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 January 21st, 2011

 

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

A Look Back: News and Notes

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

Shout-Out Section

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

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

Quote of the Week

 

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

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

Power Rankings

East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 6th, 2011


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

A Look Back: News and Notes

  • The hits keep coming for Western Kentucky. Never mind that the Hilltoppers are 5-8 and just lost at Arkansas State. Now, just a few weeks after the dismissal of point guard Ken Brown, WKU has learned that freshman guard Snap Peters is academically ineligible for the second semester. The good news for coach Ken McDonald is that Peters hasn’t left the program for good and can return next year.
  • The Sun Belt’s poor performance in non-conference play has resulted in an RPI plummet for the conference. As of Thursday morning, the league ranks 25th out of the 31 D-I conferences that carry automatic NCAA Tournament bids. This fall, when the Sun Belt announced new scheduling restrictions to help bolster its overall RPI, a few coaches weren’t happy with the commissioner. With this recent slip toward the bottom of Division I Basketball, though, maybe they’ll come around.

Shoutout Section

There’s no player more deserving of a shoutout this week than Arkansas State’s Trey Finn. The sophomore is already a fan favorite because of his hard-nosed defense and all-out effort. Plus, he’s got a pretty cool first name—and he lived up to that name by making seven three-pointers in a 30-point performance against Western Kentucky last weekend. And Finn wasn’t one-dimensional, either, tallying four steals, 10 rebounds and three assists.

Alex Legion’s college career hasn’t been easy. He played six games at Kentucky as a highly-touted freshman before transferring to Illinois, where he appeared in just 33 games as a sophomore and junior. Now, Legion has landed at Florida International, and he’s putting his last stop in the Sun Belt to use. Since becoming eligible at the start of the semester, Legion has scored in double figures in all four games and had 22 points against Utah Valley.

Quote of the Week

“It’s easy to quit, but I’d rather die than quit.”

-Western Kentucky forward Sergio Kerusch on New Year’s Day, persevering through the Hilltoppers’ struggles after dropping their third straight game.

Power Rankings

East

1. Florida Atlantic (9-6, 2-0): Thanks to Western Kentucky’s continued downswing, Florida Atlantic is the new East Division favorite. The Owls didn’t even need to do anything to take the top spot. Due to the apocalyptic snowstorm that cancelled a Dec. 30 date with Manhattan, they’ve played just one game during the past 15 days—and even that contest was with D-II Florida Memorial. With two SBC road wins under their belt, Florida Atlantic is sitting pretty, but the quiet few weeks may result in a little rust for Mike Jarvis’ players.

Up Next: Jan. 6 vs. South Alabama, Jan. 8 vs. Arkansas State, Jan. 11 vs. Manhattan

2. Western Kentucky (5-8, 0-1): The dismal non-conference performance was behind them; it was a new conference season and a new year on New Year’s Day, and Western Kentucky jumped out to a 17-7 lead at Arkansas State in the SBC opener. Sergio Kerusch was making everything. The threes were falling, and the Red Wolves were unable to run their offense against WKU’s chaotic defense. What a story: the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers were turning the corner on the very first day of 2011! Turns out, it was all just false hope. Slowly, Trey Finn’s hot hand brought ASU back into contention, and that double-digit lead turned into a one-point deficit at halftime. Arkansas State then scored the first six points in the second half and never looked back. After such a promising start, the Hilltoppers were back to their old ways. They’ll have to wait at least one more game to turn that corner. That is, if the fans don’t run coach Ken McDonald out of town by that point. Of 86 respondents polled on the WKU fan site Hilltopper Haven, 64 fans voted to fire the head coach immediately.

Up Next: Jan. 6 at Denver, Jan. 13 at Troy

3. South Alabama (7-6, 1-1): The Jaguars split their first two conference games, losing at Arkansas State and beating Middle Tennessee at home. It’s still hard to get a read on this team, which has won five of six games mostly against inferior competition. Freshman Augustin Rubit recorded four double-doubles in December and carried that over to the Sun Belt with 16 points and 11 rebounds against ASU. He dealt with foul trouble and scored just three points against Middle Tennessee, though. Senior Tim Williams’ 25 points carried the Jags to that victory, but although he’s one of the league’s better scorers, he needs help from players like Rubit and sophomore Martino Brock, who’s enjoying a breakout year.

Up Next: Jan. 6 at Florida Atlantic, Jan. 8 at Florida International, Jan. 15 vs. Louisiana-Monroe

4. Middle Tennessee (6-9, 1-1): Score one for coach Kermit Davis. After losing at South Alabama in the Sun Belt opener, the Blue Raiders picked up their first signature victory of the season by knocking off consensus league favorite North Texas 78-71 Wednesday night at home. Middle Tennessee beat up the Mean Green on the boards by grabbing 14 offensive rebounds and rattled them defensively with 10 steals. It’s just one win, but UNT had been so dominant in November and December that Wednesday’s upset came out of nowhere.

