Revised All-Conference selections:
Best call(s): Oh god. What a freaking disaster. I’m honestly not sure there are any (Shawn Long was really good!), so let’s just list out all my idiocy in the Worst Calls section…
Worst call(s): Let’s make a list, shall we?
1) A team in this conference went 27-3 (18-2), winning in hostile environments at San Diego St and Tulsa. I picked them 6th. NOT GREAT.
2) I said this about UT-Arlington, who I predicted would finish 10th: “UT-Arlington is comparable to many of the other bottom-half of the conference teams you’ll find in this preview – some promising sophomores, possibly-impactful newcomers – but they lack a true all-conference level returning talent like Emani Gant or Wesley Person to build around.”
Let’s see here. Uhh, I was right about the promising sophomores! First of all, UT Arlington was good (and REALLY good before Kevin Hervey tore his ACL), so I’m already wrong. As for the lacking-all-conference-talent – let’s give that a YIKES too. Hervey was the best player in the league when healthy, and once the Mavericks recovered from that loss, Erick Neal was clearly an all-conference-level PG (and, really, he was before Hervey’s injury, too). WHOOPS.
3) I picked Troy to be better than three teams. Fell in love with Wesley Person and Jarvis Varnado’s bro a little too much…I look forward to being way too high on them again next year, too!
4) Appalachian State in third – they went 9-22. Won their last two though, including over Little Rock (grasping at straws…).
5) It goes on and on – Monroe was good, Georgia St wasn’t, Georgia Southern was decent…sigh, let’s just look at the bracket. Better luck next year.
The Sun Belt gives its top 2 finishers a double-bye to the semifinals, and while I love that setup for rewarding a great regular season, we saw how well that went for Valpo/Oakland in the Horizon League. I definitely think it helps UALR, and they’ll certainly be hoping South Alabama or Georgia Southern can knock off UL Lafayette.
Who I want to win: I’m definitely going to give this to Little Rock – when a team is that dominant during the regular season, they deserve to be in the tournament in my eyes, and I’m just not sure they get there without the auto-bid. They’re tough and experienced, they have a great lead guard in Josh Hagins, and they proved they can win in tough environments by going to Tulsa and San Diego St. and winning. They MIGHT survive a loss to UT Arlington in the final (that would put UT-A into the RPI top 100, essentially awarding Little Rock 2 extra top-100 wins), but it would put them in a pot with Valpo, Monmouth, St. Mary’s, and others – and I just don’t think that UALR has a better claim than those three teams.
Who I think will win: With the help of the double-bye, I think Little Rock gets the job done. They swept Lafayette this year, and while I’m worried about “beating a tough team three teams,” UALR is just a tough matchup for Lafayette because of the pack line doubling Long in the post and forcing ball rotation/outside shots to beat them. Monroe has the other double-bye – I love their steady, uber-experienced point guard Nick Coppola and they’ve won 9 straight entering the tournament, so that could be a great final too.
Chance to make a run in the NCAA Tournament: Little Rock has the talent to make a run, and I think UL Lafayette is the second-most likely to win an NCAA Tournament game. They could have the best player on the floor in Shawn Long, and if they can hit a few shots around him (they mostly haven’t this year), they become very difficult to guard. UL Monroe and UT Arlington are solid, but I don’t think they have enough to steal a victory.
How I Think It Will Play Out: Well, there’s clearly no one more qualified than me to make these predictions per my sterling record above. Maybe I was just biding my time until the tournament:
(5) Georgia Southern defeats (8) South Alabama
(6) Georgia St. defeats (7) Texas St.
(4) UL Lafayette defeats (5) Georgia Southern
(3) UT Arlington defeats (6) Georgia St.
(1) Arkansas Little Rock defeats (4) UL Lafayette
(3) UT Arlington defeats (2) UL Monroe
(1) Arkansas Little Rock defeats (3) UT Arlington
Little Rock gets into the field and gives a 5-seed hell in the first round…you know what, I’ll say they win a game. They need to get the right matchup, though, as a team like Duke or Indiana can shoot over the pack line defense. I think they’d have a chance against Utah or Texas A&M might be vulnerable to the Trojans.