North Texas, we’re noticing a trend this year that definitely makes all the bubble teams happy.  Even in the one-bid leagues where it doesn’t impact the bubble picture as to who wins the conference championship, it’s predominantly the best teams that are winning titles.  Out of the eleven auto-bids earned thus far, eight of them were the top seed or co-champion in the regular season.  The only true Cinderella we’ve had so far this conference tournament season came from the Atlantic Sun where ETSU as a #5 seed won the bid; even in the Big South and WCC, the teams who won, while not co-champions, were still pretty good teams (Winthrop and St. Mary’s).  With the Big East starting today and the Big 12 and Pac-10 starting tomorrow, will we see all chalk in those tournaments as well this week?  Only time will tell.

Horizon League Championship#12 Butler 70, Wright State 45.  Butler finished off its dream season in the Horizon League by winning its twentieth conference game in a prolonged coronation that erased many of the bad memories from last year’s home loss to Cleveland State at the same point.  The Bulldogs hit 52% from the field and got strong offensive contributions from Matt Howard (14/9) and Shelvin Mack (14/2) to completely outclass Wright State tonight.  With the 18 regular season wins and the two HL Tourney wins, Butler became the sole conference team to go unbeaten all the way through conference play this year.  This will be Butler’s fourth consecutive trip to the NCAAs, but how good is this team?  With an RPI of #17, and the fourth toughest nonconference schedule this year, we’d expect to see the Bulldogs on the #4/#5 line next week.  This would give them a reasonably easy first round game followed by a second rounder against someone like a Temple, Vanderbilt, Baylor or Maryland.  Butler lost two tough neutral games to Clemson and Georgetown earlier this year, but they also beat Ohio State and Xavier, so we know they can beat teams of that caliber.  The question we have is whether the defense will hold when Matt Howard inevitably gets into foul trouble against a big front line — the Bulldog center was better about this down the stretch of the season, but in games against six BCS teams plus Xavier and UAB, he committed 36 fouls, for an average of 4.5 per game.  Butler will need Howard’s offense and rebounding to stay on the floor if they expect to make another run at the Sweet Sixteen.

Butler is Soaring to the NCAAs Again (Indy Star/R. Scheer)

Summit League ChampionshipOakland 76, IUPUI 64.  Oakland head coach Greg Kampe didn’t hold back on confidence when he stated after his team’s championship tonight that he believes Oakland is the best team in the history of the Summit League and that they plan on pushing on through to the Sweet Sixteen in next week’s NCAA Tournament.  It helps when you have someone like Derick Nelson on your side — broken nose and all — when he shoots 15-23 from the field for 36/9 in a career-best performance.  Whatever Nelson wasn’t doing, center Keith Benson was, as he ripped down 17 rebounds and blocked six shots to ensure the school’s second NCAA berth in its history (OU also went in 2005).  The Golden Grizzlies are now riding an 11-game winning streak and have won 20 of 21 since a pasting at the hands of Syracuse just before Christmas.  With a trio of excellent players at the point (Johnathan Jones), wing (Nelson) and post (Benson), Oakland is certainly an interesting team to consider as a first round cinderella next week.

Keith Benson Blocked Oakland into the Dance (AP/E. Landwehr)

Sun Belt ChampionshipNorth Texas 66, Troy 63.  The Mean Green of North Texas earned its second-ever NCAA bid in the last four years by hanging on down the stretch against Troy and getting a key bucket from mighty mite Josh White with 22 seconds remaining to break a tie and send his team on its way.  North Texas switched to a zone in the second half and dominated the boards (+10) which led to numerous second chances that they were able to convert tonight.  UNT is on a bit of a tear now, having won eleven games in a row and setting a new school record for wins in a season with 24.  In 2007, #15 seed North Texas gave #2 Memphis a solid game en route to a fifteen-point loss.  Coach Johnnie Jones is hoping for another similar performance this time around.

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Sun Belt Conference Tourney Wrapup

Posted by nvr1983 on March 13th, 2009

Toppers Return to The Dance
As we predicted last time around, Western Kentucky will represent the Sun Belt Conference in the Big dance this year. This was no surprise to avid Belt followers. However, what was a surprise was the opponent they faced in the finals – South Alabama.

