Several years ago, I excitedly wrote a preseason article about the glowing future of Sun Belt baseball. Eyeballing the talent (and seeing that Coastal Carolina entered the conference), I saw the Sun Belt becoming a NCAA Tournament two-bid league, an aspiration that seemed grandiose but didn’t feel out of reach.
This week, the Sun Belt placed four teams into the NCAA Tournament along with CUSA’s and regional host Southern Miss – a soon to be Belter. The message was clear: the Sun Belt is now an NCAA baseball powerhouse that isn’t likely to diminish anytime soon.
Hidden within that message was another message: struggling and/or one-dimensional Sun Belt athletic programs need to get with the program.
The Sun Belt is no longer all-or-nothing on football, where it has successfully entered the national conversation. We’re in Phase Two of a master plan, y’all. The brand is flexing now. The SBC is diversifying its assets. Take note, lackadaisical Sun Belt athletic departments! You’ve been called out. You can hop aboard this upward trajectory, or you can watch your mates get stronger.
NCAA Baseball Tournament: Tell Us What It’s Like
The Cajuns are the Sun Belt Champions, but of the SBC programs who received NCAA Tournament invitations, Louisiana is arguably the least of the four, coming in behind Coastal, Georgia Southern and Texas State. Still, the Cajuns are no stranger to Tournament play, and should be able to hold their own in a regional with TCU, Texas and Oral Roberts.
Did anyone expect Georgia Southern to perform this well, let alone host a regional? I didn’t, but here they are welcoming Notre Dame, Texas Tech and UNC Greensboro to Statesboro. The Eagles allowing Louisiana to swipe the SBC championship after securing a 5-0 lead makes me a little nervous about Georgia Southern, but this feels like a winnable regional.
Texas State began and finished the season strong, whipped up on the Sun Belt, and are rewarded with a very long road trip to California, where it takes on Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, and Binghampton. Taking jet lag out of the equation, Texas State likely hangs well with these teams.
Meanwhile, Coastal Carolina (former national champs), take an easy 3-hour trip to Greenville when they take on East Carolina, Virginia and Coppin State. The Pirates of East Carolina won’t be easily sunk, but the Chants thrive on regional dust-ups.
I predict we see multiple Sun Belt programs move on to the next level.
PHOTO CREDIT: courtesy of the Sun Belt