The Howlraiser Sun Belt Basketball Tournament Breakdown

Sometimes, it’s fun to take a breath and look back upon the bold assertions made in the past. Is looking back on the Sun Belt preseason poll qualify as “fun?” I actually think it does, but only because I’m easily amused.

Pre-season PredictionFinal Standings
1. Georgia State1. Texas State
2. Louisiana2. Appalachian St
3. Texas State3. Georgia St
4. Appalachian St4. Troy
5. South Alabama5. South Alabama
6. Arkansas St6. Arkansas State
7. Coastal Carolina7. Coastal Carolina
8. UA Little Rock8. Louisiana
9. Troy9. UTA
10. UTA10. Georgia Southern
11. Gerogia Southern11. ULM
12. ULM12. UA Litte Rock

Firstly, congratulations to Sun Belt prognosticators for nailing the middle of the conference. South Bama, Arkansas State and Coastal all finished in the middle of the pack as expected. Kudos to Troy for rising well above their station, predicted to finish ninth and actually finishing 4th and earning a conference tournament bye. On the yang side of Troy is Louisiana, thought to finish just behind the Panthers in second place only to limp into the post season a dispiriting 8th place.

What the final standings prove, however, is absolutely nothing. The Sun Belt Conference Tournament is as wide open as the Atlantic Ocean and just as murky. Nothing is as it seems. Consider the Georgia State Panthers, who began the season with four conference losses on top of four Covid Cancelations, won seven straight games to climb into third and secure a tournament first round BYE. How are we to examine the duplicitous Panthers and pretend we are masters of anything?

Still, because I love you with the intensity of 1,000 suns, I’m attempting to inject order into the entropy. Borrowing the NCAA concept of Quads, I categorized every Sun Belt team heading into The Sun Bet Tournament. Bear in mind that I’m not a scientist, a wizard, or even a C student of basketball.


The Trojans mustered three conference victories (UTA, Georgia Southern and Troy) but have lost nine of their last ten. They finish the season with a 326 NET Ranking – which suggests that the Trojans would be better off in the SWAC than in the Ohio Valley.

Name a player on the UALR Trojans. Go ahead. It’s damn near impossible. The 8-18 Trojans are a sad bust in their penultimate season in the Sun Belt – and inglorious end after an inglorious dismissal from the conference they’ve called “home” for three decades.


I was tempted to place the Eagles in Quad 4, but Georgia Southern has demonstrated an ability to generate heat – once winning three straight against ULM, Louisiana and South Bama. They also won their season finale (over ULM again), which means they arrive to Pensacola with a bit of moxie packed with the luggage.

Furthermore, the moment I publicly announced on the FunBelt Podcast that ULM had zero chance to win the Sun Belt title, the Warhawks executed a three-game win streak of their own. But while the Warhawks have some hardwood threats in Andre Jones and Thomas Howell, the Cajuns are bulging with a talented roster that has spectacularly under achieved. A team with Jordan Brown and Theo Akwuba should be pretty good. Maybe they get pretty good in Pensacola.

Both of the above mentioned teams have a shot at spoiling the soup in Pensacola, but of the six in the Quad, the Mavericks and Coastal Carolina have the most opportunity. In David Azore, UTA features one of the best shooters in the conference, and the Mavs have certainly displayed moments of heat by winning four of their first five in conference. Meanwhile, Cliff Ellis’ Chanticleers are simply dangerous and unpredictably potent. Essam Mostafa brings legit defense in the paint while Vince Cole is capable of taking over any game with a blitzkrieg of points.

Players to Watch: David Azore (UTA), Andrei Savrasov (Georgia Southern), Russel Harrison (ULM), Jordan Brown (Louisiana), Vince Cole (Coastal)


Appalachian State and Troy will likely be indigent to see themselves assigned to Quad 2, but Troy is likely getting South Alabama in Round 2, and chances are pretty good that Appalachian State will see a confounding Coastal team. The Mountaineers have two wins over the Chants, so perhaps, so perhaps head coach Dustin Kerns has Coach Ellis’ number.

Either way, Troy and Appalachian State both play a “Defense Wins Championships” style of basketball, and Troy’s bench is the deepest in the conference. Should either team win the whole taco, it will surprise no one.

Arkansas State makes Quad 2 on the strength of putting the Sun Belt’s Player of the Year on the floor – Norchad “Human Double Double” Omier. If the Red Wolves are going to win it, however, they’re going to need some more perimeter help from the guards.

Yeah, that’s pretty good. Also good is concluding the season with a win over Appalachian State, which wasn’t assisted by a monster stat line from Omier (11 points, 8 rebounds). If Desi Sills and Marquis Eaton can provide some offensive firepower, the Red Wolves are in business.

However, in might be the Jaguars who have the most chance of winning the Sun Belt Tournament, even if their quintet of high-profile transfer players turned in a very unconvincing 9-7 conference record. But South Alabama has put up a heat streak not once, but twice this season, led by prolific scorers Charles Manning Jr. and Jay Jay Chandler. The Jags may be wildly inconsistent, but they have the talent to make a run when it counts.