South Alabama came into the tournament as the sixth seed, and slid into the finals after winning their first two games by a combined total of five points. One of their opponents was Troy, who’s magical run came to a close by just three points. Not that they didn’t have their fair share of chances to get the win themselves. Trojan guard Michael Vogler missed the front end of a one-and-one and then two 3-point tries in the final 17 seconds as Troy tried to tie the game.
Ironically, South Alabama’s last leg into the final game came with little difficulty when they knocked off  Arkansas Little-Rock, a team that also struggled to find its range, by ten points. The Trojans had no answer for the loss of Moore, their top scorer, and it showed, as they went 16-61 from the floor on the night. However, South Alabama would not be so fortunate against WKU in the finals.

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Checking in on the… Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on November 21st, 2008

check_in41

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

No Sweep for Trio

The talented trio of newcomer Head Coaches John Brady, Mike Jarvis, and Ken McDonald fared differently in first contests with thier programs.  Mike Jarvis (Florida Atlantic) gained his first victory as the Owls defeated Monmouth to open the season, while John Brady (Arkansas State) and Ken McDonald (Western Kentucky) dropped contests to  Houston and Ole Miss, respectively.

UNO Happy to be Back “Home”

New Orleans will take the court this season in a quite impressive Lake Front Arena now that rennovations are complete from the heavy damage that was caused by Hurricane Katrina.  “This is something that has us up to date with the rest of the top college basketball programs,” said Head Coach Joe Pasternack.

Middle Tennessee Pegged by SI.com

Sports Illustrated has the Blue Raiders ranked amongst the Top 10 mid-major powers in a recent article, where they enjoy the company of Gonzaga, Creighton, and Davidson.  “Five returning starters have chances to make early statements with games against Vanderbilt and Tennessee,” said Bill Trocchi of The Mid Major Report.

Carlos Monroe, Steven Moore out Indefinitely

Mike Jarvis’ roster experienced a set back recently when Florida Atlantic announced that All-SBC and potential player of the year power foward Carlos Monroe would not be eligible to begin regular season play.  The ruling stems from a spring semester academic issue.  University administration is working diligently to restore his eligibility.

University of Arkansas-Little Rock sharpshooter Steven Moore has been suspended indefinitely due to conduct detrimental to the team.  This is a blow for the Trojans given the fact that Smith drained 42 three pointers; an impressive 43.3%, and third best in the Sun Belt last season.

Busy Early Signing Period for The Belt

November 12th marked the first day of the early signing period, and SBC programs wasted no time landing some talented newcomers.  Middle Tennessee inked five, Florida Atlantic three, and Western Kentucky, who is believed to have the top class, signed three as well.  “The recent success of Sun Belt teams in the postseason is certainly helping the Conference as a whole in recruiting”, said said Jerry Myer, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.

Recent Results

Sun Belt Conference teams are doing fairly well (11-10, .524%) so far against non-conference competition. Teams have taken on the likes of mid-major and major powers including Pepperdine, N.C. State, Arizona, Oklahoma State, Houston, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Preaseason All-SBC North Texas point guard Josh White had an impressive 23 points in an 100-88 loss at Oklahoma State on Monday, while Florida Atlantic guard Paul Graham scored a game high 23 in the Owls’ loss to Arizona.

Upcoming Games of Note

Middle Tennessee will host the Tennessee Volunteers, currently ranked 14th nationally, this Friday, November 21st, in Murfreesboro.  The game is scheduled to air live on College Sports Southeast (CSS) beginning at 7:00 CST.

Florida Atlantic, just off two games in the desert against Arizona and Santa Clara, will take on Davidson and Stephen Curry on Monday, November 24th.

The Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky will take on a very talented Louisville squad Sunday, November 30th at 2:00PM EST in Louisville.

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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:

East

  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)

West

  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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ATB: David… so… close.

Posted by rtmsf on November 15th, 2007

ATB v.4

11.14.07

Story of the Night. Gotta be #20 Davidson giving #2 UNC all it could handle in a “neutral” (if neutral means a light blue haze falling over the proceedings) environment in Charlotte. When we did our SoCon preview, we mentioned that Davidson could position itself for an at-large NCAA bid with solid performances against the ACC troika of UNC, Duke and NC State + UCLA in its non-conference schedule. Consider tonight’s game Exh. A to the selection committee. It’s much easier said than done, but Davidson fans should try to keep their minds on the long-term benefits of playing well in a nationally-televised game v. UNC instead of bemoaning the loss of the game down the stretch. Now, about the game itself. Clearly Davidson had no answer for Psycho-T, that is, whenever Carolina decided to get him the ball (14/14 on only 3-6 shooting), but we find it downright criminal that the beef of UNC’s frontcourt (Hansbrough and Deon Thompson) only had eleven shots combined the entire game. We know Roy wants to run as much as possible, but he’s got to get his guards to understand where their strength really is – and it’s not with Danny Green chucking seven threes while the big guys set screens for him. As for Davidson, they played hard and put themselves in good position to win the game. Stephen Curry was really off on his outside game (2-12 from three), but what was really noticeable was just how easily he got to the rim on several occasions. The crossover in the open court on Quentin Thomas was particularly disgusting. Honestly, we didn’t know he had that, and color us impressed. So what does this game say about both teams? For Carolina, it showed a couple of things: 1) Wayne Ellington is ready for prime time this year (20 pts); and 2) at least right now, they miss the length and defense of Brandan Wright and Reyshawn Terry. For Davidson, they shot 39% and 18% from three, and yet they were within reach with a minute to go – that should be an encouraging sign for their other big games coming up. At least one DU blogger seems to have the proper perspective (UNC 72, Davidson 68).

