Because the Red Wolves are, for the second consecutive season, without a football bowl berth, my appetite for hoops has increased significantly. It helps that Arkansas State has put up a satisfactory off season, with the men posting a 9-3 record behind Norchad Omier’s maturing superpowers.
However, the most intriguing story for Red Wolves hoops may belong to the women’s team, which transferred leadership in mid-OOC from Matt Daniels (resigned) to Destinee Rogers – formerly of UCA as both a player and assistant, and of late an assistant on Daniel’s staff. Since the departure of Daniel’s, Interim Coach Rogers has led the Red Wolves to three straight victories – the first wins ever collected by a Black head basketball coach for Arkansas State. Three wins is a good start, but one wonders how many victories are required before the Interim tag is removed from Rogers’ title.
The Red Wolves Women’s Team (7-6) opens Sun Belt play on December 30th in Statesboro when they take on the 9-3 Eagles.
Who’s Cutting Down the NET?
Sun Belt hoops is a work in progress – one might even call it an endless construction project. Since shifting emphasis to football in the early 2000s, the Sun Belt hasn’t acquitted itself very well on the hardcourt. Too often, the Sun Belt is awarded the lowest of NCAA Tournament seeds, and the conference hasn’t seen two NCAA bids since 2013 with Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee (both of whom have unceremoniously departed the conference).
The likelihood of the Sun Belt sending two programs to March Madness (copyright infringement alert) is microscopic this season. However, this season does hold a better-than-decent air of intrigue with the majority of programs within the conference capable of competing for the title.
Texas State enters conference play as the NET champion, boasting the Sun Belt’s only sub-100 program. Winners of eight straight before falling to #13 Houston, the Bobcats lead the conference in free throws and are second only to Georgia State in three-pointers. At 9-3, the Bobcats have losses only to LSU, Vanderbilt and the before-mentioned Houston.
|Team||NET (Dec 26)||NET (Last Week)|
|UA Little Rock||332||323|
NET rankings are amusing on the surface, but can also be revealing in other ways. For example, the Sun Belt finished 0-21 versus Quad 1 opponents. Georgia Southern and Coastal didn’t play any Q1s. UTA played five. Furthermore, the Sun Belt went 0-13 against Quadrant 2 opponents, and the Sun Belt didn’t do particularly well against Q3 either, except to say that Coastal finished 3-0 and Troy (!) finished 3-1. Arkansas State was a perfect 6-0 versus Q4 opponents; 0-3 versus everyone else.
What can we learn from this? It’s difficult to say (emotionally I mean). The hard fact is that the Sun Belt isn’t a prime-time basketball league, nor is it even a decent opening act. There are some anecdotal victories to parse: Coastal Carolina delivered a win against South Carolina, and South Alabama played in-state rival Alabama extremely tough. Texas State didn’t exactly shine in their three losses, but the road win over Rice wasn’t bad.
Here’s some fun-ish good news
The Sun Belt went 36-6 against Q4 opponents, which means the conference won the games it should have won. By comparison, CUSA went 59-7, and the American lost five Q1 games.
Here’s something else that’s fun
Mercer (7-6) beat three of its four Sun Belt opponents, with only Troy (!) managing a victory.
South Alabama may be the only team in the universe who will ever play the TarletonTexans twice in a row. The Jags split this weird series.
Sun Belt is not adopting divisional play this season. Everybody is lumped into one bodybag. Also, the regular season winner is guaranteed a spot in the NIT now.
Howlraiser’s Sun Belt Power Rankings
- South Alabama
- Texas State
- Coastal Carolina
- Arkansas State
- Georgia Southern
- Georgia State
- Appalachian State
- UA Little Rock
The Jaguars would enter the conference season winners of ten straight had they not (somehow) lost a 65-52 rubber-match to the Tarleton Texans. South Alabama’s other two losses are a 64-58 fight against Wichita State and a 73-68 slobberknocker with ranked Alabama. These Jags are good. Against the Crimson Tide, the Jags looked every bit as evenly matched against the #14 team in the land.
Conversely, the Cajuns are surprisingly mediocre, with missed opportunities against Louisiana Tech and Marshall. Equally as disappointing, the Panthers, who took it on the chin against Sun Belt Killer Mercer and hated crosstown rival Georgia Tech. What’s going on with these programs? Both teams are likely better than their performance thus far. It will be interesting to see how the Panthers rate against the Red Wolves on Thursday night.
Five Best Players in the Sun Belt (Right Now)
- Norchad Omier, Arkansas State
- Essam Mostafa, Coastal Carolina
- Javon Franklin, South Alabama
- Charles Manning Jr, South Alabama
- Jordan Brown, Louisiana
Am I a homer for picking Omier? Yes. Am I right to pick Omier? Also, yes. The Human Double Double appears in the top five of the plum statistical categories, including PPG (5th), Rebounds (1st), Blocks (2nd), and FG% (2nd). Just behind him, Mostafa of the Chanticleers, who is putting up point-guard numbers at center.
You might be wondering why Texas State doesn’t appear on this list. Good question! Nighael Caesar and Isiah Small are both having solid seasons, but the power of the Bobcats appears to be some kind of team feng shui that puzzles me today just as it puzzled me last season, when it didn’t seem like Texas State was especially good at anything except winning ball games.
Final Fun Analysis
This is one of those seasons where every program except maybe Little Rock has an opportunity to create Sun Belt Entropy. That can be fun. And even though the Red Wolves have played one of the weakest OOCs in college basketball, I see a solid conference performance from this Arkansas State team. A lineup with Omier, Desi Sills, Caleb Fields and Marquis Eaton is just too good to flounder. Of course we’ve seen enough flounder to know that flounder can happen to anyone.
PHOTO CREDITS: Mine