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
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)
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)
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)
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)
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
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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
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.