Sun Belt Makes Changes To Basketball Scheduling, Tournament Format
In a strategic move, the Sun Belt announced changes to non-conference and conference basketball scheduling for men's basketball, as well as conference tournament format and venue changes for men's and women's basketball.
Following the Sun Belt Presidents and Chancellors meeting today in Atlanta, as well as official meetings in March between ADs and the league's basketball coaches, the announcement was made today of the changes.
The following is the change to men's basketball scheduling, beginning in the 2019-2020 season.
Men's Basketball Non-Conference Scheduling Alliance
As a first step for improving non-conference scheduling, Sun Belt men's basketball teams will reserve two dates in the non-conference portion of their schedule to play against peer conference opponents. Each team will have one home opponent and one away opponent from this scheduling alliance. The scheduling alliance will fully begin with the 2019-20 season, though some games may be part of 2018-19 schedules.
Men's Basketball Conference Divisional Structure and Regular Season Schedule for 2019-20
In the next major portion of the strategic plan, the conference has adopted a scheduling format for the 2019-20 men's basketball season – dubbed the "20-game smart schedule" – that will see the conference split into two divisions (East: Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, South Alabama and Troy; West: Little Rock, Arkansas State, Louisiana, ULM, UTA, and Texas State). Each team will play a 16-game schedule with five home and five away games played against divisional opponents and three home and three away games against non-divisional opponents. Based on the resulting standings of those 16 games, teams will then be placed in four pods - Pod A (#1, #2, #3), Pod B (#4, #5, #6), Pod C (#7, #8, #9) and Pod D (#10, #11, #12). Each team will play the other two pod members once home and once away for the final four games of the 20-game schedule. The regular season conference champion will be awarded based on the results of the full 20-game conference schedule.
Sun Belt women's basketball teams will continue to play non-divisional, 18-game conference schedules.
The Sun Belt Conference tournament will make a big change beginning with the 2019-2020 season as well, with seeding based on how they do in pod play.
2020 Sun Belt Men's Basketball Tournament Seeding
At the completion of the regular season, teams will be seeded for the conference tournament based on the results within their pod range. As an example, a team in Pod A (#1, #2, #3) cannot be seeded any lower than No. 3 seed. It is possible, however, that the regular season champion – the team that earned the No. 1 position in Pod A – would not be the No. 1 seed in the tournament should that team not have the best pod record amongst the three teams in that pod.
The 1 and 2 seeds in the men's and women's conference tournament will receive automatic byes to the semi-finals, improving the odds of the Sun Belt regular season champion winning the conference tournament.
Both the men's and women's tournaments will have 10 teams, with the first round having seed 7 vs 10 and seed 8 vs 9. The winner of both will play seeds 5 and 6 in the second round, with those winners then facing seeds 3 and 4.
Each game in the first three rounds will be played at the campus site of the higher seed.
The semi-finals and championship game of the Sun Belt tournament will be played at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, home of the New Orleans Pelicans.
This change will also go into effect beginning with the 2019-2020 season.
Next season, the conference tournament will remain at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. Two opening round games will be played on campus sites (seeds 7-10). The No. 1 seed and No. 2 seed will earn automatic byes into the semifinals, while the No. 3 seed and No. 4 seed get byes to quarterfinals.
Next season will also use mirror scheduling for both men's and women's basketball. This means, during the 18 game conference schedule, the men will play at one location against an opponent, while the women of the same two schools will play at the other.
For example, if Louisiana's Ragin' Cajun men's basketball team is hosting Troy, Louisiana Ragin' Cajun women's basketball team will be playing at Troy on the same date.