Around the Sun Belt

4 01 2011

 

Since we’ve got a little time before Western Kentucky’s next game (which is at home Thursday against Denver), I figured we’d take a tour around the Sun Belt.

Get your frequent flyer miles out.

••••••

Let’s start with RPI, only because it’s fun.

Current SBC RPI ranks according to RealtimeRPI.com.

77. North Texas

139. Florida Atlantic

184. UALR

192. Western Kentucky

219. Arkansas State

229. MTSU

230. South Alabama

238. Denver

272. Florida International

311. Louisiana-Monroe

312. Louisiana-Lafayette

315. Troy

So, as you can see, not good – not good at all.

RealtimeRPI ranks the Sun Belt at No. 24 out of its 31 ranked conferences.

So at 11-2, 2-0 in the league – North Texas appears to be in good shape to make a run at a nice seed considering its record and the fact that it has two wins over BCS schools.

The only problem is, neither of those BCS wins (LSU, Texas Tech) will go down as “quality wins” in the RPI game.

And with the league’s RPI level already bottoming out, the chance for raising the number the rest of the way doesn’t look good.

In fact, one might argue that UNT could go unbeaten in the league and still see its RPI drop.

Ugly, ugly stuff.

•••••

As for the rest of the league, well, let’s break it on down (saving WKU for last of course):

SBC East

1. Florida Atlantic (9-6, 2-0)

FAU went 3-2 on a pretty brutal five-game road trip recently, not anything to shake a stick at.

Point guards Ray Taylor and Alex Tucker have FAU as one of the best teams in the country in terms of turnover numbers, as the Owls entered the week No. 34 in the country in fewest turns per game.

This is a young team, obviously, but a very confident one.

FAU’s got games later this week at home against South Alabama and Arkansas State. A chance to put more separation between itself and the rest of the East before fighting it out with the Red Wolves.

How they’ll fare this week: I like them to beat USA and lose to Ark. St. in a close one.

Player to watch: PG Ray Taylor. Taylor got into some trouble earlier this year and lost his starting spot, but he’s cranked it up some of late and gotten back in the lineup. He and Alex Tucker are probably the best PG combo in the league.

2. FIU (6-7, 1-0)

The Golden Panthers have freshman forward Dominique Ferguson back in the lineup, as well as former Illinois (and Kentuckyish) guard Alex Legion.

Both have helped FIU in recent weeks, but the Panthers have really struggled to defend anyone.

How they’ll fare this week: FIU hosts Arkansas State on Thursday – and the way the Red Wolves are playing, I don’t see the Panthers winning this one.

Player to watch: C Dominique Ferguson – he can shoot the 3-ball, he’s long and athletic and he can play around the rim. He’s the most highly-touted Sun Belt recruit – maybe ever. We’ll see if he lives up to it.

3. South Alabama (7-6, 1-1)

The Jaguars started out horribly this season, but have since turned it up a little.

USA lost to ASU and topped MTSU at home last week – and this week it makes the Florida swing to FAU and FIU.

The Jags are really athletic, but struggle with consistency. Tim Williams is starting to heat up, but Martino Brock missed some time during a game recently with a thigh bruise. Those two are the end all, be all for this group.

How they’ll fare this week: USA makes the Florida trip to visit FAU and FIU this week. I think the Jags split the week, win at FIU, lose at FAU.

Player to watch: Center Augustine Rubit. Rubit is just 6-6, but he’s a monster on the offensive glass. He leads the league in rebounding, and really gives Ronnie Arrow a third cog to go with Tim Williams and Martino Brock.

5. MTSU (5-9, 0-1)

The Blue Raiders are in a serious funk early this season and Kermit Davis is having trouble getting all of his new faces to mesh together on the floor (sound familiar?)

James Washington has been the team’s best scorer at the point, but the group really struggles to defend.

This group will likely be a work in progress most of the season.

How they’ll fare this week: MTSU hosts North Texas and travels to Louisiana-Lafayette. I see no way the Blue Raiders hang with UNT, but they should be able to beat arguably the league’s worst team on the road – giving them some much-needed confidence.

Player to watch: F Jason Jones – a UTEP transfer, the 6-6 Jones struggled to get going early but has since been one of Davis’ most consistent players. He’s averaging better than 15 points per game over his last six.

6. Troy (2-11, 0-1)

Don Maestri had to replace basically his entire team, and the record has shown the struggles.

Troy can still get up and down a little, but really struggles to stop anyone. And outside of Vernon Taylor, the group really doesn’t have any proven scoring.

Taylor also hurt his ankle before the Christmas break, so we’ll have to see how that pans out.

How they’ll fare this week: Troy visits both Louisiana-Lafayette and UALR. I’d like the Trojans’ chances against ULL, but they’ve had 12 days off – that’s way too long. I say they drop both games this week, and continue to slump.

Player to watch: F Shawntez Patterson – A junior college transfer and former Duquesne player, Patterson has been one of the best and most consistent 3-point shooters in the league this season. He’s 6-7, as well, so he can be a matchup problem. Also, he’s from Detroit Northwestern High School – a place close to my old stomping grounds that’s produced players like Chris Douglas-Roberts. But more importantly, shamed singer Ray Parker Jr.

