The coaches had the following thoughts as to how the final standings would appear:
|1||UL Lafayette||119 (9)|
|2||Georgia State||108 (2)|
Whoa boy do I disagree. The Sun Belt looks stronger than at any point during UTA's tenure and if the chips fall the right way, have the potential to be a two-bid conference come March Madness.
Here's how I see the SBC at the end of 2015:
11) Arkansas State - When I first saw the coach's prognostications, I thought this one was highly overrated. How anyone could have thought this was the fourth best team to start the year is beyond me, and that was before the wheels really fell off. A coach who lost his team at the end of last year is now a lame duck and will be gone at the end of the year. In addition, the roster has changed as some players have left mid-season. All of it has added up to two NCAA Division I wins and a 4-7 record.
10) Appalachian State - It is possible they may be better than tenth. They are 2-9, but have played a tougher schedule with no sub-Division I games. Frank Eaves is averaging 20.1 per game, but he's getting little help as the team overall is averaging 68.5, good for tenth in the Belt. Add in a scoring defense that is also tenth...ouch.
9) Georgia Southern - Yes, yes, we've heard quite often the graduation a huge amount of their offense production. At 81.9 points per game, it doesn't look like it at first glance. They are 4-6 overall, but scored 220 against their two non-DI schools. They have hit over 80 only twice against two DI schools. They did play three P5 opponents, so they are playing the range of opponent quality. Maybe they'll be better, but I wanted to see more in non-conference wins to give them a better ranking.
8) Troy - The Trojans are a much improved team. Their defense is better, though it would have to be from last year. They average 76.7, but give up 76.5. They are middle of the pack in most SBC stats, which means they don't excel at stuff, but they aren't pathetic either. Baby steps. I expect them in the conference tourney at the end of the year.
7) South Alabama - I think the two Alabama teams are evenly matched. USA did perform better against common opponents, so I give them the nod over Troy. After getting no non-conference DI wins last year, the Jags started 0-3 against them until beating IUPUI at the beginning of the month. They would end with two more, giving hope in Mobile. Their arrow is pointing up, but looks to be one season away from their historic perch near the top of the SBC.
6) Texas State - I really want to believe in Texas State, and do think Dannay Kaspar has the team going in the right direction. It may even get better with announcements that Strahan Coliseum will get a renovation (insert Reagan impression here). A 6-3 start is positive, though it is only 4-3 against DI competition. Add in the fact that the wins against McNeese St, UT San Antonio, UT Rio Grande Valley and Prairie View A&M means they have four wins against teams in the 300's in RPI. A team has to do something more than beat cupcakes to get my attention.
5) Louisiana-Lafayette - While Arkansas State was the most overrated team, the Ragin' Cajuns may be the most under-performing. They started the year 12th in the mid-major top 25 poll and now they aren't even getting votes (meaning a minimum of 58 teams are ahead of them, including four SBC teams). Shaun Long is a legit player, but their defense is the only one in the Belt to give up an average of 80 per game. They are second to last in field goal percentage defense and three-point FG defense. They can rebound, but that D has to be better for them to be higher.
4) Louisiana-Monroe - Technically atop the conference right now, having played their rivalry game several weeks ago. The Dec. 3rd win against Louisiana-Lafayette was an efficient, 11-point home win. Majok Deng is leading the conference in points per game and they did have a good win over Chatanooga, but they have lost five DI games in a row, making it appear like a fluke.
3) Georgia State - My three through one predictions could be interchangeable at this point. They are on a roll now, with four straight victories. Thrree of those wins are against Conference USA, with Old Dominion as their marquee win. Wish they would have beat Alabama - Birmingham earlier. They are tops in the SBC in field goal percentage but have a -3.2 in the rebounding margin, and I think that's going to be the difference and keep them out of the top spots.
2) Little Rock - What a job Chris Beard has done. Josh Hagin is playing at a high level and I gotta think the coach plays a big part in getting to that next level. They have one loss on the year, and it is that loss that makes me wonder. They have played good teams, with wins over San Diego State and Tulsa, but their schedule isn't that hard. DePaul (6-6) and East Carolina (179 RPI) don't do much for me. Had they played better against Texas Tech (rated high but with a lackluster schedule) then I'd have given them the top spot.
