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Thursday night in the Sun Belt

Tonight should be an interesting night in the Sun Belt Conference.  The league slate is highlighted by a meeting between West Divison leader Denver and East leader Florida Atlantic.


The Pioneers got swept in the state of Arkansas last week and their lead over Arkansas State has dwindled to 1/2 game.  But the Pioneers are back home in Magness Arena, where they haven’t lost in conference play.  The Pioneers (7-3, 11-12) need to hold serve tonight against an FAU squad that has yet to lose a conference road game.  The Owls (18-7, 10-1) had a dramatic come-from-behind win over archrival FIU on Saturday and will try to keep their momentum alive.  FAU clinches a first round bye in the conference tournament with a win.  The game will be televised on FSN-Rocky Mountain at 8:00


Western Kentucky faces a must win situation tonight if they want to avoid a first round game in the SBC Tournament.  The Hilltoppers (10-12, 5-5) host archrival Middle Tennessee tonight in a game that will be played despite winter storm warnings in the Bowling Green/Nashville area.  The WKU campus is closing down at 2pm, but MTSU (12-12, 7-4) will be able to make it to Bowling Green (about 90 minutes away.)  Middle has won their last three and five of their last six.  A Blue Raiders win would give them a 2 1/2 game lead over the Toppers for second place in the East.  The game will be televised on CBS College Sports, which Cox Digital Cable subscribers can get locally.


Neither team is challenging for a first round bye, but they are challenging for seeding for the league tournament.  USA (10-12, 4-7) won at Troy earlier this season.  The Jags got an impressive road win at Western Kentucky last Thursday, but got hammered at Middle Tennessee 85-61 on Saturday.  Troy (5-17, 3-7) broke an 11-game road losing streak last week, winning in Monroe.


It will be interesting to see how the Panthers respond after their rip-your-guts-out loss at FAU on Saturday.  Coach Isiah Thomas’ squad (9-14, 4-7) played one of its best games of the year and led for all but four seconds in the game.  But Brett Royster’s layup with :04 remaining broke the Panthers’ hearts.  FIU led the entire game and had a seven point lead with 1:15 to go before the final heroics by the Owls.  They’ll face the Sun Belt’s hottest team tonight in Louisiana, which has won five in a row.  The Cajuns (8-14, 5-5) suddenly find themselves in the hunt for a first round tournament bye.  The Cajuns broke a 15 game road losing streak back on Jan. 30 with a win at South Alabama.  They’ll need to play extremely well to beat an FIU team that is much more talented than in past years.  Game tips at 6:05 tonight and can be heard on espn1420 and the Ragin Cajuns Radio Network.


Arkansas State made sure they left early yesterday morning so they could make the trip to Monroe without having to worry too much about the winter storm that hit Arkansas yesterday.  The Red Wolves have moved within one half game of Denver in the Western Division, and with a win tonight, combined with a Denver loss, could find themselves in first place by late tonight.  But Coach John Brady’s squad (13-13, 7-4) is just 2-13 away from the Convocation Center and 1-4 in league play.  ULM played tough at Middle Tennessee last week before being hammered at WKU on Saturday.  The Warhawks are just 1-10 in league play and could be what the doctor ordered for A State’s road woes.


The game tonight between North Texas and Arkansas-Little Rock has been postponed because of the winter storm that hit Western and Central Arkansas yesterday.  The game has been rescheduled for Monday, February 28th.  The two teams are currently tied with Louisiana for third place in the Western Division.

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