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Sun Belt Tournament Preview: Bracket Two

The Sun Belt Conference Tournament begins Saturday in Hot Springs, AR.  Here is my prevew of Bracket Two

Jamie Squire/Getty Images Sport

#1 WEST–ARKANSAS STATE RED WOLVES  (17-14, 11-5)  Coach:  John Brady (47-45, 3rd season)

Record vs. Bracket Teams:  5-2, lost at FIU, lost at Denver

First game:  Sunday 8:45pm vs. UALR/South Alabama winner

STRENGTHS:  Outstanding senior backcourt with point guard Rashad Allison and SG Donald Boone.  C Martavious Adams can score inside, shoot the 15 footer and is a great rebounder.  ASU plays tenacious man-to-man defense and led the league in field goal defense.  Boone and Allison are outstanding free throw shooters.  ASU was at the top of the league in rebound margin.

WEAKNESSES:  Adams can get into foul trouble and when he does, ASU has to rely a lot more on their perimeter game.  The loss of Trey Finn, the league’s best perimeter defender, is a big blow to ASU, which doesn’t have great guard depth to start with.  Edward Townsell and Adam Sterrenberg will have to play more minutes.  Townsell can shoot, but neither player is close to Finn defensively.  With the loss of Finn, ASU will go eight deep.  Allison can be somewhat of a hot head at times and when he loses it, he can play out of control.

OUTLOOK:  This bracket set up well for ASU until the loss of Finn.  Brady is one of the league’s best Xs and Os coaches and will have them ready.  But make no mistake about it, they’ll miss Finn greatly.  Even their quarterfinal game against the USA/UALR winner now becomes a tough matchup, especially if it’s the sharpshooting Trojans.

#2 EAST:  MIDDLE TENNESSE BLUE RAIDERS (15-15, 10-6)  Coach:  Kermit Davis (152-125, 9th season)

courtesy goblueraiders.com

Record vs. Bracket teams:  4-3, lost at ASU, lost at UALR, split with USA

First game:  Sunday 9pm vs. Denver/FIU winner

STRENGTHS:  James Washington is one of the league’s best guards.  He can put it on the floor, shoot from the outside and is a solid defender.  Jason Jones can also score the basketball well.  Middle is always good defensively.  Team has good depth, usually playing ten players per game.  Team rebounds well as a team, although no one is a real standout.  Good free throw shooting team, especially when they get Washington and J. T. Sulton to the line.

WEAKNESSES:  Not a particularly good shooting team after Washington.  Team turns it over 15 times per game and has a poor assist/turnover ratio.  Teams have shot well from the perimeter against them.  Not the league’s most athletic team.

OUTLOOK:  I thought this year would be somewhat of a rebuilding year for MTSU, but they’ve done a good job of grinding through the season.  Their defense will keep them in games, but their quarterfinal matchup will not be a walk in the park, especially if it’s against Denver, who upset them in the quarterfinals last year. 

courtesy denverpioneers.com

#3 WEST  DENVER PIONEERS (13-16, 9-7)  Coach:  Joe Scott (58-64, 4th season)

Record vs. Teams in bracket:  3-4  Lost at MTSU, lost at ASU, lost at UALR, lost vs. South Alabama

First game:  vs. Florida International Saturday, 6:45pm

STRENGTHS:  Outstanding shooting team, both from the perimeter and the free throw line.  Patterned Princeton offense forces teams to guard for 35 seconds each possession.  If you play them man, they can back door you for layups.  If you zone them, they can shoot it from the perimeter.  Athleticism has improved over recent teams.  Chase Hallam is one of the league’s best players, and Chris Udofia is a rising star in the league.  The Hallam brothers and Brian Stafford are all outstanding shooters.  Solid from the line with exception of Udofia.  They don’t turn it over a lot.  Very difficult team to prepare for on short notice.

WEAKNESSES:  Very poor rebounding team.  Matchup zone can cause problems, but if you solve it, you can get some wide open looks, especially on the perimeter.  Denver doesn’t turn it over a lot, but the don’t force many either.  With Rob Lewis sidelined all season and Andrew Hooper out for the season (concussion suffered against MTSU), Denver is down to eight contributors.  Denver has notoriously been much better at home than away from home.  Pios come in without much momentum having lost seven of ten since the Hooper injury.

OUTLOOK:  You have to wonder how good these guys would have been if Lewis, their best rebounder and toughest player had been able to play this year.  Hoopers loss is tough since, despite being a big guy, was capable of shooting the three with regularity.  Denver is the team nobody wants to play because on nights that they get in a rhythm, they’re almost impossible to beat.  Their bracket is very similar to a year ago, when DU beat FIU and MTSU to get to the semifinals.  It won’t be a shock if they get there again.  But FIU’s athleticism is going to pose them lots of problems on Saturday.  DU beat FIU in overtime in Denver earlier in the year.

