BX Sun Belt Conference Preview and Notes

BX Sun Belt Conference Preview and Notes
Oct 15, 2007, 08:14 am

-The Sun Belt has not sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament with its current lineup. The last time a team currently in the Sun Belt won an NCAA Tournament game was Western Kentucky in 1995.

-There are seven teams in the West Division and six teams in the East, which means that some teams play more conference games than others.

-According to Mapquest, it is a 2078 mile, 31 hour drive from Florida International’s campus to Denver’s campus.


-WESTERN KENTUCKY appeared to have the best team in the league last year, at least as far as talent was concerned, but they failed to finish in first place in their division and did not win the conference tournament. As good as they often looked on offense, their defense needs to improve if they want to be a competitive team on the national level, which they definitely have the talent to do this year. All five starters are back, along with four key reserves who give the team depth and contribute off the bench. Freshman Steffphon Pettigrew, who was Mr. Basketball in the state of Kentucky, also joins the roster. They’ll get a chance to build a strong tournament resume for themselves. They will play in the Great Alaska Shootout, which will give them the opportunity of racking up some quality wins. They also play Tennessee and Southern Illinois this season. However, the biggest factor in their success will be improving their defense.

-ARKANSAS STATE struggled at times last season, but they finished the year very strong before losing to North Texas in the conference championship game. All five starters are back this year, so expect them to be very competitive once again. Adrian Banks is a fantastic guard, who averaged over 21ppg last year and shot the ball very well from the outside. They are also strong underneath the hoop with Isaac Wells, who averaged over 8rpg and 15ppg last season. Another thing that this team does well is play defense. They have what it takes to compete for the league title.

-SOUTH ALABAMA won 20 games last season, but absolutely fell apart down the stretch. After clinching first place in the East Division, they ended the year by losing four straight games to teams with losing records, including a 63-60 loss to Middle Tennessee in the conference tournament. That ended their NCAA Tournament hopes. Head coach John Pelphrey left to take the job at Arkansas, but they hired Ronnie Arrow from Texas A&M Corpus Christi to replace him, so the transition should be a smooth one. Four starters are also back, three of which averaged double figures last year, so they do appear to have one of the better teams in the league. Guard Demetric Bennett is definitely a player to watch.

-FLORIDA ATLANTIC’S program is definitely going in the right direction. It seems as though they get better and better every year, and that is likely to continue into this season. They did lose their leading scorer in DeAndre Rice, but Carlos Monroe returns, who averaged over 18ppg and almost 10rpg last season. He should once again be a dominant force in the league. Two other starters are back, both of whom averaged double figures last season. Many may not realize this, but the Owls were one of the best shooting teams in the country last year, and that should be a big time strength for them again this year.

-NORTH TEXAS was the conference champion last season despite going just 10-8 during the regular season and playing as the #5 seed in the conference tournament. They really got hot at the right time, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to repeat as champions this year. Two of their best players are gone and although they do return three starters, replacing Calvin Watson and Kendrick Davis won’t be easy. They do have a strong frontcourt, but don’t appear to have all the weapons they need to win the title.

-LOUISIANA MONROE has all five starters back after going 18-14 last season and tying for first place in the West Division. One of the problems they have is their size. They start four guards, and although all are good at scoring the basketball, they really have no presence underneath the basket and that is a big disadvantage for them. Even the players coming off the bench don’t contribute very much in the way of size. That really effected them defensively last year and will likely to the same again this year.

-MIDDLE TENNESSEE struggled last year going just 15-17, which is fewer wins than what they’re used to. They were playing their best basketball at the end of the season, though, and have quite a bit of talent coming back as well as some pretty good newcomers. Middle Tennessee should be back toward the top of the standings this season.

-NEW ORLEANS has some pretty talented players, but for whatever reason it didn’t seem to result in all that many wins. They were just 14-17 last season and they really struggled when it came to rebounding the basketball. The good news is that Bo McCalebb is back, who averaged 25ppg last season. He initially left for the NBA Draft, but did not sign with an agent and opted to return to school. Three other starters are also back so the team should be pretty good, but they need to do something to improve their rebounding if they want to contend for the league title.

-LOUISIANA LAFAYETTE has gone from being a force in the league to being a team that really struggles in a short period of time. They were just 9-21 a season ago despite having some pretty talented players. Guard David Dees is a player to watch. He averaged over 17ppg last season, and is also good at passing the ball. Two other starters are also back, so they should be better this year, but still don’t appear to be good enough to compete for the title.

-Four starters are returning for FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL who’s win total has improved every year since 2003-2004 when they won just three div1 games. The program is moving in the right direction, but they still have a long way to go.

-ARKANSAS LITTLE ROCK was just 13-17 last season and appears to be digressing rather than progressing. They also lost Rashad Jones-Jennings, who averaged over 13 rebounds a game last year. Only two starters are back, and the team’s defense will need to improve if they want to be successful.

-DENVER really appeared to be building up their program and were right in the mix for the conference championship a few years back. Last year they just fell completely apart winning just four games all season. Head coach Terry Carroll took a leave of absence in December, but gave no explanation as to why, and then he never came back. He has been replaced by Joe Scott, who was formerly at Princeton and at Air Force prior to that. After building itself into a conference contender, it looks as though Denver is back at square one.

-Only one starter is back for TROY, but the good news is that it is O’Darien Bassett, who was probably their best player last year. Troy could score points last year, but unfortunately they usually ended up giving up more points than they scored. It’s hard to imagine that they’ll be a strong team this year.

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