Sun Belt Entropy! Is Anybody Good At Hoops?
The Sun Belt is having a hard time establishing it’s basketball identity in 2017-18.
On Thursday night, the Sun Belt preseason favorite in basketball, the University of Texas at Arlington Mavericks, bussed into Little Rock to face the 4-13 Trojans. The Mavs had already laid a conference egg against Coastal Carolina (7-11). Surely UTA would take care of business and remove all entropy from the Sun Belt.
Nope. The Trojans stunned the Mavericks 77-65 behind 24 points from sophomore guard Andre Jones. UTA is now 2-3 in conference, in 7th place and ranked 139th in RPI. You know the ancient saying: The Sun Belt cannot be predicted! But the misery of the Mavericks is baffling. SBC Player of the Year Kevin Hervey is averaging 21 points per game. Senior guard Eric Neal is still feeding teammates the rock to the tune of 8 assists per game. Yet there is no escaping the fact the the conferences projected champion stinks.
Is anyone good in the Sun Belt?
If nobody is good, everybody is good
UTA, Georgia State and Troy were predicted by Sun Belt coaches to finish 1, 2 and 3 in the conference. To date, UTA is 7th, Georgia State (3-2) is 4th, and defending champion Troy (1-3) is 10th. Tenth! The season is young, and the standings will surely change, but the slow start is puzzling.
Troy was always a little suspect, becoming last year’s Sun Belt champion by exploding like a volcano all over the SBC Tournament. But its two bellringers, Wesley Person and Jordan Varnado, returned. Likewise, stars for Georgia State (D’Marcus Simmonds) and UTA (Hervey and Neal) have all returned. These rosters have leadership and talent. Nothing makes sense.
Like, it makes no sense that Louisiana (picked to finish 5th), is tearing up the conference, rolling at 14-3 (4-0) and earning the Sun Belt’s only sub-100 RPI (88). Junior forward Jakeenan Gant is averaging 16 points and nailing 62% of his shot. Outstanding senior guard Frank Bartley IV is also averaging 16 points, proving a dependable 1-2 scoring combo for the Cajuns. But can they sustain this pace?
The only team playing to some form of predictability is Georgia Southern, blessed with two of the conference’s most prolific scorers (Ike Smith and Tookie Brown). The Eagles opened the season by knocking off Wake Forest, yet stumbled against mediocre South Alabama. The Eagles wore themselves out by conference tourney time last year. Have they learned a lesson?
Are the Eagles and Cajuns really the Sun Belt’s best teams? Maybe. Both teams have multiple scoring options. Both take their rebounds seriously. So…maybe?
Who threatens more entropy?
Texas State, who allows a very stingy 62.7 points per game, continues to slide beneath the radar at 4-1. Georgia State, though inconsistent, is always poised to catch fire. UTA simply has too much talent to remain in a coma.
Everybody else? Little Rock demonstrated on Thursday night that there are no gimmes in the Sun Belt. The final standings will likely mean nothing come tourney time. That’s sort of exciting, right?
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.