Sun Belt Tournament Preview – Bracket Two -From the Bird’s Nest
The Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball Tournament begins Wednesday at the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. Here is a look at Bracket Two.
#2—GEORGIA STATE PANTHERS (21-10, 12-6) Coach: Ron Hunter (144-84, 7th)
STRENGTHS—D’Marcus Simonds is arguably the league’s best player. He isn’t a great outside shooter but he can get from the elbow to the basket faster than anyone in the league. It’s hard to stay in front of him and he can distribute the basketball. Malik Benlevi, Devin Mitchell and Jeff Thomas can all shoot it, as can Isaiah Williams off the bench. Their zone defense makes you take more perimeter shots than you want to. They play with great emotion. And, they don’t turn it over much.
WEAKNESSES—Some times Simonds tries to do too much. He’ll take some ill advised shots, especially from beyond the arc. Outside of Williams this team doesn’t have any quality depth. They are a poor rebounding team, although they’ll get some extra chances on long rebounds. Their emotion can work against them, especially when they have to play from behind.
OUTLOOK—This team is capable of winning the tournament. But they got so caught up with beating Louisiana earlier that they went out and lost five out of six. If they have the right focus they can get to the championship. This is a tough bracket and they'll be tested in every game. They aren’t so good that they can automatically win if they’re looking ahead…and it will be interesting to see how they react if they fall behind.
#3 GEORGIA SOUTHERN EAGLES (20-11, 11-7) Coach: Mark Byington (89-74, 5th)
STRENGTHS: Veteran team that has been playing together for three years now. Tookie Brown is one of the league’s most dangerous players. If you play off him he’ll hit a three pointer. If you get up on him, he’ll go by you. Ike Smith was a first team all league player a year ago and can hurt you on any given night. Mike Hughes is a do everything guy. He can score when he needs to but is willing to blue collar his game if need be. This team might have the league’s second most depth. Quan Jackson is starting to emerge and David-Lee Jones, Jr. can give them some good minutes. Georgia Southern does a good job valuing possession of the basketball.
WEAKNESSES: I really don’t see where they have THE guy if Brown is out of the game. They kind of get like a rudderless ship if Brown picks up fouls or isn’t 100 percent. Jake Allsmiller is a dangerous catch and shoot guy but he disappears if he can’t find his shot. Outside of Montae Glenn, this isn’t a good rebounding team. And, really, outside of Brown, none of these guys have shot the ball the way they are capable this season. And, they play a lot of one on one basketball, averaging only ten assists per game. While the Eagles have some good individual defenders, they have some holes in that D as well.
OUTLOOK: Brown is one of the league’s best players and is as good at putting a team on his back as anyone in the league. But the rest of this team has been pretty inconsistent when it comes to shooting, scoring and rebounding. When they get three and four guys in double figures, they’re hard to beat. Overall, I think Smith is the key to their success. He’s had good games, but he hasn’t shown up for others. When he’s really good, Georgia Southern can be really good.
#6: ULM (15-14, 9-9) Coach: Keith Richard (92-156, 8th)
STRENGTHS: There’s nothing like big guys who can shoot it and the Warhawks have a pair of them. Travis Munnings and Sam McDaniel are dangerous guys. They are capable of creating their shots and they are both tough to guard because of their ability to step outside and hit shots. When both of them have it rolling, ULM can score with anybody in this league. Want to know about their resurgence in the last few weeks? Look no further than Michael Ertel. The Warhawks got a lot better when he was inserted into the starting lineup. He’s the total package. He can distribute it, he can handle it and he can shoot it. And, the kid plays HARD. Keith Richard’s teams are known for their defensive intensity.
WEAKNESSES: They’re really a finesse team. Sam Alabakis has size but he is foul prone and doesn’t move all that well. They don’t do well against really physical teams. And, it’s hard for them to win if Munnings or McDaniel have a bad game. There isn’t a large margin for error. They don’t get to the free throw line enough and they really only have about six guys who play any real minutes.
OUTLOOK: This team had quite the mid-season turnaround. They suddenly shot the hell out of it and when McDaniel and Munnings are clicking, the Warhawks click. But the X factor is Ertel. When he got into the lineup ULM became better. That is not a coincidence. To me, the biggest question is how much gas they have in the tank, as Munnings and McDaniel have been asked to play a lot of minutes. They've struggled the last three games. But if you want a dark horse, look to these guys.
#10 SOUTH ALABAMA (14-17, 7-11) Coach: Matthew Graves (65-95, 5th)
STRENGTHS: One inside, one outside. Rodrick Sikes really helped this team this year. He scored over 30 multiple times on the season. Josh Ajayi is a skilled inside player. He's an excellent rebounder and gives them a physical presence. They aren't great, but they're solid at the point guard spot with McGee and Lee. And, Trhae Mitchell is a good passer and rebounder.
WEAKNESSES: They aren't a very good shooting team overall. Mitchell and Nick Davis are liabilities from the free throw line. Their assist/turnover ratio is not good. They simply turn it over too much. They don't have much inside after Ajayi and Mitchell...in fact, they don't have much depth, period. And, they've been the definition of home court heroes, going 3-13 away from the Mitchell Center.
OUTLOOK: They dropped their last four conference games, two of them at home and come staggering into the tournament. Sikes is a good player and he's put them on his back a couple of times...but he's also disappeared at times. He HAS to score if South Alabama is going to have a chance. Their first round matchup with Troy is not a good one.
#11 ARKANSAS STATE (11-20) Coach: Mike Balado (11-20, 1st season)
STRENGTHS: Pretty solid guard play. Rashad Lindsey is a veteran and is quick getting to the basket. He's not a great outside shooter, but it's best not to leave him alone. Ty Cockfield has emerged down the stretch as the guy you want to keep in check. He, too is quick to the basket but has a good outside shot. Tamas Bruce and Salif Boudie can rebound the basketball. This team is going to play hard for 40 minutes.
WEAKNESSES: This is not a good defensive basketball team. Their pressing defense gives up too many easy baskets and they aren't very good in the half court either. Bruce and Boudie are their only true inside folks and both of them are foul prone. While their turnover margin is good, their assist/turnover ratio is not.
OUTLOOK: This team had some pretty serious off court issues earlier and Balado swallowed hard and got rid of Deven Simms, who would have been on the all-conference team. He wasn't afraid to suspend Bruce, either. But sometimes that addition by subtraction thing works out and I think it has for Arkansas State. They've got too many weaknesses to get very far in this tournament, but they've improved their chemistry and that's good news going forward.