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This Week’s Matchups in the Sun Belt Conference

georgia state’s ryan harrow (sunbeltsports.org)

Can anyone stop Georgia State from running away with the Sun Belt title?

We aren’t quite to the halfway point in league play, but the Panthers are beginning to look unstoppable.  After their sweep in Louisiana last week, GSU (14-6, 7-0) has now won eleven straight and leads second place WKU by two games.  Everyone else is at least three games back in the loss column.

Here’s a capsule of this week’s action:

ARKANSAS-LITTLE ROCK (10-10, 5-3)–Thur:  vs. Louisiana, Sat: at South Alabama.  The Trojans got blown out in Jonesboro by their arch rivals Saturday night and will try to regroup at home against a Louisiana team that has dropped three of its last four games.  The Trojans shot just 24% against A-State and were outrebounded by 15.  Obviously, they can’t let that happen again this week.  The Saturday trip to Mobile is a rematch of a game at the Stephens Center on January 9th, won by the Trojans, 65-60.

ARKANSAS STATE (11-7, 4-3)  Thursday: at ULM, Saturday: at Troy–The Red Wolves have that inexplicable loss to Troy at home, but their other two losses were by one point at Georgia State and double overtime against WKU.  A-State is getting consistent scoring and rebounding from Houston transfer Kirk Van Slyke.  The Red Wolves have shot it well from everywhere (..454, .373. .717).  They hit the road this week to play ULM and then have the revenge rematch at Troy, who has lost four straight games.

GEORGIA STATE (14-6, 7-0)  Thurs:  South Alabama, Sat:  UT Arlington–The Panthers just keep rolling.  R. J. Hunter had a huge game on Thursday as GSU got a hard fought win at the Cajundome and the Panthers didn’t havea  letdown ater the big win, taking an eight point decision at ULM.  Now they’re back home where they are undefeated.  Saturday’s game will feature the two hottest teams in the league.  GSU has won eleven in a row.  The Mavericks have a modest three game winning streak.

LOUISIANA (12-8, 3-4)  Thur: at UALR, Saturday:  ULM–A disappointing week for the Cajuns, falling to Georgia State before the two biggest crowds of the season.  The Cajuns didn’t shoot it very well in either game, which had been a staple in home games this year.  Now they have to travel to Little Rock to face a defensive minded UALR squad as close friends Bob Marlin and Steve Shields face each other for the seventh time.  The teams have split the last six meetings.  ULM comes to the Cajundome on Saturday with Louisiana looking to pay back the Warhawks for the double overtime loss back on January 4th.

UL MONROE (6-9, 3-4)  Thur:  Arkansas State  Sat: at Louisiana–The Warhawks, picked to finish last in the Sun Belt this season have been competitive in all but two conference games, with both of those losses coming at Fant-Ewing Coliseum.  They’ve got another tough home test this week against Arkansas State, then head to the Cajundome for their rematch with the Cajuns.  ULM is 2-1 in conference road games with the loss coming in overtime to UT Arlington.

SOUTH ALABAMA (7-13, 1-6)  Thur:  at Georgia State, Sat: UALR–The Jaguars, picked to finish second in the Sun Belt, continue to be the leagues enigma and have become the poster child for what can happen when a new coach with a different philosophy takes over a veteran team.  At nearly the halfway point of the season, the thought of not making the conference tournament in New Orleans is becoming a real possibility.  It’s not going to get easier this week as the Jags face the league leaders on Thursday and then return home to face a UALR club that they’ve already lost to.  There’s still a chance this team could start to jell because of their talent.  But their margin for error is starting to get very small.

UT-ARLINGTON (9-10, 4-3)–Thurs:  at WKU, Sat: at Georgia State:  Quick…who’s the hottest team in the league not named Georgia State?  The answer is UTA, who have won three in a row.  Reger Dowell, the Sun Belt’s leading scorer, has returned after missing a couple of weeks with a quad injury and his presence has meant everything to the Mavs.  He’s the reigning SBC player of the week after back to back 20  plus scoring outings.  But the road now beckons and UTA will face its sternest tests of the season, on the road against the top two teams in the standings.  It’s going to take more than Dowell to get a W this week.

TEXAS STATE (6-14, 2-5)  Sat:  at WKU–Danny Kaspars squad is improving, giving UALR all they could handle on the road before returning home and getting a win over Troy after losing eight of their previous nine games.  They’ll get a night off Thursday before heading to Bowling Green.  That game, if both defenses are playing well, could be pretty low scoring.

TROY (7-13, 2-6)  Sat:  Arkansas State–This still might be the toughest team to figure out in the league.  The Trojans looked like world beaters with their sweep in Arkansas a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t won since, dropping four games to the states of Louisiana (at home) and Texas (on the road).  This Saturday, they’ve got the rematch against Arkansas State, a team they beat by 14 in Jonesboro.  Our guess is, that probably won’t happen this time.

WESTERN KENTUCKY (13-7. 5-2)–Thurs:  UT Arlington, Sat:  Texas State–The Hilltoppers have now won three straight after winning easily in Monroe and surviving a furious Louisiana comeback on Saturday.  Now they are back home this week, taking on the state of Texas.  UTA is first this Thursday and the Mavericks are just a game behind the Toppers in the league race. With the Arkansas swing coming up next week, this is a big week for WKU.

Saturday’s UTA at Georgia State game is available on the Sun Belt Network (7:30pm).

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