Sun Belt finds the Red Wolves ready

Before opening conference play against Georgia State on December 30, Arkansas State finishes its OOC charcuterie board with a matchup with Lyon – a program hastily scheduled after ubiquitous Sun Belt antagonizer Champion Christian had to bale due to COVID-19. The Fighting Scots are a 4-8 Division II program and will not count for or against A-State’s NET, but they’re also an in-state program which must be defeated lest Coach Mike Balado wishes to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism.

The Fighting Scots may or may not tell us much about these Red Wolves, but Sunday’s win over Air Force was a trove of revelations. A game after playing tough against #25 Texas Tech, the Red Wolves made the Air Force Falcons look like chickadees, and that’s encouraging to see. Mr. Double Double recorded his 21st career double-double – part of a monster line that featured 22 points, 16 boards and five blocks. Desi Sills, a portrait of struggle against the Red Raiders, rebounded against the Falcons with 12 points in just 13 minutes of play. Caleb Fields pitched in four assists and Marquis Eaton delivered 16 points of his own. Everyone knows their roles.

We benefit from good fortune. The OOC hasn’t exactly been the crucible necessary to harden this team for conference play. Of the six victories NCAA NET recognizes, all six are “Quad 4” opponents. (Red Wolves are 0-2 in Quad 1, 0-1 in Quad 3.) However, Arkansas State is beating the teams that require beatings. As a result, Mike Balado sees his team smack in the upper half of the conference NET.

TeamNET (Dec 20)NET (Last Week)
Texas State7278
South Bama11266
Georgia Southern131160
Coastal Carolina160171
Arkansas State189234
Appalachian State217183
Georgia State233188
UA Little Rock323328
Some programs made significant moves last week

Sun Belt name I am not looking forward to pronounce:

Kaodirichi Akobundu-Ehiogu of UT-Arlington. That’s a three Scrabble-tray name who also happens to lead the Sun Belt with three blocks per game.

Most Dangerous Man in the Sun Belt?

Sophomore Essam Mostafa, the 6’9″ 250-lb center from Cairo, Egypt, is currently dominating the paint for Coastal Carolina – and leading the Sun Belt in scoring (17.1 ppg) and is second in rebounds (9.8).

Who’s Sneaky in the Sun Belt?

Quietly (perhaps, too quietly), Georgia Southern is having a fine season (7-4) without having a single player really lighting up the stat sheet. Also unnerving: ULM (7-4), who started with bodybag clobberings at LSU and Auburn. After a 2-4 start, the Warhawks have reeled off five straight wins.

What’s Wrong with Georgia State and Louisiana?

The two teams most expected to represent the Sun Belt gold standard have plodded to NET rankings north of 200 while enduring losses to programs like Mercer and Jackson State (both not horrible losses, but should have been wins regardless). So what gives?

Georgia State has endured a few key injuries. All Sun Belt center Eliel Nsoseme is missing time and will likely miss the conference opener with Arkansas State. Furthermore, guard Jordan Rawls, who had transferred from Western Kentucky over the summer, re-entered the portal in December. We probably haven’t seen the best of Georgia State.

Meanwhile, Louisiana’s pair of 6’11” thunder twins Theo Akwuba and Jordan Brown are still providing stiff resistance at the rim, but the Cajuns just don’t seem to get much scoring outside of Brown’s 14 points per game. Like the Panthers, the best basketball for the Cajuns is likely ahead of them.

Who’s Good? Who’s Bad?

Texas State (9-2) is pretty good, with a conference best 72 NET. After losses to Vanderbilt and LSU, the Bobcats have won 8 straight behind senior guard Caleb Asberry and big 6’8″ senior rebounder Isiah Small. Right now, Texas State is the team to beat.

Who’s awful? UA Little Rock and UT Arlington are really stinking up the joint. What an inglorious Sun Belt end to these once proud Sun Belt programs!

Photo Credit: Mine