1) UTA - I don't want to do this, and have never done it before, but I think this team is playing the best basketball in the Belt. There are so many intangibles here. UTA is second in the country in shots per possession, thanks in large part to their offensive rebounding, overall rebounding margin and assists per game, all of which are first in the conference. Unlike past UTA teams, these guys don't need to shoot lights out to win. In fact the wins over Memphis and Ohio State came with sub-par shooting nights. They can beat teams in some many different ways with so many different players. They have the most dimensions of any team in the SBC.
Moving on to the women's side of things, the coaches thought the final standings would be:
1. Arkansas State (6) - 113 pts
2. UT Arlington (1) - 97 pts
3. Little Rock (2) - 96 pts
4. UL Lafayette (1) - 95 pts
5. Troy (1) - 86 pts
6. Texas State - 66 pts
7. Georgia State - 57 pts
8. Appalachian State - 40 pts
9. UL Monroe - 38 pts
10. South Alabama - 26 pts
11. Georgia Southern - 12 pts
I'm not gonna differ much, but here goes:
11) South Alabama - 2-5 against DI, including a loss to a Southwestern Athletic conference team (haven't seen an SBC loss to a SWAC school in any sport since I've been doing these predictions). That alone almost put them in the last place spot by itself. They average 51.9 points a game, against weak competition and don't shoot the ball well. They are best in the SBC in field goal percentage defense, but a negative rebounding margin and low defensive rebounding rank may make it a moot point.
10) Georgia Southern - Gonna stick with the coaches in this spot. They have three DI wins, all against teams below 300 in the RPI, and their losses have been big. They are near the bottom of most SBC statistical categories.
9) Louisiana-Monroe - Four non-DI wins clouds this 6-4 mark. As such, their RPI ranking is really low. A OT loss to LSU looks okay, as do the wins over McNeese St and Southeastern Louisiana. They've already lost to Louisiana-Lafayette to open SBC play. With ULM being traditionally very bad in women's sports, they are going to have to show me something first before I can pick them higher.
8) Georgia State - They have wins over bad teams and that is it. But they have played well to sport a 5-4 record against DI teams. I fully admit they may be higher, but until they beat someone to get there, and this non-conference schedule isn't it, they will be the last one in to the conference tourney.
7) Appalachian State - They struggled early, losing six of seven. However two wins in a row against decent teams in Furman and Richmond make me think the Mountaineers aren't going to be pushovers. They score a lot, but give up a lot. The good teams in the SBC will be able to score regardless, and they won't be able to stop their offense.
6) Troy - 5-4 overall, 3-4 versus DI. The losses were to decent teams, the wins not. They lead the conference in scoring, but are last in scoring defense. That is a bad recipe and one that good teams can beat. All the signs seem to point to a middle of the pack finish for Troy.
5) Texas State - Maverick fans are always familiar with what the Bobcats bring to the table. This year it is a 5-5 non-conference mark with two non-DI wins no wins against good teams. They are in the bottom half of most every statistical category. Hard to tell where they will fall, given the disparity in the schedule, but I'm not impressed with what I have seen early.
4) Louisiana-Lafayette - The Sun Belt's best scoring defense secured wins over Mississippi, Arkansas and had a one-point loss to Houston. None of those teams are world beaters, but after the post-season success from last year, they have played well in a 7-2 start. I think at this point, their D looks that good due to the lower quality opponents.
3) Little Rock - Hard to tell where this team is ultimately, as they have arguably the hardest schedule in the conference. Most losses were close, except a 30-point loss to #16 Texas A&M on the road. Still, picked third overall, I'd expect more than two wins. They'll get it in the SBC. This schedule may have made them stronger come conference play.
2) UTA - I diagnosed the team in my last post. They played some tough teams, with losses to squads that have current RPI's of 9, 15, 25, 84 and 97. The Mavericks have the second best scoring D in the SBC and a positive scoring margin.
1) Arkansas State - Audra Gamble is the real deal. Nothing new there, but the preseason favorites held their own against some pretty decent mid-major competition. They have a +10 scoring margin as they shoot well and rebound decently. Defense could be their achilles heel and any team that shoots lights out will likely beat the Red Wolves.