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Things We Saw. We also caught quite a bit of a pretty good Pac-10/Mtn. West matchup between Utah and Washington. The problem was that we spent most of the first half trying to figure out how every Utah player could coincidentally also have the last name “Utah.” We know Utahns have a tendency toward big families, but it still seemed a little much. We finally realized that some Nobel laureate adidas has decided to put the name of the team on both the front and the back of the jerseys. We’re not even sure how to respond to this other than to say this could be the most disturbing uniform trend since the late 80s NC State unitards. We were so confused by the uniform issue that we lost track of the game for a while, but when we got our head straight, we noticed that Utah appears to be on its way back to respectability. Center Luke Nevill provided 14/10/3 blks and two ridiculous fouls after a made basket that ended up fouling him out, but he could not match up with UW’s beast Jon Brockman (several inches shorter), who blew up for 31/18 and used his quick feet to do as he pleased inside. Still, new Utah head man Jim Boylen should be pleased that his Utes fought hard and showed promise, shooting 55% on the road in an arena where the home team simply does not lose non-conference games (29 in a row now) (Washington 83, Utah 77).

Big 12 Woes. Called it. Sam Houston St. at home defeated Knight and Texas Tech tonight by keeping Martin Zeno in check and killing TTU on the boards (42-29). We’re sure that Knight ripped some waitress/intern/ballboy staffer a new one after the game for some indiscretion or another – why won’t this guy just go away? His act was tired ten years ago, and he’s just not a very good coach anymore (Sam Houston St. 56, Texas Tech 54). Another Big 12 team went on the road in Texas and also came out of the evening with an L – Oklahoma St. Sean Sutton’s team allowed big nights from North Texas’ Keith Wooden and Josh White (combined for 50/14) while getting good production from only one of its own players, Marcus Dove (23/7). Could another .500 year be in store for the Pokes (North Texas 82, Oklahoma St. 73).

Ranked Teams.
#7 Tennessee 101, Ark-Monticello 44. We know it’s a D2 team, but whatsup with Lofton? 3-15 in two games.
#13 Michigan St. 83, UL-Monroe 65. Raymar Morgan is averaging 19/15 in two games this year.

#18 Texas A&M 81, UTEP 76. TAMU will meet Washington in the NIT semis.

On Tap Tonight (all times EST). Only 32 games, but a couple of good ones on the tube.

  • Houston (pick) v. VCU (ESPNU) 9am – PR Shootout features Eric Maynor.
  • Marist v. Miami (FL) (-7) (ESPNU) 11:30am – more PR shootout.
  • Temple v. Providence (-6) (ESPNU) 2pm – and still more (why do we feel like Borat in the cheese aisle?).
  • Arkansas (-15) v. Charleston (ESPNU) 5pm – we’d like to see how John Pelphrey handles this team.
  • Connecticut (-13.5) v. Gardner-Webb (ESPN2) 7pm – the GW story ends here.
  • Hampton (NL) v. Kent St. 7pm – fantastic mid-major matchup – give us Kent at home.
  • Georgetown (-15) v. Michigan (ESPN 360) 7:30pm - how is Beilein’s offense coming along?
  • Kansas (NL) v. Washburn (ESPN FC) 8pm – it’s on tv, so we put it on the list.
  • Mississippi St. (-4.5) v. Clemson (ESPN FC) 8pm – best game of the night potentially – we think one of these two is a fraud, but we’re not sure who yet.
  • Northwestern v. Stanford (-9.5) (ESPN FC) 9pm – the last 2 yrs, Stanford laid an egg in an early road game – this year?
  • Memphis (-8.5) v. Oklahoma (ESPN2) 9pm – early test for Calipari’s Tigers.

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