Now that the Sun Belt men’s basketball season is one game away from reaching its halfway point, let’s take a look at the surprising, both good and bad, potential award-winners and see how the preseason predictions compare to what is actually happening.
Here are the standings, starting with the preseason poll on the left and the standings through Saturday’s games on the right:
Preseason poll Actual standings
Louisiana-Lafayette Arkansas-Little Rock (9-1)
Georgia State Louisiana-Lafayette (7-3)
Louisiana-Monroe Arkansas State (6-4)
Arkansas State Louisiana-Monroe (6-4)
Arkansas-Little Rock Texas-Arlington (5-5)
Appalachian State Georgia State (5-5)
South Alabama South Alabama (4-6)
Texas-Arlington * Georgia Southern (4-6)
Texas State* Appalachian State (4-6)
Georgia Southern Texas State (3-6)
Troy Troy (1-9)
- have only played nine Sun Belt games
That’s easy: Arkansas-Little Rock. Picked to finish fifth in the preseason, the Trojans are atop the Sun Belt at 19-2, 9-1. They lead the conference in:
- Scoring defense (58.3)
- Scoring margin (11.8 ppg)
- free throw percentage (73.6)
- Field goal percentage defense (37.4) and
- 3-point field goal percentage (36.9), to name a few.
Put those together and that’s a difficult combination for any opponent to top.
Biggest surprise, II
Also easy: Georgia State. Picked to finish second in the preseason, the Panthers (12-7, 5-5) are in sixth and trending downward with four losses in five games. If not a rally in the second half against Georgia Southern, the Panthers would have five consecutive losses.
The ingredients that Arkansas-Little Rock are using are the same that Georgia State has used to win the Sun Belt the previous two consecutive years.
The difference this year compared to those is the Panthers no longer have scorers R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow.
Using the same categories that Little Rock is using to lead the Sun Belt, the Panthers in all games are:
- Scoring defense (second at 63.5)
- Scoring margin (sixth at plus 2.2)
- Free throw percentage (seventh at 69.47)
- Field goal percentage defense (third at 39.9) and
- 3-point field goal percentage (seventh at 33).
As you can see, defense (mostly) isn’t the issue. Without Hunter and Harrow, it’s the offense that has yet to find a groove.
Though the Panthers are hitting 44.1 percent of their shots, they aren’t taking as many shots as their opponents. In fact, in all games they are dead last among Sun Belt teams in shots taken (991), five fewer than Texas State. They are third from last in free throws (408). In conference games, they are second-to-last in field goals attempted (541) and fifth from last in free throws (205). Two of the teams that Georgia State is ahead of have only played nine conference games.
Some of that can be attributed to coach Ron Hunter’s desire to play games at a controlled tempo. Milking the shot clock will limit shots. Put it together with the Panthers’ poor offensive rebounding (more on that below) and the team isn’t getting many opportunities to score.
How the Panthers rank in other key offensive categories in all games:
- Scoring offense (11th at 65.7 points per game)
- Rebounding offense (last at 31.3)
- Rebounding margin (last at minus-3.9)
How the Panthers rank in the same categories in Sun Belt games:
- Scoring defense (2nd at 67.2 points per game)
- Scoring margin (6th at minus-2.5)
- Free-throw percentage (7th at 68.8)
- Field goal percentage defense (3rd at 40.8)
- 3-point field goal percentage (7th at 34.8)
- Scoring offense (10th at 64.7 points per game)
- Rebounding offense (1oth at 32.6)
- Rebounding margin (10th at minus-4.5)
Here’s the final stat that is hurting the Panthers right now.
In all games, the Panthers are statistically the best in the conference at defending 3-pointers (30.8). In conference games, opponents are hitting 31.9 percent. But opponents are making up for misses with volume and rebounding those misses.
Conference opponents have taken 229 3-pointers against Georgia State. Only three conference opponents have faced more.
Put the volume of 3-pointers together with a minus-4.5 rebounding margin in conference games and the Panthers are sitting at .500.
The good news for Georgia State is it will host Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas State, Appalachian State and Texas-Arlington, four of the teams that beat them in the first 10 games. If Kevin Ware, Jeremy Hollowell, Isaiah Williams or Jeff Thomas can get hot from outside, the team’s fortunes can turn around fairly quickly.
I’ll likely have more on Georgia State’s first five games in the conference compared to its recent five.
Turning to the preseason all-conference first teams
Preseason First Team All-Conference
Arkansas State’s Anthony Livingston: 15.2 points per game (8th in conference); 9.2 rebounds per game (3rd)
Louisiana-Lafayette’s Shawn Long: 18.9 points per game (3rd); 12.8 rebounds per game (1st); 1.9 blocks per game (1st);
South Alabama’s Ken Williams: 14.3 points per game (11th);
Texas State’s Emani Gant: 12.9 points per game (17th);
Troy’s Wesley Person: 16.7 points per game (7th)
Preseason Student-Athlete of the Year
Louisiana-Lafayette’s Shawn Long: no arguments with the pick.
Reshuffling the teams based upon performances in the first 10 games:
Majok Deng, Louisiana-Monroe: 19.6 points per game (2nd), 7.3 rebounds per game (3rd).
Frank Eaves, Appalachian State: 20.3 points per game (1st). 43.5 3-point FG percentage (3rd).
Kevin Hervey, Texas-Arlington: 18.1 points per game (3rd), 9.8 rebounds per game (3rd).
What do you think about the Sun Belt at the midseason? Feel free to share the link to this story on your favorite social media platforms.