Up Next: Jan. 8 at LA-Lafayette, Jan. 13 vs. Florida Atlantic, Jan. 15 at Arkansas State

5. Florida International (6-7, 1-0): Coach Isiah Thomas’ recruiting prowess may pay off this winter. Alex Legion is making an immediate impact through his first four games for FIU, and freshman Dominique Ferguson scored 11 points in just 16 minutes in his first Sun Belt game against Louisiana-Monroe. Another newcomer, Central Michigan transfer Jeremy Allen, was the hero in that one-point comeback win at ULM by breaking a 67-67 tie in the final minute. It’s been trendy to question Thomas’ coaching ability because of his celebrity status and his poor performance with the New York Knicks. It’s true that he finished with just seven wins in his first year as a collegiate coach in 2009-10, but Thomas hasn’t proved hecan’t coach at this level, has he? So far in Year Two, Thomas appears to have this program on the upswing.

Up Next: Jan. 6 vs. Arkansas State, Jan. 8 vs. South Alabama, Jan. 13 at North Texas

6. Troy (2-11, 0-1): Ranking teams two through five in the East was a difficult task. Ranking last, however, wasn’t difficult at all. The Trojans have played the last two games without leading scorer Vernon Taylor, who was sidelined with an ankle injury. He may play Thursday night at Louisiana-Lafayette. Without Taylor, Troy lost 80-39 to Utah State on Christmas Eve. Two weeks of rest and Taylor’s possible return may help Troy regroup.

Up Next: Jan. 6 at ULL, Jan. 8 at Arkansas Little-Rock, Jan. 13 vs. Western Kentucky

West

1. North Texas (13-3, 2-1): There’s only one question to ask of Johnny Jones’ team. What happened? North Texas embarrassed LSU by 20 points and then promptly demolished Arkansas-Little Rock andLouisiana-Lafayette at home to open Sun Belt competition. Then, disaster struck Wednesday night with UNT’s road loss to Middle Tennessee. It’s not as if the Mean Green hadn’t experienced life away from Denton. North Texas went to Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence in November and finished 3-2 in non-conference road games. So, again: what happened Wednesday night? For starters, North Texas hasn’t traditionally played well in Murfreesboro. More than that, though, the Mean Green were outworked by the Blue Raiders, especially up front. Middle Tennessee won the rebounding battle and pulled away late with its superior depth. Returning from a sprained ankle, George Odufuwa did his part with 10 rebounds, but his frontcourt mates didn’t lend much help. Sophomore Ben Knox, who had played so well since entering the starting lineup six games ago, had four fouls and took zero shot attempts in nine minutes of action. The loss isn’t crippling for North Texas, which should still win the West comfortably. It’s just a sign that the Mean Green aren’t so invincible after all.

Up Next: Jan. 13 vs. Florida International, Jan. 15 at Troy

2. Arkansas State (7-8, 2-0): In John Brady we trust. After a 1-6 start, is anyone surprised that Brady’s team is finally winning some basketball games? ASU defended its home court last week with wins over South Alabama and Western Kentucky and is tied for first in the West. Trey Finn’s getting all the attention for his 30-point outburst against WKU, but the win was a team effort. Arkansas State bullied Western Kentucky in the second half and recovered from a poor start to clamp down defensively. With each week, this team looks more and more like a John Brady team.

Up Next: Jan. 6 at FIU, Jan. 8 at FAU, Jan. 13 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

3. Denver (6-9, 2-0): In Joe Scott we trust, too. He’s steadily built this program from the ground—even to the point where Denver will now upgrade to the Western Athletic Conference—and his team has won four straight games. Chase Hallam’s three-point play in the final minute of overtime lifted Denver to a dramatic 72-70 win over Arkansas-Little Rock, a statement victory against one of the only Sun Belt teams that had fared well against non-league opponents. Denver has been outrebounded in its first two SBC games, but it’s made up for that with hot three-point shooting. That’s the beauty of Scott’s style of play—and his players seem to be clicking on both ends of the floor.

Up Next: Jan. 6 at Western Kentucky, Jan. 8 at ULM, Jan. 15 vs FIU

4. Arkansas-Little Rock (8-9, 0-2): UALR didn’t win a road game last year and has won only one game away from Little Rock in 2010-11. So the Trojans aren’t very good on the road in the first place, and the conference didn’t do them any favors by scheduling them to open SBC play with two road games: at league favorite North Texas, and at Denver in the altitude. Naturally, Arkansas-Little Rock lost both games. Then, adding to the slide, UALR lost Wednesday night at home to St. Bonaventure. Steve Shields’ group hung around for a while, but fell apart in the second half. That’s at least an improvement over UALR’s first meeting with the Bonnies, a 13-point road loss that was never close. Arkansas-Little Rock was tough at home in the non-con and won’t be an easy out in the Sun Belt, but this team has to win some road games to be taken seriously.

