- Ky McKeon (plus Jim Root preseason)
(Compare to our preseason preview here)
- Louisiana aka Don't Call Me Lafayette - The Ragin' Cajuns dropped the "Lafayette" in their moniker to be known simply as "Louisiana" and that decision appeared to pay off! Louisiana won the Sun Belt by four games this season, as expected champ UT Arlington fell to 4th place in the standings. The Cajuns were the best offensive and defensive team in the league by a WIDE margin and are a fun, up-tempo squad to watch behind seniors Frank Bartley IV and Bryce Washington.
- Shouts to the Overachievers - 3MW (and many other publications) were very down on UL Monroe and Appalachian State in the preseason, and for good reason - the tandem finished dead last and second to last in the prior year. It turns out both teams just needed a little roster continuity. Both squads ranked in the top 100 in the country in returning minutes as the pair shot up to 5th and 6th in the Sun Belt standings. UL Monroe is a sneaky dark horse with Travis Munnings and Sam McDaniel leading the way, while Ronshad Shabazz is the star that can lead App State back to the Dance.
- The State of Georgia Got Guards - Both Georgia State and Georgia Southern are legit conference tourney title contenders thanks to their excellent backcourt members. Georgia Southern has the electric Tookie Brown running the show along with Ike Smith (who has weirdly had a terrible year) and defensive glue guy Mike Hughes. Georgia State has the Sun Belt Player of the Year D'Marcus Simonds, the 5th highest used player in all of college basketball. Watch for Simonds, just a sophomore, to crack an NBA roster down the road.
The Sun Belt tips Wednesday (3/7) and is played in New Orleans at the Lakefront Arena (that's where the University of New Orleans plays its regular season contests).
What to Watch:
Who can stop Louisiana? Well, apparently Little Rock can. The Trojans took down the Rajin Cajuns in Lafayette on SENIOR NIGHT in what was one of the more bizarre upsets in college basketball this season. Aside from that game, Louisiana only lost to Georgia State in conference play and rolled over UT Arlington and Georgia Southern in meetings with those schools.
UT Arlington was by-and-large the preseason favorite (some did pick Louisiana, including Mr. Jim Root), led by Kevin Hervey, arguably one of the best players in Sun Belt history, and Erick Neal, a savvy senior point guard. The Mavericks are 1st in the country in experience, but its weirdly translated to the school's worst performance since 2015. The lack of bench depth has been an issue, which has a chance of amplifying in a tournament setting.
Who Will Win:
- Louisiana - Little Rock loss aside, the Cajuns were dominant this season in the Sun Belt. At 26-5 overall, Louisiana isn't THAT far away from at-large consideration (though a couple bad losses has made that a non-possibility). If the Cajuns take home the crown, expect to see them sitting on the 12-line in the Big Dance ready to crush the dreams of a vulnerable 5-seed.
If Not Them, Then:
UT Arlington - The Mavs have been competitive the last three seasons but have yet to make an NCAA Tournament with Kevin Hervey. Scott Cross likely gets hired away soon by a bigger school and this year represents his (and the school's) best chance at getting to the Tourney for the foreseeable future.
Georgia State - The Panthers have struggled as of late, losing 4 of their last 6, but coach Ron Hunter is a capable leader, motivator, and defensive guru. D'Marcus Simonds has the ability to take this team to the Big Dance, and they've already knocked off the other three major contenders this season.
Georgia Southern - GSU has the offensive firepower to get hot and go on a run. The Eagles have been soaring down the stretch and have victories over Georgia State and UT Arlington this year.