SUN BELT CONFERENCE PREVIEW
-1. WESTERN KENTUCKY. The Hilltoppers have been one of the better teams in this conference for the past ten years or so, but havent managed to get to the NCAA Tournament since coach Darren Horn took over in 2003. They did lose their leading scorer from last year, but are still loaded. Courtney Lee
is one of the best players in the conference. He averaged 17.4ppg last year, and can dish the ball and play defense as well. Tyrone Brazelton, who was an outstanding JUCO player, and Desire Gabou round out an outstanding back court. The Toppers arent quite as strong underneath as they are at the guard position, but this is a transition oriented team. Dont be surprised to see them dancing in March.
-2. SOUTH ALABAMA. The Jaguars won both the division title and then the conference tournament by crushing Western Kentucky in the championship game. They did lose three starters from last years team, but they have a lot of guys who are ready to step up and take their place. Four transfers, including Ernest Little and Brandon Davis, are now eligible for action this year and will likely see significant playing time. Carlos Smith, who is a good offensive player and strong defensive player, also returns to the lineup. It will be difficult to win 24 games like they did last year, but they should still be one of the stronger teams in the league.
-3. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE. The Blue Raiders were inconsistent for most of the season last year, but were really playing well down the stretch and have a pretty good nucleus coming back. They did lose two double digit scorers, but Adam Vogelsberg is a strong guard and Kyle Young is a good presence underneath. They also have another strong forward in Tim Blue. Even though he came off the bench last year he saw significant minutes and could score and rebound well.
-4. FLORIDA ATLANTIC. This is the first season in the Sun Belt for the Owls. They had a pretty good year last year and finished third in the Atlantic Sun, but this conference is much tougher. That isnt the only transition this team has to make. They underwent a coaching change when Matt Doherty left for SMU. They only return two starters, but they have a very talented guard in DeAndre Rice, who averaged 16.1ppg last season. Carlos Monroe
should also be a presence in the front court, but all and all playing in a tougher conference and returning just two starters could make it hard on the Owls.
-5. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL. The Golden Panthers won just four conference games last year and only eight overall, which was way below what their expectations were. They do have a pretty decent back court with Johwen Villegas and Elvis Lora. They also have Alex Galindo at the forward spot who should contribute even though this is his first year with the team. Overall, they dont appear to be very deep or very talented and last years woes could continue into this season.
-6. TROY. The Trojans led the league in three point shooting last year, but didnt do anything else particularly well and really struggled down the stretch. To make matters worse, they lost their top player in guard Bobby Dixon, who was a great scorer, assist man and a great defender as well. Sammy Sharp and Cedric Jackson should give them a fairly decent front court. Both players averaged double figures and rebounded well last year. Boo Ramsey will likely be the leader in the back court, but they dont appear to be loaded with talent or experience.
-1. NEW ORLEANS. The Privateers have a first time head coach at the helm, but they also have a pretty talented squad. Bo McCalebb
returns to the starting lineup. He only saw action in four games last year due to an injury, but averaged over 19ppg in those four games. Having him back will give this team a big boost. Guards James Parlow and Jamie McNeilly also return to the lineup. They dont have a lot of experience underneath and no one on the squad is a proven impact player yet. Ben Elias came off the bench as a center last year and will likely get the starting job this year. If he can step up then this could be a very dangerous team.
-2. DENVER. The Pioneers struggled in conference play last year, but overall they were still a pretty solid club. Replacing Yemi Nicholson
, who was one of the best big men in the conference for the past two seasons, wont be easy, but they still have a lot to be optimistic about. Guard DeShaun Walker is back, who averaged 13.4ppg last season. This is a very inexperienced team, but they do have several newcomers who should be able to step up and contribute. If that happens they will be very competitive in this league.
-3. LOUISIANA LAFAYETTE. The Ragin Cajuns finished strong last year, but got off to an awful start and because of that they missed the postseason. They do have an outstanding newcomer in freshman Elijah Millsap. He averaged over 29ppg and 14rpg in high school and should get the start and be a big contributor despite being a freshman. They dont have a lot of talent or experience other than him. Two starters do return to the team, but neither put up big numbers last year. Replacing Dwayne Mitchell
and Michael Southall
wont be an easy task. This is a young and inexperienced team, but they do look to have some talent.
-4. ARKANSAS STATE. This appeared to be a pretty dangerous team, but they were plagued with injuries and could never really get it together. They lost their last four games to end the season and also lost two double digit scorers, but they still appear to have a pretty solid club this year. Forward Isaac Wells
is a good scorer and rebounder and will be a force underneath. Guard Jim Jones is a terrific all around player averaging over 12ppg. He can also pass the ball well and play defense well. They dont appear to have much in the way of depth, but they do have some pretty good players and if they stay healthy they should improve from last season.
-5. NORTH TEXAS. The Eagles (AKA Mean Green) appear to have a talented team, but they appeared to have a talented team last year and it didnt result in many wins. They ended the season by losing seven of their last eight. They are a good offensive team, but dont defend all that well and that is what kills them. Guard Kendrick Davis is their best all around player this season. He averaged 16.8ppg last year and did a good job passing the ball as well. He will need some help from his supporting cast though. They have a strong back court when it comes to offense, but they are lacking in every other aspect.
-6. ARKANSAS LITTLE ROCK. The Trojans completely fell apart down the stretch last season by losing six of their last eight. They do retain some pretty good talent, including Rashad Jones-Jennings
, who averaged a double double lat year and is one of the best rebounders in the country. Forwards Bryan Ray and Lekheythan Malone also return to the starting line up and will be contributing players. They arent nearly as strong at the perimeter though and that is a big problem. DeAndre Eggins came off the bench last year and will likely get the starting job at the guard position this year. Hell really need to step up this year in order for this team to be successful.
-7. LOUISIANA MONROE. The Warhawks really struggled in the Southland Conference last year. Moving to the Sun Belt isnt going to make it any less of a struggle this year. They do have a pretty decent guard in Tony Hooper, but when it comes to experience and talent he doesnt appear to have much of a supporting cast. This team is still in a building mode and it could be a long season for them.
RANDOM ORDER OF FINISH
-For those that missed my first blog entry, each conference preview will also include a random order of finish. It sounds just like what it is. Teams are drawn at random and placed in order. The purpose for this is to demonstrate that at the end of the season, generally every single major and minor media preseason preview (including my own) isnt all that more accurate than simply randomly picking the teams.
1. Western Kentucky
3. Middle Tennessee State
4. South Alabama
5. Florida Atlantic
6. Florida International
1. Louisiana Monroe
2. Louisiana Lafayette
3. Arkansas Little Rock
4. New Orleans
5. Arkansas State
7. North Texas
-Please feel free to send me feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org, whether its good or bad. Some conferences are harder to research and write about than other conferences, so every comment and critique helps so long as its constructive.