Sun Belt predictably ends its regular season unpredictably

Last October, Texas State was picked by Sun Belt coaches to place dead last in conference. Flash forward to March, and Texas State finishes the regular season with a SBC Tournament bye.

Winners of 3 of its last four contests, the Bobcats overcame all expectations to earn the fourth and final tournament bye, beating out Arkansas State, who were projected to finish the season 10th in the standings.

Nothing was settled until Sunday

That sensational subhead is a bit misleading. UT Arlington had already sewn up the regular season championship and a first round bye. But heading into Sunday, five Sun Belt teams – Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Texas State still had a shot at the remaining three byes. Please try to follow along:

First, Georgia State beat Georgia Southern 72-67

The winner of this bitter in-state rivalry received a guaranteed bye. The loser had to wait and see. The Panthers (19-11, 12-6) used a home court advantage and monster performances from D’Marcus Simonds (21 pts) and Jeremy Hollowell  (15 points, 12 boards and five assists) to overcome 27 points from the conference’s leading scorer, Ike Smith. The Eagles (18-13, 11-7) , who had spent a few weeks earlier in the season atop the conference standings would need some help collecting a tournament bye.

Then, Texas State held off ULM for a 70-65 win

ULM (8-13, 2-16) and 6’6″ sophomore forward Travis Munnings weren’t going to hand the Bobcats an easy victory. Munnings scored 17 to give Texas State a run, but 6’5″ freshman guard Nijal Pearson also had 17 giving the Bobcats enough firepower for the win. Still, both Georgia Southern and the Bobcats (18-12, 11-7) needed one more domino to fall in order to enjoy a peaceful respite during the Tournament’s first day.

Finally, Arkansas State fell to South Alabama 73-70

The victory seemed eminent for the Red Wolves, with Arkansas State (20-11, 11-7) up by 12 over South Alabama (14-17, 7-11) midway through the second half and Devin Carter nailing 7 of 8 three pointers to set a setting a school season record (101 treys). But then the end-of-season exhaustion that seemed to plague the Red Wolves caught up to them. The Jags erased the deficit thanks to a season high 25-points from 6’3″ senior guard Ken Williams. With the score knotted at 70, the Red Wolves watched in horror as their 2-seed became a 5-seed when Williams nailed a 3 pointer with 0.8 seconds left on the clock.

Just for chuckles, Troy and Louisiana also picked up their 10th conference wins

As if Sun Belt Saturday wasn’t entropic enough, the Cajuns and the Trojans of Troy collected their 10th conference victories, giving the Sun Belt a staggering 8 of 12 teams with 10+ conference wins. Wow.

Louisiana benefited from twin 22 point efforts from Frank Bartley IV and Jay Wright to win 83-81, fending of two late 3-pointers from the Maverick’s Kevin Hervey to seal the upset. Meanwhile at Troy, the Trojans bested Little Rock 57-54 thanks to a 20 point explosion from Wesley Person.

Sun Belt Orbit, Week 9

As of this writing, the Sun Belt features two sub-100 RPI programs: UTA (36) and Arkansas State (93). 

Also note, though Arkansas State officially finished 3rd in the standings (thanks to overall record), the conference seeding is determined by tie-breakers.

FINAL Sun Belt Standings of 2016-17 (March 6)

  1. UT Arlington 14-4 (Clinched championship and BYE)
  2. Georgia State 12-6 (Clinched BYE)
  3. Arkansas State 11-7
  4. Georgia Southern 11-7 (Clinched BYE)
  5. Texas State 11-7 (Clinched BYE)
  6. Louisiana 10-8
  7. Troy 10-8
  8. Coastal Carolina 10-8
  9. South Alabama 7-11
  10. Little Rock 6-12
  11. Appalachian State 4-14
  12. ULM 2-16

The Sun Belt Tournament starts Wednesday, March 8th

If Saturday taught us anything, it’s that anybody can win the Sun Belt, whether it’s a Louisiana Cajun’s team who enters tournament play winners of 6 straight, or Coastal Carolina, who averages the most boards in the Belt.

Wednesday Openers

G1: No. 8 Coastal Carolina vs. No. 9 South Alabama (ESPN3), 11:30 a.m. CT (ESPN3) Winner gets UTA
G2: No. 5 Arkansas State vs. No. 12 ULM, 2 p.m. CT (ESPN3) Winner gets Texas State
G3: No. 7 Louisiana vs. No. 10 Little Rock, 5 p.m. CT (ESPN3) Winner gets Georgia State
G4: No. 6 Troy vs. No. 11 Appalachian State, 7:30 p.m. CT (ESPN3) Winner gets Georgia Southern

Sun Belt All Stars

  • Scoring: Ike Davis, Georgia Southern, 19.9 ppg
  • Assists: Erick Neal, UT Arlington, 6.5 pg
  • Threes: Devin Carter, Arkansas State, 101
  • Rebounds: Bryce Washington, Louisiana, 11.5 pg
  • Blocks: Jordan Varnado, Troy, 46
  • Steals: Jay Wright, Louisiana, 59

Tournament Dark Horse: Louisiana Cajuns

With Bryce Washington gobbling up boards and Frank Bartley IV pouring 18.5 points per game his last four outings, the magma-hot Cajuns are coming of a season ending win against UTA and riding a tsunami of chutzpuh. The Cajuns should handle Little Rock on Wednesday to become Georgia State’s nightmare on Friday.

Most vulnerable Bye: Georgia Southern

The Eagles enter the SBC Tournament having lost 5 of its last seven. On the year, the Eagles are 6-11 on the road, but are also a clean 2-0 on neutral courts. Should Troy overcome Appalachian State on Wednesday (not a given), the Eagles defense will have trouble stopping the conference’s second-best scoring team.

Game to Savor: Coastal Carolina vs South Alabama, March 7th, 11:30 AM, ESPN3

The Chanticleers are 3-10 on the road. The Jaguars are 4-10. Something has to give is this enticingly even matchup.

 

 

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