The Best Part of the Sun Belt Basketball Plan – From the Bird’s Nest
Last week the Sun Belt Conference announced a new basketball scheduling plan that will pit like teams against one another during the last two weeks of the season, beginning in 2019-2020.
After the teams play sixteen conference games, the 12 teams will be divided into four "pods" according to the conference standings. The teams in each pod will then play a home and home over the final two weeks of the season to decide seedings for the Conference Tournament.
Each "pod" will have something to play for. The first pod (teams 1-3) will be playing for a regular season title and a double bye in the conference tournament. Teams 4-6 will play for a first round bye. Teams 7-9 will be playing for first round home court advantage, while teams 9-12 will be playing to qualify for the conference tournament (only ten teams will participate in the post season tournament.)
The purpose, ostensibly. is to increase the strength of schedule for the teams at the top of the league in order to improve the seeding possibilities for the conference champion in the NCAA tournament, and, in a special case, perhaps make them more attractive to the selection committee.
But, for me, there's a byproduct that's going to be even bigger and better as time goes by.
The Sun Belt has gone through great change since the merger of the American South and the Sun Belt 27 years ago. Only four teams: Louisiana, Arkansas State, Little Rock and South Alabama have been in the league the entire 27 years.
That makes it awfully difficult to establish rivalries. This new criteria will change the dynamic for as long as the membership remains the same.
It will now be possible for teams to meet as many as five times during a given season. And, you know the old saying:
Familiarity breeds contempt.
If you're a Cajun fan, you undoubtedly remember the rivalry that existed between Louisiana and Western Kentucky before the Hilltoppers left for Conference USA after the 2013-14 season. Over that time there were memorable games that sparked a great rivalry between the two schools despite the 700-plus mile geographic difference.
Winning a title in Bowling Green in 1994...Dance, Thugs, Dance in 2000. Tournament heartbreak. Patrick Sparks. 110-102. Squeeze bottle night. Another title in Bowling Green. Six men on the court. And, those are just some of the highlights.
Can you imagine what would have happened if the teams met twice during the regular season, twice in two weeks toward the end of the season and then again in the conference tournament?
That would have been a-w-e-s-o-m-e.
Well, now everyone in the league has an opportunity to build those kind of rivalries.
The Cajuns and Georgia State have gotten a taste of a new rivalry in the Sun Belt. The Panthers have dominated the series overall, but the animosity is there on both sides. Under the new scheduling, the teams will meet only once during the regular conference season, since they will be in opposite divisions. But, if it all works out and the teams are near the top of the league, there will be as many as three more meetings in a period of about two and a half weeks. And, they won't just be meetings. They will be meetings with a LOT on the line, especially if both schools have great conference records.
But not only does familiarity breed contempt. It also breeds attendance.
Two weeks left in the season. Teams battling for first place. They play twice.
The new scheduling may or may not mean a better seed for the champion. The new scheduling may or may not (probably not) make a difference in a possible at-large bid. But the new scheduling will make for some passionate games between two teams that don't particularly like each other.
It's time to embrace the hate.