Race For Seedings For the Sun Belt Conference Tournament
There are three more weeks remaining in the regular season in the Sun Belt Conference, and, as teams jog for position for the Conference Tournament, well, it's a jumble out there. There are just 2.5 games separating the #2 from the #8 seeds as we get ready to enter weekend play this week.
Coastal Carolina (17-4) is a virtual lock for the top seed. They lead the East division by 3.5 games over South Alabama for the league's best record. Mathematically, they haven't clinched, but it'll take some really unforeseen things happening for them not to have the top spot.
After that, who knows.
It should be noted the West division champion will be the #2 seed for the tournament, so there is a race within the race coming down the stretch. (Little Rock 12-8, Louisiana 12-9, UTA 11-10, Texas State 10-11) After the top two seeds are determined, winning percentage will determine #3-#10, regardless of division. Ten teams will qualify for the tournament, to be played this year at M. L. "Tigue" Moore Field at Russo Park.
On Tuesday, May 22, there will be two elimination games featuring #7 vs. #10 and #8 vs. #9. The two winners advance to the double elimination bracket beginning May 23.
If the season ended today, the lineup would look like this:
1. Coastal Carolina, #2 Little Rock, #3 South Alabama, #4 Troy, #5 Georgia Southern, #6 Louisiana, #7 UTA, #8 Texas State, #9 Georgia State, #10 ULM. Appalachian State and Arkansas State would not qualify for the tournament.
Here are the remaining schedules:
COASTAL CAROLINA (17-4) at Louisiana, Little Rock, at Appalachian State--As noted earlier, the Chants are on their way to having the league's best record. They'll be favored in all three series.
SOUTH ALABAMA (13-7): at Little Rock, UTA, at Troy--South Alabama stumbled last weekend, losing two of three to Arkansas State...at home. None of the remaining series will be easy. This weekend's series at Little Rock has big ramifications in the West for the #2 seed. And, there will be no better place to be in the league in the final weekend than Riddle-Pace Field when the Jags and Trojans tangle. South is the #3 seed right now, but it's tenuous.
TROY (13-8) at Georgia Southern, at ULM, South Alabama--Six out of nine on the road, but ULM has been struggling of late. This weekend's series against Georgia Southern will have a lot to say about Troy's seeding and that final weekend against South could decide the #3 spot in the standings.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN (12-8)--Troy, at Arkansas State, Georgia State--The Eagles get six at home and, as noted above, this weekend is really big. We'll see if the Eagles' pitching staff can hold down the Troy offense. Arkansas State is playing better and Georgia State has a really good Friday night arm. Georgia Southern can struggle to score runs. I'm sure they are happy their pitchers get six games at J. I. Clements Stadium.
GEORGIA STATE (7-13)--at ULM, Appalachian State, at Georgia Southern--For the Panthers, it's all about getting into the top ten. Right now they're a 1/2 game ahead of ULM for the #9 spot and 1.5 ahead of Arkansas State for tenth. That series at ULM is crucial for the Panthers, who, all things considered, have the most favorable schedule in the final weeks.
APPALACHIAN STATE (4-17) at UTA, at Georgia State, Coastal Carolina--App State has never made the conference tournament since joining the league. They won't make it this year either. But they can surprise someone down the stretch, as evidenced by wins over Troy and Little Rock.
LITTLE ROCK (12-8)--South Alabama, at Coastal Carolina, Arkansas State--Big series this weekend at Gary Hogan Field and the Friday night pitching matchup should be a good one. Then it's off to Conway to take on the league's best team. And, improving Arkansas State awaits on the final weekend. This might be the toughest remaining schedule of all the teams.
LOUISIANA (12-9)--Coastal Carolina, at Texas State, ULM--The Cajuns are still hoping to get into the at-large conversation, but for that to happen, they need a series win this weekend. If the Cajuns can pull that off, they'll be favored to win the West. Texas State will be formidable in San Marcos. And, can the Cajuns stave off the law of averages on the final weekend? Louisiana has beaten the Warhawks 22 straight times.
UTA (11-10)--Appalachian State, at South Alabama, Texas State--If UTA takes care of its business this weekend (that is to say, gets a sweep), they remain in the hunt for the West title. That final weekend against the Bobcats could be make or break, in fact, a bad weekend in Mobile and the two teams could be fighting to see who avoids Tuesday in that final series.
TEXAS STATE (10-11)--at Arkansas State, Louisiana, at UTA--The Bobcats have been one of the most schizophrenic teams in the league. They look like world beaters on some nights, but then again, they've gone 2-4 the last two weekends and both series were at home. Watch this weekend in Jonesboro against a hungry Arkansas State club that always plays well in May. With two very tough series to close the season, Texas State really needs some success this weekend.
ULM (7-14)--Georgia State, Troy, at Louisiana--The Warhawks have been much more competitive than in past years, but don't have a lot to show for it. Four of their losses have been by two runs or less. ULM has lost eight of their last nine conference games after going 6-6 in their first twelve and in that skid is a series loss to Appalachian State...at home. They've got a one game lead and the tiebreaker over Arkansas State, but they've got to win some games. Their best chance for a series win is this weekend. And, it could be the difference as they try to get into the tournament.
ARKANSAS STATE (6-15)--Texas State, Georgia Southern, at Little Rock--Left for dead a couple of weeks ago, the Red Wolves showed there is still a pulse with an impressive series win in Mobile. If they can win all three series, it would force ULM to go 5-4 to keep them out of the tournament. That's a tall task, but Arkansas State always seems to play its best baseball in May...and they've got two of the three series at home.