Monday, December 31, 2012

End of 2012: State of the Sun Belt

The Sun Belt has a new commissioner (Karl Benson) and a number of exiting members (Denver is gone this year and more to follow in coming years), but the song pretty much remains the same.

1. Middle Tennessee harbors some slim at-large hopes, but preseason darling North Texas has been one of the most disappointing teams in the country. Those two, along with re-emerging WKU and South Alabama, were supposed to provide some strength at the top. That has mostly held up, except that North Texas was supposed to be in the national conversation and they have underachieved. The other three have pretty much held to form.

2. Teams have played four or less conference games, and only three teams have winning records: WKU (4-0), MTSU (2-0), and South Alabama (3-1). No team in the West is above water.

3. MTSU is far and away the best performing team according to the efficiency ratings. Their offense grades out at #88 and their defense checks in at a sparkling #22. The Raiders have that special combo of forcing a ton of turnovers (#9 nationally in TO%forced) and preventing 3-point accuracy (#20 best). Their offense and defense are the most effective units in the league. No other unit in the Belt is in the Top 100.

4. However, I don't think MTSU will run away by multiple games in the East. WKU has been severely hampered by injuries and have still managed to go 4-0 in league including two road wins and a win over North Texas. MTSU plays North Texas at home tonight, so they will have to beat the underachieving, but very dangerous, Mean Green to keep pace with WKU.

The major questions include:

1. Will MTSU once again falter late in the season?

2. Will North Texas eventually gel their considerable talent (clearly the best in the league)?

3. Will standard-bearer WKU get healthy and continue their "just win, baby" streak (now 10-0 in their last ten Belt games)?

4. Is there a dark horse in the bunch? Best bets, for my money, are USA and Arkansas State.