 

SBC West

1. North Texas (13-2, 2-0)

North Texas has been far and away the best team in the Sun Belt to this point, not really a surprise.

Tristan Thompson leads the league in scoring, Josh White is probably the best floor leader in the conference and George Odufuwa is a monster inside.

UNT also has front-line depth this season, and will be a really, really tough out for anyone given the current state of the league.

How they’ll fare this week: Just one game for the Mean Green this week, at Middle Tennessee. George Odufuwa hurt his ankle the other day in warmups and missed a game against ULL. The Mean Green dominated anyway. Plus, Odufuwa can’t be hurt for long – he’s too much of a monster.

Player to watch: PG Josh White – Thompson does the bulk of the scoring and Odufuwa does the bulk of scaring people, but White makes it all go. He’s the team’s most important player, and if I had to vote today, he’d be my MVP.

2. Arkansas State (7-8, 2-0)

John Brady’s gang have been hot ever since Daniel Bryant was released from the program last month, so it looks like a case of addition by subtraction even though Bryant was a double-figure scorer.

ASU just beat WKU, something Brady said was very important for the program at this point. Even without Brandon Reed, this team is extremely dangerous when confident. And right now, the Red Wolves have plenty of confidence.

How they’ll fare this week: ASU travels to FIU and FAU this week. I like the Red Wolves to roll by FIU, and I also like them to make another statement and beat FAU as well.

Player to watch: G Trey Finn – WKU fans know that name well enough by now, as I think he just hit another 3-pointer 10 minutes ago. Finn had the game of his life against the Hilltoppers, but can he do it again with defenses looking for him?

3. Denver (6-9, 2-0)

The Pioneers started out extremely slow without former do-it-all man Nate Rohnert – but Denver has since won four straight heading into this week’s matchup at Diddle Arena with WKU.

Chase Hallam is a rising star for Denver, and he’ll be playing the role of Rohnert for the rest of the season.

Other bad news for WKU – Denver is easily the league’s best 3-point shooting team. The Tops, as we know, struggle with that at times.

How they’ll fare this week: I’m not touching this one – come to Diddle on Thursday and find out.

Player to watch: G Chase Hallam – he played really well alongside Rohnert last season the two times I saw him, and his numbers say he’s gotten even better. You take him away, and Denver really struggles. If he’s on, Denver can hang with just about anyone in this league.

4. UALR (8-8, 0-2)

I was surprised at how well UALR fared during its non-conference portion, as the Trojans often play one of the league’s more stout schedules.

But it looks like Steve Shields has things rolling back in the right direction after a horrible campaign last season.

UALR still really struggles to score, though, and doesn’t have much size. So it’ll be interesting to see how they hold up for the remainder of the season.

How they’ll fare this week: The Trojans host St. Bonaventure, who they’ve already lost to, and host Troy. I say they lose again to the Bonnies, and top Troy.

Player to watch: G Solomon Bozeman – He’s UALR’s only consistent scoring threat. He’s top six in the league in scoring with more than 14 points per game, and he can be explosive. But everyone in the league knows this. It’ll be interesting how he handles special defensive packages the rest of the way.

5. Louisiana-Monroe (4-11, 0-2)

ULM probably hit rock bottom with its confidence when it blew a double-digit lead at FIU only to lose by a point last week.

Monroe is a team that’s completely new as first-year coach Keith Richard attempts to rebuild the program.

The Warhawks have scrapped together some wins, but Richard has a bevy of former JUCO players still figuring out how to play on this level.

How they’ll fare this week: ULM goes the NAIA route when it hosts Union College before hosting Denver. Anything other than a win over Union is unacceptable, so I’ll give them that one. Denver’s been hot though, and though the Pioneers usually struggle big-time on the road, I’ll go with them in this one. ULM goes 1-1 this week.

Player to watch: F Lawrence Gilbert – Gilbert is one of the few familiar faces on this team, and he can bang with anyone underneath when he feels like it. Sadly for ULM, though, he’s one of few consistent bright spots.

6. Louisiana-Lafayette (2-11, 0-2)

The Ragin’ Cajuns have really struggled under first-year coach Bob Marlin – they’ve even lost at home to NAIA Texas College. Ouch.

The Cajuns are in rebuilding mode, make no mistake.

It’ll be a long season in the bayou.

How they’ll fare this week: ULL hosts Troy and Middle Tennessee this week. I don’t see the Cajuns beating the Blue Raiders – but the Troy game is huge in terms of confidence. Troy has had a huge layoff, and is also really struggling. I like ULL to take care of business there and go 1-1 this week.

Player to watch: PG Josh Brown – Brown injured his knee earlier this season but appears to be back and fine. He’s a player. And when healthy, he’s ULL’s best.

 

••••••

Now I know I told you I’d break down some WKU stuff, and I will.

Come back later and I’ll have a separate post for the Tops.

 

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