Sun Belt Basketball Tournament Preview

By Ethan Smith, Sports Editor

Mar. 6


Well, we made it this far. In terms of your Georgia Southern Eagles, they managed the #3 seed in the Sun Belt Basketball Tournament and received a first-round bye as a result. Louisiana road their amazing 2 loss SBC record to a #1 seed, while Georgia State placed themselves at the #2 seed. UT-Arlington received the last first-round bye after the events of the last weekend of the regular season. Well, let’s talk about this tournament, as well as my predictions for what may or may not happen.

The tournament starts with 4 first-round matchups, featuring seeds 5-12. The matchups, with their previews, are as follows:


#8 Coastal Carolina(8-10) v #9 Texas State(7-11):

This is a very interesting matchup on paper, with both teams posing similar conference records, much like most of the matchups in the first-round. One major stat between these teams that could play a huge difference is free-throw %, with Coastal Carolina posing a 71.9%, third best in the Sun Belt, while Texas State poses a 65.4%, second-to-last in the Sun Belt. Both teams are also at the bottom part of the conference in terms of 3-PT %, so with the deep ball lacking in both teams, I’ll take Coastal Carolina getting the win by making crucial free-throws late.

Head-2-Head: The teams split one win a piece.

#5 Appalachian State(9-9) v #12 Little Rock(4-14):

App. State obviously is the clear favorite here, and I believe this will be a blowout victory for App. State. Little Rock is dead last in points-per-game (PPG), while App. State ranks 4th in that category. Little Rock has played App. State tough in their two matchups, losing by 5 points or less in both. Little Rock will keep in close in the first-half, but App. State will pull away and move on easy with a double-digit victory.

Head-2-Head: App. State won both meetings.

#7 Troy(9-9) v #10 South Alabama(7-11):

Troy is once again another team that shot very well from the charity strike all season, ranking 2nd in the Sun Belt in that category, and as you can guess with me bringing this up, South Alabama shot 5% worse, but ranked in the middle of the pack. South Alabama does possess the Sun Belt’s 4th best defense, while Troy ranks 9th in that same category. South Alabama’s Rodrik Sikes and Troy’s Jordan Varnado will play huge stories here, but Troy has two scorers, including Varnado who average 17+PPG. The Trojans will use that to pull out a close victory of South Alabama.

Head-2-Head: Troy won both meetings.

#6 UL-Monroe(9-9) v #11 Ark. State(6-12):

These teams are polar opposites when it comes to the defensive side of the floor, with UL-Monroe posing the 3rd best defensive ranking while Ark. State ranks dead last in the conference. Ark. State G Deven Simms, who ranks 9th in the conference in scoring can try to lead Ark. State to victory, but I believe their lack of defensive play will haunt them throughout, leading to a UL-Monroe victory. Ark. State did just upset UL-Monroe 83-79 in the final game of the season, so anything is possible here.

Head-2-Head: The teams split one win a piece.


#8 Coastal Carolina(8-10) v #1 Louisiana(16-2):

With South Alabama in this prediction picking up the first-round victory, they will then take on the #1 seed Louisiana Rajun’ Cajuns. Louisiana ranks 1st in the offensive category in the Sun Belt, while Coastal Carolina ranks 6th in defense. Louisiana’s leading scorer Frank Bartley IV scored 22 points against Coastal Carolina in the only meeting between the teams, and I believe Bartley IV will eclipse 30 points in a solid performance from the Louisiana offense, leading to a semifinal berth.

Head-2-Head: Louisiana won the only meeting between the teams.

#5 Appalachian State(9-9) v #4 UT-Arlington(10-8):

If this matchup occurs, and it is highly likely it does, get ready for a fast-paced, high-scoring matchup. Both teams rank in the top 4 in offensive scoring, both averaging over 75 PPG. Both teams also rank in the bottom-three in the defensive category, so don’t expect either offense to be slowed down. The difference here will be who scores more points, UTA’s Kevin Hervey, who ranks 2nd in the Sun Belt in scoring, or App. State’s Ronshad Shabazz, who ranks 3rd in the Sun Belt in scoring. Whoever scores more points between the two will lead their respective team to victory, and I believe Ronshad Shabazz will once again outscore Hervey as he did in the first two meetings, and App. State will move on the the semifinals.