Up Next: Jan. 8 vs. Troy, Jan. 13 vs. ULM, Jan. 15 vs. ULL

5. Louisiana-Lafayette (2-11, 0-2): We’ve talked about UALR’s road problems all year long, but ULL isn’t faring any better. The Rajun Cajuns have lost 13 straight road contests dating back to last year and, like UALR, opened SBC play with road losses at Denver and North Texas. There might not be many wins for Bob Marlin in his first season, but there are small signs of progress. ULL competed until the last few minutes at Denver despite shooting 36 percent from the field. Guard Josh Brown, who missed part of December with a knee injury, took back his role as the leading scorer with 18 points at North Texas.

Up Next: Jan. 6 vs. Troy, Jan. 8 vs. Middle Tennessee, Jan. 13 at Arkansas State, Jan. 15 at UALR

6. Louisiana-Monroe (5-11, 0-2): Coach Keith Richard, the other new guy in this league alongside Marlin, is also having trouble winning games in his first season. He’ll have to settle for small, moral victories until he can build his program. ULM has lost both of its Sun Belt games in heartbreaking fashion by a combined three points (to Florida Atlantic and Florida International at home). And hey, the Warhawks just beat NAIA Union College Wednesday night. It may not count for RPI, but Richard will have to take all the wins he can get in his inaugural year.

Up Next: Jan. 8 vs. Denver, Jan. 13 at UALR, Jan. 15 at South Alabama

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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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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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The Sun Belt Is Tired Of Gettin’ Pushed Around

Posted by jstevrtc on October 27th, 2010

Having had sand kicked in its face for long enough, the Sun Belt Conference has taken a long, cold look at itself in the mirror, and decided that it’s time to hit the gym.

On Monday, the conference announced that it planned to implement rules designed to increase the conference’s RPI rating. Specifically, the Sun Belt will mandate that its member basketball schools must only schedule non-conference opponents that, as ESPN.com’s Andy Katz reported, have a “three-year combined power rating within the top 150,” and/or teams that ended the previous season with an RPI within the top 150. The scheduling of games against non-Division I teams will be forbidden, and programs must constantly endeavor to average an attendance that surpasses the national average of 5,038 fans per game (as Katz reports, the Sun Belt brass are planning to help with this). The theory is that this scheduling upgrade en masse will raise the Sun Belt’s conference RPI and, in doing so, might lead to more than the single auto-qualifier each year in the NCAA Tournament, or at least a higher NCAA seed for the conference tournament winner. This would seemingly lead to other positive effects that all conferences love, like rising attendance at games, an increased television profile, and — to put it frankly — more respect. The rules outlined above will take effect starting in the 2011-12 season.

Troy's New Trojan Arena Will Seat Just Over 5,200 Hoops Fans

The Sun Belt is certainly ripe for a drastic self-determined change, meaning one that’s not being executed just to keep the conference alive. The great Sun Belt schism happened in the off-season of 1991, when most of the conference’s members bolted for other leagues and the remaining schools had to merge with the American South Conference to keep the Sun Belt in existence.  Since that time, the Sun Belt has had more than one representative – its conference tournament winner — in the Big Dance exactly three times: 2008 (#10 South Alabama, at large; #12 Western Kentucky, auto), 1994 (#11 Western Kentucky, at large; #11 Louisiana-Lafayette, auto), and 1993 (#7 Western Kentucky, auto; #8 New Orleans, at large). Note that long drought, there — the span from 1995 to 2007 represents thirteen consecutive tournaments in which the Sun Belt was a single-bid league. And they logged only one win in that interval (#8 Western Kentucky def. #9 Michigan, 1995). In terms of actual conference RPI, the Sun Belt finished last year at its 10-year nadir of 22nd out of 32 conferences, averaging a year-end rank of 17.5 over that time period.

