Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016/17 Women's Basketball Sun Belt Conference Predictions

Time for the annual basketball conference predictions. Refresher for those who are new or don't obsess over this blog (and why not, hmm?), I don't like making preseason predictions without seeing the teams in action. There are too many unknowns and I feel I can give it more accuracy by seeing teams play against their non-conference opponents.

All good? Great! Here's how the coaches thought the end-of-year-standings would look:

1. Troy (3)
2. Little Rock (5)
3. UT Arlington (3)
4. South Alabama
5. UL Lafayette
6. Texas State
7. Arkansas State
8. Appalachian State (1)
9. Georgia State
10. Georgia Southern
11. Coastal Carolina
12. UL Monroe

There's a lot of disparity in this poll, as the eighth place team received a first place vote, meaning most others had little respect for that team. The second place team received more first place votes than number one, meaning a lot of coaches placed the preseason favorites low, almost as much as high. All of a sudden, waiting until the non-conference schedule is concluded doesn't look so bad.

Without further suspense, here's the Maverick Rambler's post-non-conference, pre-conference, end-of-season conference predictions.

12. Louisiana-Monroe (3-8) - Unless it is football, men's basketball and maybe baseball, you can expect the Warhawks to occupy the bottom of both the preseason predictions and end-of-year standings in most sports. This team would be 1-3 in the Southland Conference, 0-1 in the Southwestern Conference and has earned only one win against Division I competition. I see nothing in the stats or schedules that make me think this isn't their final spot.

11. Georgia State (4-7) - The Panthers have had a hard time scoring, (62.2 ppg), a hard time stopping teams from scoring (68.2 ppg) and have given up as many rebounds as they have grabbed. Their schedule is average and should have seen better results. Losses to Eastern Michigan, UNC Wilmington, Akron and Elon weren't that close and will be similar to what the Eagles will face in the top half of the SBC. Much like volleyball, there is a clear delineation between the top half and bottom half and it looks like Georgia Southern will have a hard time competing in either one.

10. Texas State (5-6) - With losses to Texas Southern (66-53), UTSA (72-47), non-DI Saint Edward's (65-51) and Prairie View (64-60), the Bobcats look way worse than I expected. I don't know the injury situation in San Marcos, but those are games the SBC should win more of than lose, regardless. They have a hard time scoring (54.9 ppg) and have no player to take over the game. I usually have faith in what TXST women sports bring to the table, but this could be a rebuilding year.

9. Georgia Southern (4-7) - I don't know why, but Eagle women sports have just struggled in the Belt. This team's schedule was uninspiring, and contains three DI wins over bottom feeders: North Carolina A&T, Savannah State and South Carolina State. Still, that's more than most teams to this point in the poll. It was a toss-up between them and the Panthers above, but at least the Eagles have shown signs of being able to play defense, giving up only 61.5 a game.

8. South Alabama (5-6) - Two non-DI wins and four losses by double digits have me placing USA stock on a sell. They are the only SBC team to average under 50 points offensively and if it weren't for a defense that is second in the SBC (59.2), they'd be challenging Monroe and Georgia State for the bottom of the SBC. There's not an offensive statistical category that gives me hope they can compete well.

7. Arkansas State (2-10) - The Red Wolves lost a lot of talent in the off-season and then combined that with what is likely to be the toughest non-conference schedule in the SBC and there is a lot of whalloping to take. They are last or low in the conference in most statistical categories, but that shouldn't be shocking. There are silver-linings in free throws and 3-point percentage, so this team can play. Based on record, this may be the biggest stretch this season, but I believe this team will win more games come SBC time.

6. Coastal Carolina (5-6) - Unsteady, but the Chants have had some success against equal quality opponents. They are competent on both offense and defense. Their schedule was middle-of the pack. All that translates to a middle finish in the SBC.

5. Louisiana (6-3) - The Cajuns have a nice schedule but only one real quality win, Louisiana Tech. Sometimes people put stock in a close loss, but my experience shows that doesn't translate to much. They have the second-best scoring offense (72.2) and fourth-worst scoring defense (71.1). The scoring margin is real low for a 6-3 team. Another Achilles heel is that almost half their scoring comes from Jaylyn Gordon (19.2) and Simone Fields (15.7). Unlike teams lower in this list, these two are the Cajuns do or they die.

4. Appalachian State (5-6) - The only team to this point to play only Division I schools, they have performed well. The three guarantee games weren't close, but not many SBC teams can say they are. They've been competitive in everything else, coming out with a 5-3 record not involving a check. They are middle of the pack in scoring offense and defense, meaning they have the ability to win a game either way. Joi Jones will make a play at the first-team SBC team at the end of the year, as she averages 15.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg and a 1-1 Assist to turnover ratio. All this while being tied for third on the team in minutes.

3. Little Rock (6-6) - These Trojans faced a rough slate of four losses in a row, but typical of Little Rock teams, they faced one of the tougher schedules in the conference. Their 3-4 away record will have them prepped better for a conference run. I'm a firm believer in defensive teams winning and they lead the conference in defensive points given up and are one of only two SBC teams that are averaging under 60 points a game. They shoot free throws well and don't give up many rebounds, so there is a lot of scrappiness to this team.

2. UTA (7-3) - They have looked good through much of the year, and have been competitive in most every game. Likely would have been number one, save for two reasons. One, I have a UTA-bias in these polls in an effort to curb homerism and two, that home loss to Stephen F. Austin (9-2), who has an-okay, but-not-daunting schedule. The Mavericks currently sit third in scoring offense, fourth in scoring defense and second in scoring margin. With the way Rebecca VanDijk, Cierra Johnson and Christina Devers (heck, there are a lot of contributors to this team) are playing, they have every ability to take the top spot. Hopefully that SFA game was a wake-up for the team.

1. Troy (6-3) - The defending tournament champs and overall pre-season favorites are just as explosively potent on the offensive side as last year. At 86.3 points per game, they are better than runner-up Louisiana by more than 14 points. What makes then so potent is that only two players average double digits, and it isn't by much: Jayla Chills (11.6) and Claresa Banks (10.7). The downside? Their defense is near as porous, second to last in the SBC. If the Trojans have a cold-shooting night or face a tight defense and they can't find the looks, it could be a long game. The coup de grace is this team can at least rebound, pulling down 7.3 more than they give up. That was the cherry on top that gave Troy the top slot for me in the SBC.

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