Thursday, February 08, 2007

State of the Sun Belt: Stretch Run Edition

Sprawling across the galaxy, the Sun Belt likely covers more real estate than any other conference in America. It stretches its considerable legs from Miami, FL, to Denver, CO, creating brutal travel schedules for just about everyone. For example, with the Thursday/Saturday game schedule, UL-Monroe played Arkansas State at home on on Jan 4, then had to be in Denver to play the Pioneers on Jan 6. Western Kentucky made an Arkansas State-Denver road swing with just one full day between games. Travel in this league is not for the faint of heart.

The play has been gruesome as well. The league is filled with poor defensive teams and not too many good offensive ones (WKU, USA, New Orleans, and North Texas make the cut). Belt teams are 2-31 against BCS conference teams. There are several teams that should be on the uptick next season, but that's a post for sometime in March or April.

The two best teams in the league will meet tonight in Mobile, Alabama. WKU (9-4) is coming off a loss at North Texas while South Alabama (11-2) has won 10 straight. For all intents and purposes, this game is for the East Division crown. USA can all but salt it away with a win, while WKU can pull within a game and gain a season sweep, giving them the tie-breaker if USA were to falter down the stretch. North Texas and New Orleans also face off in an important West Division matchup as well. After this weekend, most teams will have just three or four conference games left.

Here is a look at what the Belt bracket would look like as of today.

Last Night's GOI
--at Alabama 80, Mississippi State 79. Tide eke out another home win. Will ANYONE in the SEC West take the bull by the horns?
--at Arkansas 65, Auburn 57. And, here is your most likely candidate: The Ark.
--at Clemson 71, Florida State 58. Tigers get a much-needed big win.
--North Carolina 79, at Duke 73. Three ACC home losses for Duke and counting.
--Florida 71, at Georgia 61. No shame for the Dawgs, but they are right on the Bubble.
--at Kansas 97, Kansas State 70. Not a good performance by the Bubbly Wildcats.
--Georgetown 73, at Louisville 65. It simply does not look like it's in the Cards.
--Illinois 58, at Northwestern 53. Illini are quietly doing what they have to do.
--at Oklahoma 67, Oklahoma State 60. Cowboys now 0-4 in true road games.
--at Purdue 62, Michigan State 38. Spartans are spiraling downward with alarming speed.
--Bradley at SIU. Braves need a monster finish for any AL hope.
--at UCLA 70, Southern Cal 65. UCLA keeps its grip on the top of the Pac-10.
--Pittsburgh 60, at West Virginia 47. 'Eers look like a classic Bubbly Boy.
--at Xavier 76, Saint Louis 57. Xavier needs to stay near the top of the A-10 for AL hopes.

Tonight's GOI
--Notre Dame at DePaul. Irish desperately need to cash in on the road.
--Drexel at Hofstra. Good, clean, CAA fun.
--Rhode Island at UMass. Winner takes the outright lead in the A-10.
--Western Kentucky at South Alabama. The Sun Belt's best square off.
--Cal at Washington. Both need to win lots of games, so loser will take a blow.
--Stanford at Washington State. A battle for position and seeding.