Sun Belt Tournament Preview: Bracket 2 – From the Bird’s Nest
The Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball Championships begin this Wednesday. Here is my preview of Bracket Two featuring #2 Georgia State, #3 Georgia Southern, #6 Troy, #7 Louisiana, #10 Little Rock and #11 Appalachian State.
#2 seed GEORGIA STATE PANTHERS (19-11, 12-6 Sun Belt) Coach: Ron Hunter (122-72) Sixth season. Record vs. teams in bracket: 6-3
STRENGTHS: Efficient offensive team that led the league in field goal percentage. Jeremy Hollowell doesn't ever seem to take a bad shot. D'Marcus Simonds can get to the rim as quickly as anyone in the league. Deep club with interchangeable parts. Multiple threats from the outside make them a "pick your poison" type of team. Willie Clayton has given them an inside rebounding presence they've been missing. They also lead the league in blocked shots, so if you penetrate their zone, you still have to deal with that. And, they led the league in field goal defense. When that zone is working, they don't make it easy for you.
WEAKNESSES: They play a lot of one on one basketball. Last in the league in assist/turnover ratio. Their zone can be pretty passive at times. They lose a lot inside if Clayton gets into foul trouble and become a pretty pedestrian rebounding team. They don't get the free throw line a whole lot, unlike past teams. Clayton is an absolutely brutal free throw shooter. If they have a tough shooting night, their guys inside aren't going to make up for it.
OUTLOOK: This is a really talented team. They can make you scratch their head sometimes with the way they play especially when individuals try to do too much. When this team has it clicking, they're as good as anyone. But they'll have no gimmes in this bracket. They'll have to stay at the top of their game throughout. If Louisiana takes care of its business, Georgia State will have its hands full.
#3 seed: GEORGIA SOUTHERN EAGLES (18-13, 11-7) Coach: Mark Byington (69-58, 4th season. Record vs. teams in the bracket: 5-4
STRENGTHS--The best guard trio in the league. Ike Smith, Tookie Brown and Mike Hughes are all capable of going off on any given night. Smith can create his own shot and if you play off him, he'll pull up and hit a triple. Brown is a hard nosed competitor who can put up points in a hurry. Hughes makes his plays when his team needs them most. B. J. Gladden is a solid sixth man off the bench. They all can shoot. They have some athleticism inside, but they like the four guard alignment. Be sure to guard Allsmiller. He'll burn you if you play off him.
WEAKNESSES--They had better make shots because this team does a very poor job of rebounding the basketball. They aren't going to score a ton around the basket. If you cut off their penetration and force them to shoot nothing but threes, they can get in trouble if they start clanging. Like most teams, they have some guys who are a liability from the line. If any of the big three get in foul trouble, there's a big offensive dropoff. With exception of Brown, they don't share the ball much and after Tookie, I wouldn't call them a good passing team.
OUTLOOK: They're good. And they're still young. It's scary to play these guys because of their offensive firepower. They've struggled a bit down the stretch. They haven't shot it as well at times and their inability to rebound has bitten them. Like their counterparts in Atlanta, they're not going to have an easy matchup in the quarterfinals. Troy is very, very scary.
#6 seed: TROY TROJANS (18-14, 10-8) Coach: Phil Cunningham (48-75) 4th season; Record vs. teams in Bracket Two: 7-2
STRENGHS: There is no one, and I mean no one in the Sun Belt Conference that's a tougher matchup than Jordan Varnado. He can post you up or take you outside. He can take it to the basket. He's scary versatile. Wesley Person is an outstanding outside shooter and you had better guard him closely. Jeremy Hollimon is an excellent sixth man. And, Juan Davis has been a nice addition to this team. This team can share the basketball and they have multiple good passers. Troy is an excellent free throw shooting team and that helps keep teams at bay in close games.
WEAKNESSES: They'll miss from the outside if you really guard them and they don't always take good shots. They can go stretches when they struggle to score and they become pretty ordinary when that happens. I wouldn't call them a good defensive team, and that can be their downfall if they're not being efficient in scoring.
