The Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball Tournament begins Wednesday at the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans.  Here is our breakdown on Bracket One.

#1--LOUISIANA  RAGIN’ CAJUNS  (26-5, 16-2) Coach: Bob Marlin (153-108, 8th)

STRENGTHS:  There’s a lot to like about this basketball team.  You don’t know where the points are coming from on any given night.  Frank Bartley IV scored over 1,000 points in two seasons.  Bryce Washington is a member of the 1,000/1,000 club and is third all time on the SBC rebounding list.  JaKeenan Gant can protect the rim with his shot blocking ability.  Johnathan Stove might be the league’s best sixth man and has also gone over 1,000.  Unselfish basketball team that assists on 61% of their made field goals.  Outstanding free throw shooting team.  Excellent chemistry.  Excellent leadership.  And, they go 8-10 deep.

WEAKNESSES:  Point guard Marcus Stroman gets in foul trouble with his physical play at times and the Cajuns don’t have a true backup.  Their high octane philosophy on offense can make them turnover prone from time to time. Sometimes these guys make too many passes.

OUTLOOK:  They do everything good teams do.  They have multiple shooters.  They can shoot free throws.  They rebound like crazy.  And they play as one.  They aren’t a lock to win the tournament.  But, if they’re ready,  some team is going to have to play awfully damn well to beat them.

#4 UTA  (19-12,10-8)  Coach:  Scott Cross (223-160, 12th)

STRENGTHS:  Kevin Hervey is a fantastic player who can shoot, get his own shot, rebound and put the ball on the floor.  Erick Neal led the league in assists but can also score the ball, which is a combination you don’t find much in this league.  Kaelon Wilson has become a good scorer, and Johnny Hamilton gives them a rim protector inside.  They are capable of scoring a lot of points with their high octane style of offense.

WEAKNESSES:  Unlike last year when they ran away with the league title, this isn’t a very deep team.  Oh, they’ll play quite a few guys, but there’s a pretty big dropoff after the first five.  This team lost three important players from last year.  They miss Drew Charles, Jalen Jones and Jorge Bilbao.  And, watching how inconsistent this team has been, they might miss the leadership of those departed more than their talent.  The body language of Hervey and Neal make me wonder if they like playing with each other.  When things aren’t going well it becomes evident they aren’t meshing.

OUTLOOK:  Despite the fact they are the #4 seed, this might be the most underachieving team in the league.  There isn’t as much talent as there was a year ago, but Neal and Hervey were first team all league guys last year.  On paper they are better than what they’ve shown.  But the fact they were barely .500 in the league tells me they are missing the intangibles, mainly team chemistry, that they had a year ago.  It will be interesting to see if they can play together in three straight games.

#5 APPALACHIAN STATE  (14-17, 9-9) Coach:  Jim Fox (44-77, 4th)

STRENGTHS:  Ronshad Shabazz was moved to the playmaker role this year and it suits him.  One of the league’s better talents,  Shabazz can take it to the rack or pull up and shoot a three.  And, his size makes him a tough guard because he’s really quick.  Griffin Kinney knows the game.  He’s a savvy player and provides good leadership.  Freshman Justin Forrest cooled off a bit after a hot start, but can be a dangerous shooter.  O’Shawon Williams has come on as the season has progressed and Isaac Johnson is one of the league’s better rebounders.

WEAKNESSES:  In some spots they aren’t the most athletic bunch.  Sometimes the score gets the best of them and they force things when they don’t need to.  They aren’t particularly deep and aren’t great rebounders outside of Johnson.  They turn it over too much and they don’t shoot free throws well.

OUTLOOK:  I don’t know if they are the fifth best team in the league, but they won a tiebreaker to get the #5 seed.  This team can look like a contender one night and a second division club the next.  They’ve done a generally good job of keeping games close and winning enough to play .500 in the league.  But if they’re going to have some success in the tournament, they have to do a better job of valuing possession of the basketball and rebounding.  And, if the game is tight, they need to be better free throw shooters than they were during the regular season.  Like other teams, putting it together in consecutive games could be a chore.