#4 EAST  SOUTH ALABAMA JAGUARS (12-15, 6-10)  Coach: Ronnie Arrow (189-143, 12th season)

Dave Marin/Getty Sport Images

Record vs. teams in bracket:  4-3 Lost at FIU, lost at Middle Tennessee, lost at ASU

First game:  Saturday vs. UALR 9pm

STRENGTHS–Freshman of the Year Augustine Rubit gives the Jags an inside presence, averaging eleven boards per game.  Martino Brock is capable of slashing to the bucket or pulling up for a jumper.  Gary Redus and Tim Hamilton are both capable shooters.  Allyn Cooks and Redus are both very good free throw shooters.  Jags are very capable of sharing the wealth when it comes to scoring the basketball.

WEAKNESSES–Not a lot of quality depth, although the return of Antoine Lundy has helped there somewhat.  South Alabama has games where they rely too much on the jump shot, both inside and outside the arc.  After Rubit, not a ton of rebounding power.  Can have nights when they’re downright brutal from the free throw line, especially if Cooks and Redus aren’t shooting them.  Not a great defensive team by any stretch.  Averages almost 15 turnovers per game.

OUTLOOK–The talent on this team belies their record.  All five starters can score.  But USA hasn’t paid much attention to detail defensively this season and it’s cost them.  Won at Western Kentucky and Denver.  Lost at home to ULM.  You get the drift?  They’d better be ready to guard the perimeter in their first round game or they’ll be a quick out.

courtesy steveshields.com

#5 WEST  ARKANSAS-LITTLE ROCK TROJANS  (15-16, 7-9)  Coach:  Steve Shields (128-111, 8th season)

Record vs. Teams in Bracket:  3-4  Lost at South Alabama, lost at Denver, lost twice to ASU

First game:  Saturday, 9pm vs. South Alabama

STRENGTHS:  One of the best three point shooting teams in America, led by SBC Player of the Year Solomon Bozeman.  Five different players shoot 38% or better from beyond the arc.  Alex Garcia-Mendoza is a tough matchup, capable of shooting the three if you give him room, or blowing past you if you guard him too closely.  Freshman Chucky Guy and senior Matt Mouzy give them instant offense off the bench.  Eric Kibi gives them an inside scoring threat.  Deep squad that regularly plays 10-12 players per game.  Only Bozeman averages 30 minutes per game.

WEAKNESSES:  None of their inside guys scare you.  They’re not a great rebounding team and tend to get in foul trouble inside.  All of their inside guys are brutal free throw shooters.  Shields is known for having good defensive teams, but this isn’t one of them, relatively speaking.  

OUTLOOK:  Teams that have to rely solely on a perimeter game can look great one night and very average the next, hence UALR’s record.  But on night’s where the shooters are getting free, they’re as dangerous as any team in the league.  They have the league’s best depth, but their inside game just isn’t good enough to get them all the way through the bracket.  But watch out if they’re shooting it. 

#6 EAST   FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL GOLDEN PANTHERS (10-18, 5-11)  Coach:  Isiah Thomas (17-43 2nd season)

Doug Benc/Getty Images Sport

Record vs. bracket teams:  2-5  Lost to UALR, Denver, at South Alabama and to MTSU twice.

First game:  Saturday 6:45 vs. Denver

STRENGTHS:  Very talented, very athletic group of individuals.  DeJuan Wright is one of the league’s toughest matchups who can post up, slash to the basket or shoot from outside.  Marvin Roberts can hit the intermediate jumper and can get to the bucket.  Eric Frederick is a big man with scoring and rebounding ability.  Jeremy Allen is a good defender and Phil Gary averages three assists per game.

WEAKNESSES:  Note above I said individuals, and that’s one of the biggest problems with this team.  They tend to play a lot of one on one if things don’t go well for them early.  They’re not a good rebounding team, which is an enigma given their athletic ability.  They don’t play much defense to speak of.  After Gary, Allen and Phil Taylor, not a very good free throw shooting team.  Pretty undisciplined bunch.

OUTLOOK:  If you look at FIU’s conference record, you’ll see they were good enough to take Denver to overtime on the road, played North Texas tough when the Mean Green were playing well, and took FAU to the wire twice, in fact, probably should have won both games.  This is a very very dangerous squad who has the capacity to make a run in the tournament.  The reality, however, is they’ll probably self-destruct, as they did too many times this season.  Not a good first round draw in Denver.

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