Breaking Down the Sun Belt Tournament – Bracket Two – From the Bird’s Nest
The Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball Tournament begins Thursday at the UNO Lakefront Arena. Here's my analysis of the lower half of the bracket featuring UL Monroe, UT Arlington, Georgia State and Texas State.
#2 UL MONROE WARHAWKS (19-12) Coach: Keith Richard
STRENGTHS: How in the world is Nick Coppola not on the all-conference team? He is the head of the snake. He's probably the most indispensable player in the entire league. He's a 40 minute guy who can dish it and shoot it. He's the guy you have to disrupt to get ULM off its game, but that's easy to say, hard to do. Majok Deng is the toughest matchup problem in the league. He's a 6-10 small forward who can post up, step out and shoot, rebound and even bring the ball upcourt. Justin Roberson is probably the most improved player in the entire league and is the league's best perimeter defender. ULM has five regulars who shoot 35% or better from three point range, yet they don't over-rely on the trey. Very athletic squad that rebounds well as a team.
WEAKNESSES: Depth. This team really only goes six deep, although they'll play as many as eight in a game. They've survived without going very deep, but they really don't have a lot of options if anyone gets in foul trouble. This team takes pretty good care of the basketball, but they don't force a lot of turnovers. They need all five cogs to be successful and can struggle on nights Samuel and/or Harvey are off their game. Outside of Deng, no one is automatic from the free throw line and that could mean something in a tight game.
OUTLOOK--This team couldn't figure out how to win on the road until February, but they come in as the league's hottest team, winning their last nine. Not having to play until Saturday is huge for this team because of their numbers. I don't know if they could win three in three nights. But they can win two. And, if it comes down to the top two seeds, this team matches up very well with Little Rock....VERY well.
#3 UT ARLINGTON MAVERICKS (22-9) Coach: Scott Cross
STRENGTHS: Guard oriented attack that has four guys capable of going off on any given night. They average about 28 attempts per game from three point range and they have no fear. Erick Neal has blossomed into a star in this league. Jalen Jones, Drew Charles and Kaelon Wilson are all capable of getting you twenty points on any given night. They'll do anything they can to make you play at their pace. They take long shots, and that means long rebounds, and UTA is good at getting to them. They'll turn it over some, but on most nights, you'll turn it over more.
WEAKNESSES: They play a lot of guys, but after their first four, the rest can be inconsistent Jorge Balbao can be great one night, and not look like a D-1 player the next. He can lose confidence if he doesn't get off to a good start. He and Nick Pallas are both foul prone and that can force UTA into a five guard lineup. Neal, Jones and Charles shoot free throws well, but the rest are just okay. If you can run them off the three point line and make them get tough twos, they're vulnerable, especially without Hervey
OUTLOOK: It's scary to think just how good these guys would be if Kevin Hervey had stayed healthy. They struggled for a few weeks without him, but seem to have found their identity now. They've got enough firepower to win the whole thing, but that lack of an inside game might wind up being their undoing. Bilbao has to play well for them to have a chance over a three day period.
#6 GEORGIA STATE PANTHERS (16-13) Coach: Ron Hunter
STRENGTHS: Kevin Ware was the Most Outstanding Player in the league a year ago and he might be the most consistent player this year. I've never seen him have a bad game. Jeremy Hollowell is a solid shooter who plays within himself. Isaiah Williams can be a difference maker on a given night. He's played really well this year. This is a team that values possession of the basketball. You're not going to get a lot of points off turnovers against them.
WEAKNESSES: Their 2-3 matchup zone isn't as effective as it was a year ago. With work you can penetrate it and when you do, their big guys get foul prone. They've shot more than 130 fewer free throws this year than last and that's why their scoring has gone down so much. They have to find other ways to score and on some nights, that can be an issue. The guys who take the bulk of the free throws are good, but they've got a couple who aren't good at all. Georgia State doesn't put much of a value on rebounding the basketball and you can hurt them on the boards, sometimes fatally. Not a very deep team that has a dropoff after their top seven.
OUTLOOK: It was probably stretching it a bit to have picked GSU second in the league. The two guards they lost were just too good. This isn't a bad basketball team. But if they're going to last in the tournament they've got to figure out some things defensively and cut down on the number of offensive boards they give up. They're playing a very patient team in their first game. That could make Thursday interesting.
#7 TEXAS STATE BOBCATS (14-15) Coach: Danny Kaspar
STRENGTHS: A solid defensive team that gets back in transition defense and makes you work to get a good shot. Patterned offense Team that can be very deliberate on offense and doesn't mind if the score is in the 40's. Much better perimeter shooting team than they were a year ago. Kavin Gilder-Tilbury and Ethan Montalvo can both shoot the three, but Gilder-Tilbury can go get a rebound and put the ball on the floor.
WEAKNESSES: I don't know of anyone in the league who has been more disappointing than Emani Gant. Not because of his scoring average, because Kaspar's teams don't score a lot. He's gotten into foul trouble, and on some nights, simply hasn't shown up to play. Bobcats are a good team when they are ahead. Their screens are a bit sharper and they are even more tenacious defensively. But if you get ahead of them, they have a tendency to do it their way instead of Kaspar's way and then they get in real trouble.
OUTLOOK: Kaspar knows how to coach. He got his 500th career win and you don't stay in the business and win 500 if you don't know what you're doing. Kaspar is now working with players that he recruited and I really thought Texas State would take a step forward. But this team gets away from Kaspar's system way too often and they haven't figured out yet they aren't good enough doing it their way.