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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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Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on February 27th, 2010

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

Current Standings

East Division (conf/overall/streak)

  1. Troy                                    (12-5/17-11/W4)
  2. Middle Tennessee               (12-5/18-12/W2)
  3. Western Kentucky             (11-6/18-12/W5)
  4. Florida Atlantic                  (10-7/14-14/L2)
  5. South Alabama                     (8-10/16-14/W1)
  6. Florida International          (4-13/7-23/L7)

West Division (conf/overall/streak)

  1. North Texas                          (12-5/20-8/W7)
  2. Arkansas State                     (11-6/16-12/W1)
  3. Louisiana-Lafayette              (10-7/13-15/L1)
  4. Denver                                   (9-8/16-12/L1)
  5. Louisiana-Monroe                  (6-11/11-17/L3)
  6. New Orleans                          (3-14/8-20/L2)
  7. Arkansas-Little Rock             (3-14/7-21/L6)

News and notes

Western Kentucky’s A.J. Slaughter was named conference player of the week. He has now received this honor three times this season and also was picked as the preseason player of the year. In his senior year, Slaughter has shown why he was picked as such,as he had four straight 20-plus point performances in the last few weeks. Western Kentucky will be a force in the conference tournament as always. Despite their third-place conference record in the SBC East, their overall record is the second best in the SBC and they play much harder teams during non-conference play.

The Sun Belt Conference tournament is fast approaching at with one more night of conference play and several games that shouldn’t make too much of a difference. The standings probably won’t change at all either except for Troy and Middle Tennessee. If Middle Tennessee beats Florida Atlantic and Troy loses to Arkansas State, then the seed positions for the conference tournament might change a bit. The Troy versus Arkansas State game will be a good matchup and an important final regular season game.

Some easy wins will be for Western Kentucky against Florida International and Denver, on their home court, versus Louisiana-Lafayette. Denver has struggled on the road this season, losing nearly every game away from home so it will be a positive note for them to end regular season play at home with a win. Unfortunately, the Pioneers will have to take the road again for the conference tournament in Arkansas. This will be a huge factor in their performance. It is a shame for senior and star Nate Rohnert that the team plays so poorly on the road, because in reality they are better than many of the SBC teams. It’s a mystery as to why they can’t perform on the road. One that will have to be answered next season perhaps.

You can pretty much forget about New Orleans, Arkansas-Little Rock, Florida International and Louisiana-Monroe now. If any of these teams survive the first round of the conference tournament, I would be surprised. A good matchup though for a season closer will be the New Orleans versus UALR game, since the teams have almost exact records.

For the conference championship I’d like to see a match-up between West Division leader North Texas and East Division Western Kentucky. These two teams have the best overall records and a game against each other would be fun to see in the tournament. The Mean Green did it. They pulled off leading the West Division again. Early in the season, they had the lead, lost it and now have it back. Something changed in the last half of the season and North Texas pulled it together and took the top spot just in time. For awhile, I wasn’t sure if Denver or Arkansas State who would clinch that spot instead.

It will be interesting to see which team (if any) can beat Western Kentucky and prevent them from going to the NCAA Tournament again as the SBC representative.

Upcoming games

All games are on Saturday, Feb. 27

  • North Texas v. Louisiana-Monroe              1 p.m.
  • Middle Tennessee v. Florida Atlantic          6 p.m.
  • Louisiana Lafayette v. Denver                     6 p.m.
  • New Orleans v. Arkansas-Little Rock           7 p.m.
  • Western Kentucky v. FIU     7 p.m.
  • Troy v. Arkansas State                                  7:05 p.m.

Wednesday, March 6 through Friday, March 9

  • Sun Belt Conference Championships in Hot Springs, Ark.
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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 rtmsf on December 11th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Current Standings

East Division

  1. South Alabama (7-2)
  2. Troy (5-3)
  3. Florida Atlantic (4-3)
  4. Western Kentucky (4-3)
  5. Middle Tennessee (3-5)
  6. Florida International (3-8)

West Division

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

News and Notes

  • Small Changes…  Still no conference games have been played in the SBC but over the past two weeks there have been subtle changes in the standings. Arkansas-Little Rock jumped from last place with one win to being ranked fourth in the West division of the conference. Denver also took its place at the top of the Western division rankings as they barely scraped past South Dakota State and Cal State Northridge. Changes in the East division were also minimal with Troy keeping its spot near the top and Florida International falling further and further behind.
  • Team of the last couple weeks…  This honor definitely goes to South Alabama, who currently has a four-game win streak and is slowly but surely extending their lead over the conference competitors. If they keep winning, the rest of the league doesn’t stand a chance of catching them. It shouldn’t be too hard for them to beat their first conference opponent UALR and then tack on two more wins against the Florida SBC teams.
  • Player of the last couple weeks…  Denver captain Nate Rohnert was named Sun Belt Conference player of the week, an honor he earned by scoring a career-high 32 points against Wyoming. The score of the game was 80-77 meaning Rohnert scored nearly half of the Pioneer points in the game. Who knows what they would do without him? Rohnert also currently leads the Sun Belt in points per game at 19.2 and is second in assists. As the only senior on the DU team, Rohnert has learned how to take responsibility and lead. Rohnert’s hard work and dedication to the Pioneers is finally starting to pay off as they took the lead of their division and rank second overall in the SBC.

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