OUTLOOK: If you're looking for a team outside the top four that can make a run in the tournament, look here. When they are playing well, they are as good as anyone in the league. The question is, can they do it in three straight games to get to the finals.?
#7 seed: LOUISIANA RAGIN' CAJUNS (20-11, 20-8) Coach: Bob Marlin (127-103) 7th. Record vs. teams in Bracket Two: 3-5
STRENGTHS: An equal opportunity offense with five different guys capable of leading them in scoring on any given night. Defensive Player of the Year Jay Wright can make nights miserable for whoever he's guarding. Bryce Washington is a smart basketball player with 22 double doubles this season. This team passes the ball as well as any team in the league and are especially good interior passers. They get a lot of layups and get to the free throw line a lot. They're third in the league in FT shooting. An excellent rebounding team, especially on the offensive end.
WEAKNESSES: They're last in the league in field goal percentage defense. Teams can hurt them inside because Miller and Washington aren't terribly athletic. They get lost on the perimeter defensively at times and teams that can shoot from the perimeter have hurt them. All of their depth is in the freshman class and that forces the starters to all play 30 or more minutes. Anytime the starters get in foul trouble, there's a dropoff.
OUTLOOK: Wright is the heart and soul of their team, but Johnathan Stove is the X-Factor. He's played very well down the stretch and its no coincidence the Cajuns' six game winning streak began when he got untracked. Like Troy, Louisiana is capable of beating anyone on this side of the bracket. Doing it three straight nights will be the challenge.
#10 seed LITTLE ROCK TROJANS (15-16, 6-12) Coach: Wes Flanigan (15-16) 1st season. Record against teams in Bracket Two: 3-5
STRENGTHS: They've got some guys who can shoot it. Marcus Johnson, Jr. hasn't had a great year, but we've seen him be successful in the past. Kemy Osse has become a well respected shooter from the outside. This team has some athleticism. Lis Shoshi is a good rebounder and has some finesse on the offensive end. Little Rock is the best free throw shooting team in the league. If you're down in the game late, you're in trouble because they'll make their freebies. This is an experienced team and most of these guys were around to cut down the nets a year ago. They know what it's like to win in a tournament setting.
WEAKNESSES: Johnson was playing the point at the beginning of the year and that just didn't work out. Now Deondre Burns runs the show and he's been just okay. They don't seem to have a "guy." What I mean is having someone, who, in a tight game says "put it on me and I won't let us lose." Most of the good teams have that. They don't. While they are a terrific free throw shooting team, they don't get to the line nearly enough. Their assist/turnover ratio is poor and you can disrupt this team if you guard them closely.
OUTLOOK: The fact they've "been there, done that" could make them a dangerous first round opponent. But the reality is, Josh Hagins is gone. And, there's no one even close to being the leader he was. They defend well enough to make you respect them. But they're going to have to have a guy step up if they're going to be here very long.
#11 seed APPALACHIAN STATE MOUNTAINEERS (8-20, 4-14) Coach: Jim Fox (29-59) 3rd season. Record vs. teams in Bracket Two: 2-6
STRENGTHS: Ronshad Shabazz would start on any team in this league. He's athletic, can shoot, is a good passer and can slash to the basket. Freshman Patrick Good can really shoot the rock. He's going to be a good one. Griffin Kinney and Isaac Johnson can rebound the basketball and Kinney can finish around the basket.
WEAKNESSES: Overall, they don't shoot it very well. Outside of Shabazz they really don't have a consistent scorer. Teams that play pressure defense can get to them. They aren't really strong at the guard spots when it comes to protecting the basketball. Amazingly, there isn't a player on this squad that has ever played in the Sun Belt Tournament. They've won exactly one game away from home this year and it wasn't a conference game.
OUTLOOK: It's not like App State gets blown out every night. They've played a lot of teams tough this year. But they always seem to fall a little short. This is still a young team and they could have a good future. But right now, these guys haven't learned to win. And a tournament setting isn't an ideal place to start.