Players to Watch: Adrian Delph (Appalachian State), Effe Odigie (TROY), Norchad Omier (Arkansas State), Charles Manning Jr. (South Bama)


Nobody enters the Sun Belt tournament generating as much heat as Georgia State and Texas State, winners of seven and nine straight respectively. We mentioned Georgia State earlier (way earlier), who seemed destined to join Louisiana in the Sun Belt Graveyard for Sad Disappointments. But a win-swing through the state of Louisiana righted the Panthers, with Jalen Thomas and Kane Williams seizing the balls of victory.

As hot as the Panthers might be, the Bobcats are a relentless, lingering, merciless heat that has boiled the Sun Belt since the end of January. Caleb Asberry and Mason Harrell are tough enough, but bringing Nighael Ceasar off the bench would be declared criminally illegal in every conference but the Sun Belt. Why, God, why?

Players to Watch: Kane Williams (Georgia State) and Mason Harrell (Texas State)

FunBelt Fact

Only two Sun Belt teams have a winning record on the road: Texas State (7-5) and Troy
(8-6). Joining them with non-losing records is Georgia State (6-6).

FunBelt Podcast’s Dark Horses

  • Dusty Thibodeaux: South Alabama
  • Ben Moore: Appalachian State
  • Jeremy Harper: Coastal Carolina

I’m sure 2nd-seed Mountaineers fans will be ecstatic to learn that Appalachian State is a “dark horse” candidate to win the Sun Belt, but I get it. The Mountaineers are a terrific home team who aren’t particularly good on the road and don’t put up a ton of points. However, that Appalachian State defense may be the best in the conference and defense wins championships.

Thibs and I have sung the Jaguars praises all season, and shared in the puzzlement of their season-long failings. However, this Team of Transfers has a great deal of talent and knows how to streak. If Manning Jr. and Chandler heat up early, they have a path to the Championship.

As for me, I went darkest by choosing the Chanticleers, who have a legit big man in Mostafa plus some perimeter firepower to expand leads. Is Coastal Carolina the best team in the Sun Belt? Nope. But historically, they’re just the kind of team that wins it.

Top 7 Players to Watch

The Sun Belt has been a conference of excruciating parity in 2021-22, but from the entropy has arisen a number of stars worthy of your loving gaze. So why did I select seven top player? Honestly, it could have been 20.

  1. Norchad Omier, F (Arkansas State). Am I a homer to say that Omier (17 ppg, 12 rebounds, 64% shooting) is the best player I’ve ever seen in the Sun Belt? No. The powerful Nicaraguan, who averaged a Double Double this season and earned Sun Belt Player and Defensive Player of the Year honors, has elevated his game since being named the SBC Freshman of the Year, adding a soft jumper and foul-safe defense to his bulging quiver.
  2. Caleb Asberry, G (Texas State). Texas State fans will likely say that the Bobcats can defeat you with anyone on the roster, which is fair. But Asberry (13.7 ppg, 44% shooting) is a player that consistently takes over the floor. If you can contain Caleb Asberry, you have a shot at defeating Texas State.
  3. David Azore, G (UT Arlington). UTA lacks firepower, which is why the Mavericks are the tournament’s 9th seed. However, Azore (19.7 pts, 41% shooting) is packing plenty of powder to keep UTA in games, making them a dangerous opponent for Louisiana in the first round – and perhaps an upset candidate in the second round should they meet Texas State.
  4. Russel Harrison, G (ULM). Harrison (13 pts, 5.7 rebounds) has been in and out due to injury, but when he’s on the court, he changes the game. The Warhawks have shooting options, but none with the multiplicity of tools Harrison brings to bear. He’s one of those players who just makes everyone around him better.
  5. Jordan Brown, F (Louisiana). Like the before mentioned Harrison, Brown (15 pts, 8.8 rebounds) has seen limited action this season. However, at 6’11” Brown brings NBA-level size and abilities to the Cajuns front court. Brown is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, and if he’s on the court, he’s the guy to neutralize.
  6. Charles Manning Jr., G (South Alabama). One of five transfers starting for the Jaguars, Manning Jr. (15.7 pts, 3.7 assists) is a bucket with legs. Sharing the wealth with Jay Jay Chandler, Manning Jr. still manages to stand out on a roster that might be the most talented (if underachieving) in the Sun Belt.
  7. Adrian Delph, G (Appalachian State). The Mountaineers are defined by a stifling defense and timely consistency with the three-ball. Delph (17.3 pts, 39% 3-point) represents the Mountaineers offensive attack, delivering a menagerie of shots at impressive speed. Appalachian State brings a number of weapons to Pensacola, but Delph is the guy to box up.

Who Wins the Sun Belt?

I have no idea, except it won’t be UA Little Rock

PHOTO CREDIT: Troy Athletics