Breaking down the SBC Tourney field

4 03 2010

An excerpt of what will be in Friday’s special preview section for the upcoming Sun Belt Tournament. 

Breaking down the field, with my thoughts on folks’ chances this weekend. 

•••••••

The ‘don’t put away your dancing shoes’ group

No. 2 North Texas:

The Mean Green are playing as well as anyone in the league right now, entering the tournament on a whopping eight-game winning streak.

            North Texas is probably the most physical squad in the entire tournament and have the best rebounding margin in the league – thanks in large part to forward George Odufuwa’s 10.4 per game average.

            The Mean Green shouldn’t have too much trouble in their quarterfinal game with either Louisiana-Lafayette or Louisiana-Monroe – though the Ragin’ Cajuns did knock them off by a bucket this past January in Lafayette, La. From there, the Mean Green would possibly have to get past No. 3 MTSU in the semis – a team UNT lost its only matchup with this season.

No. 4 Western Kentucky:

 The preseason pick to dominate the league dug itself out of a virtual grave this past month, finishing the season on a six-game win streak to close the season.

            The Hilltoppers have been plagued by various bouts of inconsistency all season long, but have played their best basketball over the past 10 games after the return of injured junior forward Sergio Kerusch. WKU also has more tournament experience than anyone in the league and has the top overall player in A.J. Slaughter – easily making them one of the favorites.

            The Hilltoppers are 9-1 against the top half of the bracket this season, but the inconsistency bug could still bite at any moment.

No. 1 Troy:

 The Trojans jumped two spots on a wacky last day of the regular season via tie-breakers with North Texas and Middle Tennessee to earn the top overall slot in the tournament.

            The up and down Trojans have as tough a top five as anyone in the league, led by high-scoring guards Brandon Hazzard (16.6 ppg) and Michael Voegler (12.2 ppg) – but the Trojan bench isn’t exactly stellar.

            Troy could run into some trouble in its first game however, as both No. 8 Florida Atlantic and No. 9 South Alabama both have wins over the Trojans. Also, Troy might possibly have to go through one of the league’s hottest teams – WKU – in the semifinals.

 No. 3 Middle Tennessee:

The Blue Raiders saved their season with a pair of wins over WKU in January, and seemed to be in control of the top seed for most of the way until a pair of losses to Troy eventually cost them the East division and the No. 1 ranking.

            The Blue Raiders posses two of the league’s top players in Desmond Yates and Montarrio Haddock, but aren’t extremely deep and haven’t played a very difficult overall schedule.            

            MTSU can be a bit of an enigma, but the Blue Raiders earned a bye for a reason – and they’re definitely a top candidate for an appearance in the title game.

 No. 5 Arkansas State:

The surprise of the league for most of the season, the Red Wolves possess a bevy of athletic ability that could cause matchup problems with any team.

            Led by freshman sensation Brandon Reed, ASU looked to be in position for a shot at the top seed before a bit of a rough patch to finish the year.

            ASU is definitely talented enough to win the tournament, but losing three out of its last four won’t have Red Wolves fans feeling easy.

•••••••

The ‘you’re saying there’s a chance’ group

No. 8 Florida Atlantic:

The Owls had an amazing turnaround this season thanks in large part to an energetic crop of freshmen and the seeming re-birth of head coach Mike Jarvis.

            Freshmen guards Greg Gantt and Ray Taylor should be one of the better backcourts in the league for the next three seasons – that alone gives FAU an outside shot.

            But it’s only an outside shot because the Owls have virtually no big game experience and will enter the tournament having lost five of their last seven.

 No. 6 Denver:

Always a painfully difficult team to figure out, the Pioneers were once again nearly unbeatable at home this season, finishing 9-0 in league play in Denver. But once again, they’ve been wretched away from home – finishing 1-8 on the road.

            And the last time I checked, the SBC Tournament won’t be played in the Rocky Mountains.            

            Still, forward/guard Nate Rohnert is one of the better ‘do-it-all’ guys in the league – and the Pioneers tough Princeton style offense is never easy to defend.

•••••••

The ‘thanks for playing’ group

No. 7 Louisiana-Lafayette:

The Ragin’ Cajuns had a solid record in league play at 10-8 thanks in large part to SBC leading scorer and league MVP Tyren Johnson – but ULL finished just 13-16 overall this season and have lost four of their last six.

            The Ragin’ Cajuns have a solid top-three players, but get extremely thin after that. A big run from them isn’t likely.

No. 9 South Alabama:

The Jaguars are typically up in the contender bracket in this tournament, but have been far too inconsistent this season.

            USA has legit talent at five spots on the floor, but simply hasn’t been able to put it together – as evident by a pair of absolute thrashings by the hands of WKU and MTSU earlier this month.

            The Jags will be back, just not this year. 

•••••••

The ‘save your bus fare’ group

No. 12 UALR:

When a Steve Shields coached basketball team finishes 10th in the league in total defense – you know things aren’t right.

            The Trojans don’t have the horses on offense, and haven’t been consistent enough defensively to do much of anything this year. Shields is an experienced coach and UALR could break someone’s heart, but I doubt it at this point.

No. 10 Louisiana-Monroe:

A 6-12 record in the Sun Belt isn’t going to cut it, and neither is losing four straight games heading into the tournament.

            The Warhawks finished toward the bottom of the league in overall defense and offense – and their record shows why.

 No. 11 Florida International:

It hasn’t been an easy first year for legendary coach Isiah Thomas, and it’ll likely end in the first round of the tournament.

            The Golden Panthers have an impressive commit list ready to arrive next season, I suggest they start focusing on that.

•••••••

The ‘thanks for the memories’ group

No. 13 New Orleans:

The Privateers have been in an extremely difficult situation all season as the league announced earlier this year that UNO will be leaving the Sun Belt and dropping to Division III after this season.

            UNO will be participating in its last ever tournament as a member of the Sun Belt, and better days may lay ahead for a downtrodden university – they just won’t happen this weekend.

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