Wednesday, January 09, 2008

State of Sun Belt: January Edition

Sun Belt play has started, and it can officially be said that the Belt is better this season than the last couple of years. The current conference RPI is #16, and could potentially move up to #15 past the SoCon depending how things play out. That is up from #21 last year and #18 in 2006.

South Alabama looks to be a solid top 50 team. They are 12-3, with losses to teams all in the top 40 RPI, including taking Vandy to OT in Nashville. They have beaten SEC member Mississippi State, and two other pretty good teams in Chattanooga and Western Kentucky. The Toppers probably had the second-best non-conference season, losing to Gonzaga, Tennessee, and SIU by slim margins, and beating Nebraska. North Texas and New Orleans have been up and down, but both have already slipped twice in conference play. That leaves UALR among teams I would label "good teams" in the league. The Trojans' have played stifling defense to this point, although they have lost three of their last four including a 15-point walloping to state rival Arkansas State. They may be coming back to earth a bit.

The two big surprises are Denver and UL-Lafayette. The Pioneers are just 5-8, but they were 4-25 last year and lost a lot of players and their coach. They upset North Texas last week, too. UL-Lafayette started the season 0-6 vs DI teams, but are 6-1 in their last seven.

South Alabama has emerged as the clear favorite to Dance, especially since the conference tourney is on their home court. WKU played neck and neck with them in Mobile last Sat, so the Toppers are still a major threat as well. Everyone else seems a rung below these two, but UL-Lafayette certainly deserves watching given their recent surge.

Last Night's GOI
--Florida 90, at Alabama 83. Good road win for Gators, even though Tide perennially underachieves.
--at Baylor 72, Brown 62. Baylor keeps the dream alive and Brown is no slouch. I like them in the Ivy.
--Georgetown 76, at DePaul 60. Time for the Hoyas to start showing us what they are made of: GOODNESS.
--St. Mary's 77, at Fresno State 68. Gaels log a confidence-building road win.
--at Illinois State 51, Northern Iowa 46. Redbirds move to 4-0 in the MVC with road wins at Creighton and Wichita State in tow.
--at Marquette 61, Seton Hall 56. Eagles scratch out a tough win at home.
--at Maryland 73, Holy Cross 48. Surprisingly lopsided.
--Indiana 78, at Michigan 64. Wolverines continue to flail, but IU looked very strong.
--at Michigan State 78, Purdue 75. Closer than most expected.
--at Wake Forest 79, BYU 62. Cougars' early season momentum has been flushed away.

Tonight's GOI
--Arizona at Arizona State. In-state rivalry alert! How long has it been since we expected AZ State to win this one? I do tonight.
--Rhode Island at Dayton. Critical early conference game in the A-10. BIG.
--George Mason at Delaware. Blue Hens are your current CAA leaders (3-0).
--Indiana State at Drake. Both blemish-free in the Valley.
--Georgia Tech at Georgia. In-state rivalry alert! Both BADLY need it, too.
--St. Joseph's at UMass. A not-quite-as-big-as-URI-Dayton-but-still-big A-10 game.
--Pitt at South Florida. How good are these depleted Panthers?
--Duke at Temple. Monster home opportunity for the Owls.
--Mississippi at Tennessee. These two are a combined 24-1. Ole Miss is still undefeated.
--UAB at Tulane. Two of the better CUSA teams not named Memphis.