Tuesday, November 27, 2007

State of the Sun Belt: Early Edition

We will look at the state of Sun Belt about once per month during the season. This seems like a good time given the Belt's 0-4 performance last night. In the preseason, I took an optimists' view of the league: the Belt returned 11/15 of the all-conference team and the bad teams looked to be improved. I should have known that it is always a bad idea to be optimistic about the Belt.

First, the good news: league favorite WKU has lived up to the hype so far. The Toppers are 5-1, losing to Gonzaga on a neutral court, but beating Michigan on an NC. They also pasted perennial OVC power and local rival Murray State by 24. UNO has actually been better than advertised with big road wins at NC State and Tulane. The Privateers have yet to lose. North Texas, last year's NCAA rep, has continued their solid play. South Alabama and UALR have been solid, too. The jury is still out on FIU (1-1) and UL-Lafayette as they have only played two games, but neither has been impressive.

The problem is that the other six teams have not just been bad, they have been horrendous. Most puzzling in UL-Monroe. The Warhawks won the West last year and returned five starters, yet have gone 0-4 to start the season. Granted, those losses are to teams that are a combined 14-2 and all have been on the road, but ULM has not even been close in these games. They play just ONE non-conference home game against a D-I school. That is recipe for failure in a big way and most of these games are money games. FAU (1-5) was a bit of a dark horse pick in the East, but they have yet to play a home game. They lost to Cleveland State on a neutral court and at UMKC last night. Troy is winless vs DI teams and needed OT to beat Paul Quinn. Denver has actually been a little better than expected.

Most disappointing are Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee State. These teams were expected to challenge in their divisions and have simply been terrible. A-State has lost at home to Utah Valley State and have not been competitive in any of their road games. MT has lost home games to San Jose State and Appalachian State, and were absolutely dismantled by Tennessee (109-40!!!) and Belmont (by 23 last night). There is simply too much talent on the Blue Raiders' roster for these ridiculous results.

Granted, many of the struggling teams are playing a lot of road games, but that is part of the problem. Scheduling is tough as a Sun Belt team, but we have to do better than this.

The early read is that WKU, UNO, North Texas, South Alabama, and UALR need to keep it up. The rest need to step it up.

Last Night's GOI

--Davidson 71, at Appalachian State 60. Yeah, they have lost two games early, but make no mistake about who is the heavy favorite in the SoCon. It's the Wildcats.
--Wake Forest 56, at Iowa 47. Some nice reflection on Skip Prosser (RIP) during this broadcast.
--at Holy Cross 62, Ohio 60. Ralph Willard has yet another fine club this year. They have home games against Yale and Dayton this week, then go on the road for five of six games including tests at Saint Joseph's, Siena, and Maryland.

Tonight's GOI
--Northern Iowa at Iowa State. In-state rivalry alert!
--Sam Houston at UW-Milwaukee. The BearKats have beaten Texas Tech and Fresno State at home. Let's see how Sam plays on the road.
Big Ten/ACC Challenge
--Purdue at Clemson. We've seen this fiery start from Clemson before only to see them collapse in a heap, but the Tigers have already possess a road win at Miss State. This is the Boilers' first road game and first real test.
--Wisconsin at Duke. Both unblemished and both have looked strong.
--Minnesota at Florida State. Tubby Smith's first test as Gopher coach.
--Georgia Tech at Indiana. Did you know that 7 of GT's first 8 eight games are away from home?
--Northwestern at Virginia. Cavs are smarting from a recent loss to Seton Hall. This does not look good for the Wildcats.
Sun Belt Slate
--Colorado at Denver. State vs City.
--Troy at Mississippi. Troy: 0-3. Ole Miss: 4-0.
--UALR at Rice. Rice is winless.
--UAB at UL-Lafayette. ULL is winless.
--Alcorn State at UL-Monroe. Both winless.