Sun Belt Non-Conference Review: Part Two – From the Bird’s Nest
Conference play starts this week in the Sun Belt. As league play begins, the Sun Belt has a Conference RPI of 17 and a Conference NET of 16 (The NET, a combination of computer rankings, replaces the RPI as the main ratings index for NCAA purposes.)
There are no divisions in men's basketball in the Sun Belt (that will change next year), but for the purpose of these two stories (part one was published Monday), I've divided the league into two parts. Today's preview features Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.
ARKANSAS STATE (6-7) RPI: 189, NET: 207 Home: 5-0, Road: 0-5, Neutral 1-2
BEST WIN (RPI): Gardner-Webb (145) WORST LOSS: UNC-Wilmington (223)
LEADING SCORER: Ty Cockfield II (20-7)
LEADING REBOUNDER: Salif Boudie 6.0
LEADING ASSISTS: Cockfield 3.5
ABOUT THE RED WOLVES: Mike Balado went out and recruited some size in the offseason. The Red Wolves are bigger, but the strength of the team remains in the backcourt. Cockfield is as good a shooter as their is in the league, and Marquis Eaton is in double figures as well. They're a little better inside, depth wise, than they've been. Salif Boudie has worked his way into the starting lineup and the Mali native might be the most improved player on the club. Overall, they haven't shot it well, in fact, over their last five games they are shooting it better from beyond the arc than inside it. Both figures are under 40%. They're better, but they still have a ways to go.
LITTLE ROCK (5-8). RPI: 328, NET: 263 Home: 4-3, Road: 1-5,
BEST WIN (RPI): Howard (250) WORST LOSS: Bradley (215)
LEADING SCORER: Rayjon Tucker (20.8)
LEADING REBOUNDER: Tucker 6.9
LEADING ASSISTS: Jaizec Lottie (4.7)
ABOUT THE TROJANS: Former Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors head coach Darrell Walker is the new head man at Little Rock and the Trojans are much improved. The addition of Florida Gulf Coast transfer Tucker has given them a reliable scorer, but he isn't the only one. The Trojans have four players averaging in double figures. Walker is playing a lot of players and some talented freshmen are making significant contributions. They're shooting almost 50% from the field, but there are deficiencies. They turn it over too much and they're just ok on the boards. But, with their freshmen getting better each game, the future is bright once again in Little Rock.
LOUISIANA (8-5): Home: 4-1, Road 3-2, Neutral 2-1 RPI: 141, NET: 167
BEST WIN (RPI): New Orleans (242) WORST LOSS: Louisiana Tech (101)
LEADING SCORER: JaKeenan Gant 16,3
LEADING REBOUNDER: Gant 7.6
LEADING ASSISTS: Marcus Stroman 6.8
ABOUT THE RAGIN' CAJUNS: The Cajuns re-tooled somewhat after losing three 1,000 point scorers. They're asking Stroman to score more and haven't rebounded the basketball as well as they have in the past. But the story right now for Louisiana is their health. After losing HS prospect Kobe Julien to an ACL injury last February, they've now lost second leading scorer Malik Marquetti to a similar injury. That takes a team without a ton of depth and makes them paper thin. JaKeenan Gant is the league's best inside player and Stroman is very good at the point, but there's been a lack of consistency after that. With Marquetti, the Cajuns would have been in the mix. Without him...we'll see. But it's a huge loss.
ULM (7-5) Home: 5-0, Road: 2-5 RPI 170, NET: 162
BEST WIN (RPI): Stephen F. Austin (139), WORST LOSS: Tennessee Tech (333)
LEADING SCORER: Daishon Smith 18.4
LEADING REBOUNDER: Travis Munnings 6.8
LEADING ASSISTS: Munnings 2.5
ABOUT THE WARHAWKS: They've been flying under the radar, but Keith Richard's club has been pretty impressive of late. The Tennessee Tech loss was at the beginning of the season but this team has improved consistently since then. They were competitive in losses to Texas and LSU and they've had some newcomers step up. Munnings is one of the more versatile players in the league and Freshman of the Year Michael Ertel has been solid in the backcourt. But two newcomers now have ULM with multiple scorers and quality depth, something they've been lacking. Daishon Smith (Wichita State) and J. D. Williams (JUCO) give Richard great guard weapons. They're still undersized and they don't rebound it well, but this team is going to beat a lot of opponents in the Sun Belt this year.
UTA (4-9) Home: 3-2, Road: 1-7 RPI: 218, NET: 257
BEST WIN (RPI): Northern Iowa (197), WORST LOSS: TAMU-Corpus Christi (308)
LEADING SCORER: Brian Warren 14.2
LEADING REBOUNDER: Andres Ibarquen 7.4
LEADING ASSISTS: Warren 3.0
ABOUT THE MAVERICKS: New head coach Chris Ogden has only one scholarship player who suited up for the Mavs last year. He's brought in several junior college players, but three who redshirted last year are playing significant minutes. Ogden is using his roster depth, with ten players playing double digit minutes and no one averaging 30 minutes per game. The Mavericks haven't shot it well at all this season and their assist/turnover ratio is poor, albeit against a very aggressive schedule. There's a lot of youth on this team and there should be a bright future. But Ogden will need some time after retooling the entire roster.
TEXAS STATE (11-2) Home: 5-0, Road: 4-2, Neutral: 2-0 RPI: 106, NET: 91
BEST WIN (RPI): Houston Baptist (143) WORST LOSS: Arkansas (99)
LEADING SCORER; Nijal Pearson 19.8
LEADING REBOUNDER: Alex Peacock 7.1
LEADING ASSISTS: Jaylen Shead 5.2
ABOUT THE BOBCATS: Yes, they've played a favorable schedule. But their losses to a very good Drake team and Arkansas were by a combined nine points. Pearson is one of the league's best players and Danny Kaspar has used his returning players and infused some newcomers and developed a team that goes eleven deep. Peacock is an excellent rebounder and capable scorer and Cal-Poly transfer Shead teams with Tre Nottingham to give Texas State a solid backcourt. They do need to find a consistent third scorer. We're going to find out how much of the team's record has to do with their talent versus their schedule. But I'm of the opinion this team isn't going away. Kaspar is going to get the most out of his personnel and this is not going to be a fun team to play, especially at Strahan Arena. Want a dark horse in this league? Look to San Marcos.