#8  COASTAL CAROLINA  (14-17, 8-10)  Coach:  Cliff Ellis (213-142, 11th)

STRENGTHS:  Demario Beck is a good looking specimen and is one of the league’s best rebounders.  He knows the science of rebounding and is big and physical.  Newcomer Zac Cuthbertson rebounds well, too and that’s a bit of a surprise for someone so thin.  Jaylen Shaw is a good distributor of the basketball and if you play off him, he’ll shoot it over you.  Artur Labinowicz is a good catch and shoot guy.  Good defensive team that allows just 40.5%  Outside of Beck and Amidou Bamba, they are a good free throw shooting team.

WEAKNESSES:  They play a lot of one on one ball and they are turnover prone.  On top of that, they don’t force enough turnovers.  They don’t have a lot of depth and on nights when they aren’t shooting it well, they frankly aren’t very good.  They have some good players.  They don’t have enough of them.

OUTLOOK:  Another very inconsistent team that has a couple of nice wins and some head scratching losses.  They’ve been streaky this season and ended the season pretty well, winning three straight before losing their last one to Appalachian State.  They’ve got an interesting first round matchup with Texas State, but Louisiana lies in wait.

#9  TEXAS STATE  (14-17, 7-11) Coach:  Danny Kaspar (73-87, 5th)

STRENGTHS:  This team plays very good defense, which has been a Kaspar mainstay.  They switch on screens and can make it tough for you to get a shot.  Nijal Pearson is an all conference player who can rebound, shoot from the outside and can get his shot.  Immanuel King isn’t going to score a lot except near the basket, but he will rebound a lot.  Texas State will run a patterned offense and they’re more than okay with making you play defense for :29 seconds on a possession.

WEAKNESSES:  They don’t play well coming from behind, because that offense isn’t pattered toward scoring a lot in a short period of time.  They’re not a great shooting team, especially from the outside.  They have a couple of guys who shoot free throws well…and guys who don’t.  And, obviously, having lost nine straight, they’re not exactly coming in with much momentum…or confidence.

OUTLOOK:  How thin is the thread between winning and losing?  Ask the Bobcats, whose seven wins have come by six points or less, and then wound up losing seven conference games by five or less.  It’s the toughest stretch of Kaspar’s illustrious career.  Can they get over the losing streak now that the second season is here?  Or will they find a way to lose another close game.  A quarterfinal matchup with Louisiana isn’t a good one, but a win over Coastal can at least give them something to build on.

#12 seed LITTLE ROCK (7-24, 4-14)  Coach:  Wes Flanigan (22-41, 2nd)

STRENGTHS:  There’s some young talent on this team.  Cam Corcoran, Jaizic Lottie, Damir Hadzic and Kris Bankston are all freshmen.  Ryan Pippins is just a sophomore.  Oliver Black is a physical presence who can do some damage if he stays out of foul trouble.  Pippins and Corcoran are solid outside shooters.  Bankston is physical down low and has a chance to be a good player in this league.  They play hard.

WEAKNESSES:  They’ve got no one on this team who played on the championship team a couple of years ago.  As a result, they haven’t had time to really develop chemistry.  They don’t really have a “go to” scorer, in fact, they sometimes have a lot of trouble scoring, period.  When Black is out of the game (and that happens too often) Little Rock has a tendency to play soft…and they have trouble rebounding the basketball.

OUTLOOK:  You gotta feel for Wes Flanigan.  He lost five seniors and then lost his best returning player before the season even started.  Then, he kicked his leading scorer off the team.  But the Trojans persevere.  They have a fighting chance in their first game (remember, a 12 seed beat a 5 last year).  The upset over Louisiana last Saturday gives them some confidence and the Trojans’ best days are ahead of them.  A win in the tournament would be something to build on.


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