Head-2-Head: The teams split one win a piece.

#7 Troy(9-9) v #2 Georgia State(12-6):

This in my opinion can be a very under the radar upset for Troy. Troy managed to beat Georgia State in both games they played, holding the Sun Belt’s leading scorer from Georgia State D’Marcus Simonds at bay shooting percentage wise. Varnado and Person for Troy will need to have stellar games in this one, as postseason basketball is a whole different story than the regular season. What may fault the Trojans here is facing Georgia State’s 2nd ranked defense, but I believe the Trojans pick up the biggest upset to this point in the tournament and sweep the Panthers in the series with a close victory.

Head-2-Head: Troy won both meetings.

#6 UL-Monroe(9-9) v #3 Georgia Southern(11-7):

Georgia Southern received their bye after winning their final three games, while UL-Monroe stumbled into the tournament after an upset. At this point, UL-Monroe avenged that upset, but they would face a new challenge in the form of Georgia Southern. The Eagles and Warhawks both fare well from deep, so expect the three-ball to be a major part of this game. For the Eagles, Jake Allsmiller will play as the main threat from deep, leading the team with 82 three-pointers made. Sam McDaniel will play that same role for the Warhawks, leading the team with 71 three-pointers. I believe they will each play a major role, but Tookie Brown, the 4th leading scorer in Sun Belt will take over and lead the Eagles to a late surge to defeat the Warhawks. To note, Brown only had 7 points in the only meeting against the Warhawks, so he will be looking for revenge. Should be a close one, as was their only matchup, which ended in overtime.

Head-2-Head: UL-Monroe won the only meeting between the teams.


#5 Appalachian State(9-9) v #1 Louisiana(16-2):

From the previews and predictions, you may have guessed what the difference between these teams is. Louisiana ranks 1st in offense, while App. State ranks 11th. That will obviously play a major role in the outcome, but I once again believe Ronshad Shabazz can keep App. State in the game, and maybe, just maybe pick up the upset. The only reason I believe App. State can’t pick up the upset here is because of their lack of defense. This was proven in the only matchup between the teams when App. State got thrashed 78-45. If Shabazz can find a rhythm early and keep his teammates going, I could see the upset occurring, I just don’t see him getting the help he needs. Louisiana will struggle throughout the first half, but their offense will erupt in the second half and Louisiana will cruise into the title game.

Head-2-Head: Louisiana won the only meeting between the teams.

#7 Troy(9-9) v # 3 Georgia Southern(11-7):

These two teams capped off their season facing each other, with Georgia Southern coming out on top. Both teams rank near each other in both defensive and offensive ratings, and it was evident in how close both meetings were. Georgia Southern came out on top in both meetings, and I believe the Eagles will sweep Troy and move on to the finals, for this reason. Tookie Brown averaged 29.5 PPG in both wins over the Trojans, and even with a focus on shutting him down, I believe he will once again drop 20+ points and get help from Allsmiller, Ike Smith, and Mike Hughes. Varnado and Person will combine for 40+ points, but Georgia Southern will ultimately obtain victory and the right to play Louisiana in the final.


#3 Georgia Southern(11-7) v #1 Louisiana(16-2):

If this matchup occurs in the final, this will be a highly offensive game from both sides, but the defenses will decide the outcome. Both teams give up about 70 PPG, both are in the top 4 in steals and both are in the top 6 in blocks. The difference in the teams is the turnovers. Georgia Southern committed the 2nd least number of turnovers in the Sun Belt, while Louisiana was 7th. The teams are pretty even overall in mostly every other stat, so individuals will also make the difference. Tookie Brown, Ike Smith, Jake Allsmiller and Mike Hughes will have to carry Georgia Southern, as they have for most of the season. Frank Bartley IV, JaKeenan Gant, Bryce Washington and Johnathan Stove will have to do the same for Louisiana. In the first matchup, Louisiana pulled away for the victory, but I feel Georgia Southern, with the mix of senior and young talent they have can succeed in taking down the #1 team in the conference. Tookie Brown will win tournament MVP with yet another stellar performance, while Ike Smith will also be great. Bartley IV and Gant will carry the offensive load for Louisiana, but Georgia Southern will win a close game and move on to the NCAA tournament as a 12 seed.