Why the Sun Belt you ask? A few reasons:
1. WKU plays in the Belt.
2. It is almost a nation conference (Miami to Denver)...that practically no one cares about unless you read this blog or others like it.
3. Studying a conference far out of the mainstream media gives insight into life for most of DI basketball.
The Sun Belt has not gone exactly to plan in the non-conference. Favorite WKU (who is still the favorite) came out of the gate slowly and then lost 2nd-leading scorer and top rebounded Sergio Kerush for 6-8 weeks (he should return in early-to-mid-February). But, they are 6-1 in their last seven with wins over Vandy in Nashville and at home over Mississippi State, so they are close to where folks expected them to be: 8-4, strong RPI, etc.
Denver has been decent, although they continue to languish in road games (1-4 to date) and South Alabama has been a pleasant surprise (9-4, 3-0 in conference, wins over Arkansas and Florida) despite fourteen (!) new faces this year, but the rest of the league has not lived up to billing.
Outside of WKU and USA in the East, Troy has struggled a bit mainly due to playing 7 of 8 non-conference games against DI teams away from home (they lost that one by 3 to a streaking Marshall club). Someone tell me again how IA football will help basketball and hoops scheduling? They have started 3-0 in conference, but besides a win over a bad Auburn team, they have failed to make much noise. Middle Tennessee was horrid early, starting 1-6, but have been much better since Conference POY candidate Desmond "Boogie" Yates has returned from a knee issue. They are 4-1 in their last five (loss at Vandy). Both FAU (3-9)and FIU (3-13) might have big name coaches (Mike Jarvis and Isiah Thomas), but they have been terrible. Thomas has signed a boatload of talent for next season, so we will see how that works out.
It is even worse out West. Perennial West contender UALR has been plain awful. Their signature bruising defense has been ineffectual and it has led to a 2-11 start including 0-4 in league, which is something Trojan fans simply are not accustomed to. North Texas, another perennial West contender, did nothing special out of conference and have labored to a 2-2 start in league including losses to lowly FIU (at home, no less) and Arkansas State. Speaking of stAte, they labored out of conference, then started 2-1 in league only to get housed by Lamar on Monday. UL-Lafayette has far better talent than their 3-9 record but have been totally unimpressive, and UL-Monroe and New Orleans are about the same caliber as FIU and FAU in the East.
It is bleak. The conference RPI is #23 currently and trails the Ivy and the Ohio Valley (which is a crime in these parts). WKU has a slim shot at an AL run. South Alabama has a long RPI hill to climb and probably lacks the scheduling juice to get into the conversation barring a ridiculous Sun Belt record.
We will check in again at the conference season mid-point.
Last Night's GOI
--Rhode Island 68, at Akron 63. Rams pass another test and validate the AL talk...and their gaudy early RPI.
--at Purdue 79, Minnesota 60. Boilers amplify the message: "We'd like a #1 seed, please."
--at San Diego State 74, New Mexico 64. Big win for a team that seems to be perpetually on the Bubble.
--UNLV at BYU. Two of the Mountain West's best.
--Cornell at Kansas. No one is expected to go into Lawrence and win this season, but it will be interesting to see what kind of game the Big Red play in this one.
--Georgetown at Marquette. Talk about a rough schedule. The Warriors first four games in conference: Villanova (twice!), West Virginia and Georgetown.
--Wisconsin at Michigan State. Similar to Purdue/Minnesota last night, Sparty looks to send a message about who the top contenders for the Big Televen title are going to be.
--Wichita State at Missouri State. Two of a large gang of UNI-chasers in the Valley.
--Louisville at Providence. Important for UL because they are currently 0-2 in road games.
--Northern Iowa at SIU. Panthers get a stiff test in conference and the Salukis are part of that big gang hoping to unseat them.
--Memphis at Syracuse. Tigers are sorely lacking in quality wins.