Checking in on the… Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on January 30th, 2009

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

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Rohnert Seals Two Quality Wins  for the Pioneers

Denver’s recent streak of bad luck in close games came to an end last weekend against East with a 78-74 win at home over Western Kentucky.  The Hilltoppers pulled within two points in the final minute last Saturday, but Denver’s Brian Stafford connected on a bounce pass to cutting teammate Nate Rohnert for a backdoor layup. This put the Pioneers up by four points with 13 seconds left to finish off the Toppers.  WKU saw its four game winning streak come to an end.    On their next outing, Rohnert struck again, scored 12 points, and made the game-winning basket with five seconds left to lead the Pioneers to a 56-54 victory over South Alabama at Magness Arena.  “We’ve been playing well every game for the past three weeks, but tonight at those critical moments we made the shots and didn’t turn the ball over…I thought our big turning point could be a win on the road, but why can’t it be beating the class of our conference at home?”, said Denver Coach Joe Scott.

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Checking in on the… Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on January 16th, 2009

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

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Toppers Move into Two-way Tie for First

We pegged University of Arkansas-Little Rock and Middle Tennessee as the teams to beat this season, and thus far, that is the case.  However, Middle Tennessee was defeated last night by the Hilltoppers in a nail biter 61-63.  Steffphon Pettigrew’s offensive rebound and subsequent put back with four seconds remaining sealed it for WKU.  Unbelievably, the Blue Raiders have not won at Diddle Arena since 1977.

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Checking in on the… Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on November 21st, 2008

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

No Sweep for Trio

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

UNO Happy to be Back “Home”

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

Middle Tennessee Pegged by SI.com

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

Carlos Monroe, Steven Moore out Indefinitely

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

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

Busy Early Signing Period for The Belt

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

Recent Results

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

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

Upcoming Games of Note

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

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

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

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Preseason NIT Breakdown

Posted by rtmsf on November 17th, 2008

(ed. note: if you’re looking for the 2009 NIT Bracket, click here.)

The Preseason NIT, the Granddaddy of all the Preseason Tourneys, begins tonight, with all sixteen teams in action at four regional pods (Chestnut Hill, MA; W. Lafayette, IN; Norman, OK; Tucson, AZ).  Unlike many of the D2 and whatever-else teams thrown into the pods of the CvC last week, the PNIT at least uses all D1 teams for its sacrificial lambs.  A new feature is that each of the sixteen teams was seeded, although we’re not sure how BC and Arizona ended up with protected seeds over Davidson (also, why isn’t #1 Purdue playing #16 Miss. Valley St., and #2 v. #15, etc.?).  We suppose BC fans would buy more tickets in Manhattan next week?  Whichever.   Below is the regional bracket, and our thoughts and picks follow.

Best first-round game. #8 St. John’s v. #9 Cornell.  You don’t think that Big Red is looking forward to sticking it to their Big East brethren to the south?  Click here if you don’t believe us.  These two NY teams have never played, but we’re thinking that Cornell will ride its three-point shooting to the upset win in Chestnut Hill tonight.

Other Upset Possibilities. Keep an eye on these two games in the Tucson regional:

  • #3 Arizona v. #15 Florida Atlantic.  Nobody has a clue how Arizona is going to respond to all of its turmoil from the offseason, or whether half of its players will even be available tonight (apparently so), but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about college basketball and despite trite cliches to the contrary – adversity generally does NOT end well.  New FAU head coach Mike Jarvis knows how to coach up a team for one game, and this could be a rude awakening for Russ Pennell as a D1 coach.
  • #7 UAB v. #11 Santa Clara. The recipe for an upset here is clear.  WCC talent is generally underrated.  This is a west-coast team playing an east-coast team in the Pacific time zone.  John Bryant inside the paint.  Robert Vaden may still be feeling the effects from his recent arrest hanging over his head (4 pts last game on 2-13 FGs).  UAB head coach Mike Davis has been known to lay an egg or two in his career.  UAB will have no answer for Santa Clara big man

Will MVSU Break 30? #2 Oklahoma v. #16 Mississippi Valley St. Knowing what we know about Oklahoma’s defense, and knowing also what we know about MVSU’s inability to score the basketball, we foresee something along the lines of 75-35 in this game.

They Should Roll. BC at home v. Loyola (MD).  Purdue at home vs. Eastern Michigan.  And Davidson in Norman vs. James Madison.  No way any of these three loses tonight.

Two Evenly Matched Bad Teams. #6 Georgia v. #10 Loyola (IL). Wow, the PNIT should commend itself for getting two Loyola into this tournament.  Was Loyola Marymount not available?  No further comment on this game, other than to say either team could win, and Purdue will blast said winner tomorrow night.

Regional Picks. We’ve got BC, Purdue, Davidson and Santa Clara (taking advantage of the FAU upset).  We really didn’t want to pick against Oklahoma at home, but then again, how do you justify picking against Stephen Curry?  If the Wildcats can contain Blake Griffin inside, they can win that game and head to MSG.

Enough with ESPNU!!!! Three of the four televised games tonight in this tournament are on the U.  Look, we understand why the games are on there.  But why not also put them on the ESPN Full Court package so that those of us held completely hostage by our cable companies can actually take advantage of those games as well?  We already pay for the FC service, so what possible harm could it do to expose more paying customers to your product?  Make us pay $10 if you like, but just give us access to it!

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2008-09 Season Primers: #18 – Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on October 24th, 2008

 

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

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

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

West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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05.27.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on May 27th, 2008

Some post-Memorial Day items of interest…

  • Former Georgetown guard Jeremiah Rivers will transfer to Indiana (perhaps he sees immediate PT awaiting in 2009-10?).
  • Who’s coming back? Memphis guard Antonio Anderson, Marquette guard Jerel McNeal and Alabama guard Alonzo Gee declared their intentions to return to school, ensuring that Memphis will have at least one starter back from its national runner-up team. One intriguing name who is still undecided, WVU’s Joe Alexander, described his daily routine in Vegas getting ready for the pre-draft camp.
  • Speaking of which, the Orlando Pre-Draft Camp begins tomorrow. Here is the list of players invited.
  • Frank Burlison at Scout.com has an interesting rumors/tidbits report on where players are likely to land in the NBA Draft – his most interesting takes were questioning Michael Beasley’s true size (6’8ish?) and Robin Lopez getting selected before his more accomplished brother, Brook.
  • It’s official – Mike Jarvis will take over as the head man at Florida Atlantic.
  • There will be no payout for Bill Duffy Associates, the agency allegedly supplying OJ Mayo with money through street agent urchin Rodney Guillory, as Mayo has “restructured” his inner circle by parting ways with his BDA agent, Calvin Andrews.
  • Will the Class of 2008 produce far fewer 1-and-dones than the last two years?
  • We always thought there was something bizarre about the NCAA F4 ticket-request process. Looks like we weren’t the only ones.
  • We’ll end with Joakim Noah’s completely unsurprising evening in Gainesville Saturday night.
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