This Week in Sun Belt Basketball
With four weeks left in the regular season, jockeying for position takes on even more importance than ever before in the Sun Belt Conference.
The importance lies not only in making it to New Orleans for the Sun Belt Basketball Tournament, but also finishing in the top four in the league. This year, with the new staggered format, seeds 5-8 play in the first round on Thursday, March 13, The #4 and #5 seeds get a bye to the quarterfinals and will play the Thursday survivors on Friday, March 14th. The top two seeds get a double bye to the semifinals and won't play until Saturday, March 15th. The championship game is set for Sunday, March 16th at 12:00 noon.
Here are the games scheduled for this week:
GEORGIA STATE (17-6. 10-0) Thur: Texas State Sat: at Troy--The Panthers' winning streak has reached 14 and they'll try to keep that going this week starting with Texas State at home on Thursday. The Panthers are 9-0 at home this season. Saturday it's over to Troy for a meeting with the Trojans. The Bobcats and Trojans are tied for the eighth and final slot in the tournament (3-7) entering this week.
WKU (16-8, 8-3) Thur: Troy, Sat: South Alabama--The Hilltoppers got an incredible comeback win at UALR on Saturday, but stumbled badly in a double digit loss at Arkansas State. The Hilltoppers are looking to get struggling T. J. Price on back on track at Diddle Arena against the two bottom teams in the league. The 'Tops have a one game lead in the loss column over Arkansas State for second place.
ARKANSAS STATE (13-8, 6-4)--Thur: at South Alabama. Sat: At Louisiana.--Fresh off an impressive win over WKU on Monday night, the Red Wolves hit the road this week. First up is last place South Alabama, still trying to right the ship after being picked second in the league. Then it's a trip to visit the Cajundome, where John Brady has never won. The Red Wolves are talented enough to sweep the trip, and with WKU hosting the bottom of the league, really need to win both to keep pace in the race for second place.
UALR (12-12. 6-5) Thur: at Louisiana, Sat: at ULM--UALR suffered two losses last week, the second in gut wrenching fashion, as WKU hit a pair of three pointers in the final six seconds to knock off the Trojans. Steve Shields' club has no time to feel sorry for itself, however, as they have to make the Louisiana swing this week. The Ragin' Cajuns are just a 1/2 game behind UALR for the fourth and final bye in the league. And, that trip to Monroe against a vastly improved ULM squad won't be a walk in the park.
LOUISIANA (15-9, 6-5) Thurs: UALR Sat: Arkansas State--Bob Marlin's crew has won three straight and open a three game homestand against UALR, a team that beat them two weeks ago in Little Rock. Then they take on Arkansas State in the first of two meetings between the two teams. Both are just ahead of the Cajuns in the standings. Getting both at home is pretty important as UL must still visit Georgia State, WKU and Arkansas State before the regular season ends. They can't afford a misstep at home.
UT Arlington (9-13, 4-6) Thur: at ULM Sat: Texas State--The Mavericks are tied for the number six seed going into play this week and Thursday they take on the team that they are tied with. UTA beat ULM in overtime earlier this season. Saturday they've got a rematch with Texas State. There is only one game separating sixth from ninth place so this week is a big one for the Mavs.
ULM (7-11, 4-6) Thur: UTA, Sat: UALR--After finishing at the bottom of the league the last three seasons, ULM's goal was to get to New Orleans. And, they've played well enough to get there. But the Warhawks still have work to do. The good news is they're at home this week, with UT Arlington set to visit on Thursday and UALR on Saturday. The game between the defensive minded Warhawks and the high octane offense of UTA could be especially interesting.
TROY (8-14, 3-7) Thur: at WKU Sat: Georgia State. The Trojans snapped a five game league losing streak with a win over South Alabama on Thursday. They are tied with Texas State for the final tournament spot. They're running into a buzz saw this week, however, facing the top two teams in standings. There's still plenty of basketball left to play, but the Trojans can't afford to fall too far behind.
TEXAS STATE (7-16, 3-7) Thur: at Georgia State, Sat: at UTA.--It's a tough trip for the Bobcats this week as they have to fly into the eastern time zone for their first game and then back to take on a school four hours north of San Marcos. The Bobcats have been competitive lately, but still aren't winning. Georgia State will be a tough one as the Panthers put a 14 game winning streak on the line. Then it's up to UTA. A split would be good news for the Bobcats.
SOUTH ALABAMA (7-16, 1-9) Thur: Arkansas State. Sat: at WKU--The league's biggest enigma will try again this week to get back into the win column. The Jaguars have lost five straight and nine of ten after being picked second in the league. A solid Arkansas State team comes to the Mitchell Center on Thursday before the Jags have to head to Bowling Green. There's not much margin for error for Matt Graves' team, as they stand two full games out of a berth in the tournament. This week won't help them much.