Sunday, September 14, 2014

2014 Sun belt Volleyball Predictions

For those new to the Maverick Rambler, I don't make preseason predictions. There are just too many unknowns. To try and predict the order of finish with teams I haven't seen before, new starters, new players, sometimes new coaches all without seeing any action is just a guess, in my opinion. So my MO is to go through the nonconference portion of the schedule and then take a stab at predicting the final standings.

This is a great example of why. The following is the how the coaches saw things shaking down at the beginning of the season.

Sun Belt Preseason Coaches' Poll
Team (First Place Votes)- Points
UALR (4)- 110
Texas State (3)- 99
Georgia Southern (2)- 95
UT Arlington- 83
South Alabama (1)- 76
UL Lafayette (1)- 63
Appalachian State- 62
Arkansas State- 58
Troy- 41
Georgia State- 28
UL Monroe- 11

Appalachian State has gone undefeated with a win over a previously ranked squad. Think they'd like a redo, especially for a team not having played the conference last year?

Without further ado, here's the Maverick Rambler's predictions for the 2014 Sun Belt Conference Volleyball season.

1) Arkansas-Little Rock (6-4)
Despite going 6-4 to start the season, I'm going to stick with the Trojans for the top spot. Their four losses were to Big West schools Pacific, Cal State-Northridge, the Pac-12's USC and the Big XII's Oklahoma. OU is really the only match they probably should have won. The Trojans have the hardest non-conference schedule and because of that, they stay at the top for me, especially with Edina Begic and her almost four kills per set. She just makes the entire team better, and for that, I think the Sun Belt is UALR's to lose.

2) Appalachian State (11-0)
I'm really waffling here, but I think I will stick with this one. Their schedule isn't that hard, minus the win over formerly ranked Louisville. Their supporters point to their win over Maryland as another marquee win, but other than being in the Big 10 Conference, that doesn't mean much as they never compete highly in that conference. Same with Tennessee, who finished last in the SEC RPI rankings last year. I keep them here because of the eight 3-0 sweeps. Many of those have set wins of 25-15. The Mountaineers have dominated who they have played, so that earns them my number two slot.

3) Louisiana-Lafayette (10-0)
I'm going to avoid the homer card for this spot and pick the Ragin' Cajuns to finish third. At a cursory glance, their 10-0 record is impressive, but as is usual for this team, there are few tough opponents to open play. A sweep of Houston (also done by  UT-Arlington and Texas State won 3-1) and a 3-1 win over Southern Mississippi are the bigger wins, but of the ten, only half were sweeps. For a weaker schedule, that really should be higher. They play well as a team and I will always give that credence over a star player teams.

4) UT-Arlington (10-2)
I thought long and hard here. I just don't like the idea of putting UTA over Texas State for the pure jinx factor, as well as how Texas State has owned UTA in recent years (2-11 since 2008). I also didn't think they'd fare well against Georgia Southern. But given what I've seen from both this year, I am cautiously optimistic that the Mavs could get over the Bobcat hump this year. Their schedule is weak, with the two toughest teams ending up as losses. But the reason I'm okay with that is the losses were close, 3-2 against Denver with the fifth set needing 25 points to win, 3-1 against Baylor where UTA led in every set. The 3-0 sweep of Houston gives me hope, as well as the seven overall sweeps in ten games.

5) Texas State (5-7)
I really should put them lower. Only one sweep, a loss to Incarnate Word and a SWAC school winning a set in one of their five wins is really poor, especially by their standards. But this is where I fall back on the intangible of Karen Chisum. I have too much respect for her to put her lower. Plus I really feel there is a clear divide between the top of the SBC and the bottom. I just can't fathom Texas State ever having a season where they are in the bottom.

6) Arkansas State (5-4)
They played a harder schedule than most early on, but I just haven't seen enough from them to warrant a placing above Texas State, though they very well could.

7) Troy (8-4)
Tossup between Troy and Arkansas State here. Troy has more wins, but also has a lighter schedule. They have lost their last three, which doesn't bode well for last year's eighth place finisher.

8) South Alabama (5-5)
Some questionable losses to Oral Roberts, Nevada and Memphis, plus no real history of success keeps South Alabama lower in my rankings.

9) Georgia Southern (0-10)
They haven't won a match all year. They haven't even taken a match to the fifth set. But they have the hardest schedule of any Belt team. Their past success, 28-6 last year with a Southern Conference title and 25 wins before that, make it hard to believe they'd be this low. There is only one major senior gone; Nicole Jeschelnik, who was second in kills per set last year and third in digs. I just can't believe the SoCon is so much worse, but the results just haven't been there for the Eagles. I will fully accept that this could be the most incorrect pick of them all.

10) Louisiana-Monroe (5-6)
Same song different verse. Lowest budget in the SBC, tiered athletic funding and no history or tradition. Five wins already, despite who they are against, is impressive for this squad, but it won't help much come SBC play.

11) Georgia State (2-8)
When your marquee win is against 3-1 victory against Jacksonville State, you have issues. Georgia State athletics has shown a lot of improvement in recent years. Their volleyball program isn't part of that. I expect them to finish near the bottom, repeating 2013's performance.

1 comment:

  1. With App being 11-0 I do think they deserve to be higher than 7th. GaSo being winless should be lower than the coaches predicted #3 with some 1st place votes at that..

    I guess that is why we play the games. Though the SB play is just beginning so we shall see how this shakes out. Maybe the coaches made good predictions, but at this point that is doubtful.