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Sun Belt Conference Preview: Are you on UT Arlington or Georgia Southern?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Sun Belt.

UT-Arlington has managed to scrape together some of the best teams the program will ever see, but they’ve yet to see that talent pay dividends. In 2015-16, their star big man Kevin Hervey tore his ACL in the middle of January, an injury that more or less derailed the season for a team that could have pushed Chris Beard’s Arkansas-Little Rock team for the Sun Belt title. Last year, after Hervey made it back to full health by the end of the season, the Mavericks won the league regular season title only to lose by 21 in the Sun Belt tournament semifinals.

This season is going to be the last for UTA with Hervey, but they still look to be the favorite to win the league despite losing three of their top six players. Hervey, of course, is back, as is Erick Neal, who might just be the best point guard in the league. There are going to be a number of players in new roles this season, but giving a terrific coach like Scott Cross the best point guard and best big man in a conference is a good start.

If it’s not UTA, the favorite in the league is probably Georgia Southern. I know I just praised UTA’s top two, but I think that it is fair to say that GSU returning Ike Smith and Tookie Brown, the top two scorers in the league a season ago, probably means they have the best 1-2 punch in the conference. Combine that with the fact that the program returns essentially everyone from a team that finished 3rd in the league last season, and Mark Byington has a real shot at getting this group to the NCAA tournament.

Coming off of a trip to the big dance a year ago, Troy will again be a team to watch. Jordan Varnado is back for his junior season, and the Trojans also get back Wesley Person Jr. and Kevin Baker. Replacing two starters will not be easy, but it’s doable. Along those same lines, Georgia State will also take a hit with Jeremy Hollowell graduating, but sophomore D’Marcus Simonds looks to be the next superstar for Ron Hunter.

Texas State lost three seniors, including a first-team all-league player in Kavin Gilder-tilbury, but Nijal Pearson should have a very good sophomore season. The Coastal Carolina program is always worth keeping an eye on, while Louisiana returns the majority of the key pieces in their rotation.


MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule


Anyone that pays any attention to mid-major basketball has long known about Hervey. A 6-foot-9 forward that can block shots and make threes, he’s been on the NBA’s radar since his breakout sophomore season. That also means that NBA scouts were well aware of the torn ACL he suffered late that year. It took him a while to get fully healthy last season, but he eventually got there. He’s a senior now, and almost two years removed from the injury.


  • Tookie Brown, Georgia Southern: Tookie not only has the best nickname in the conference, but he’s also the best point guard and a major reason the Eagles can compete to a league title.
  • D’Marcus Simonds, Georgia State: Just a freshman last season, Simonds will take over as the star for a good Panther team this year.
  • Ike Smith, Georgia Southern: The leading scorer last year in the Sun Belt, Smith is back to anchor a team that could very well end up winning the conference.
  • Jordan Varnado, Troy: The junior big man’s presence on the front line is one of the reasons the Trojans were in the mix at the top of the conference and reached the NCAA tournament last season.


1. UT Arlington
2. Georgia Southern
3. Troy
4. Georgia State
5. Louisiana
6. Coastal Carolina
7. Louisiana Monroe
8. Texas State
9. Arkansas State
10. Appalachian State
11. South Alabama
12. Little Rock

VIDEOS: Villanova team bus stuck on icy roads trying to leave campus

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Villanova’s road to the Sweet 16 hit its roughest patch yet on Wednesday as the team attempted to leave campus for the team’s flight to Boston.

Since the Philadelphia area has been slammed with a snowstorm, the Wildcat team bus had issues leaving to get to the team’s chartered flight.

A struggle between team bus and ice ensued. The bus was delayed by 30 minutes before finally being able to leave.

Villanova continues its NCAA tournament journey on Friday when the No. 1 seed Wildcats play No. 5 seed West Virginia in Boston.

Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods to transfer or go pro after graduation

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Wake Forest will be down a key player next season as the school announced that guard Keyshawn Woods will either transfer or go pro after graduation.

The 6-foot-3 Woods was the team’s second-leading scorer this season as he put up 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Woods shot 43 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range for the 2017-18 campaign.

Also a key member of last season’s NCAA tournament team for the Demon Deacons, Woods transferred to Wake Forest after spending his first season at Charlotte.

“I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Manning gave me to be a part of this program and to graduate from this great university,” said Woods in the release. “I am proud that I was able to help the coaches change the culture of the program and build a foundation for the future.”

The loss of Woods won’t be easy for Wake Forest, but the team is scheduled to return some talented guards like Bryant Crawford and Brandon Childress next season. Incoming freshmen like Jaime Lewis and Sharone Wright Jr. are also signed to add to the perimeter depth.

David Padgett not retained as Louisville coach

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Louisville announced on Wednesday afternoon that interim head coach David Padgett would not be retained.

Padgett, who is 32 years old, stepped in and took the program over in the wake of a scandal that cost Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino his job.

“We all owe a great debt of gratitude to David for his leadership and poise this season,” said U of L Interim Director of Athletics Vince Tyra. “He took over during incredible circumstances, has handled himself respectfully throughout the season and I believe he has a bright future in coaching. We expect to determine a new head coach in a short period to build upon the great basketball tradition of this university.”

Pitino was fired because an FBI complaint contained an allegation that he and his staff had arranged for a $100,000 payment to be funneled to Brian Bowen from Adidas.

In his one season with the Cardinals, Padgett went 22-14 and reached the quarterfinals of the NIT.

Louisville will now conduct a search for their next head coach, and current Xavier coach Chris Mack has long been considered the favorite to take that job.

Kansas State’s injured star hoping to play Thursday

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One of the most surprising parts about Kansas State’s run to the Sweet 16 is that they have done it without the services of their leading scorer, Dean Wade.

Wade injured his foot prior to the Big 12 tournament loss to Kansas. He did not play in that game or in either of Kansas State’s first two tournament games, but it is looking more and more like he’ll be on the floor on Thursday night when they play Kentucky.

“I don’t play percentages very well, but I’m feeling good,” Wade said, via SEC Country. “I’m very positive about it. It’s getting better every day and today I felt great out there, doing a little more than usual. It felt good.”

Wade averaged 16.5 points per game, but the big question is going to be whether or not he is actually healthy when he takes the court. Just because he’s on the floor doesn’t mean he’s at 100 percent.

“Really just trying to get it out of my mind that it’s not hurt,” Wade said. “Just more of a mental thing, just getting out there and running around. I think I got moved past that and it’s feeling better.”

Arizona’s Sean Miller: ‘I am not a candidate’ at Pitt

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With speculation mounting about who Pitt will hire to replace Kevin Stallings as their new head coach, current Arizona head coach Sean Miller released a statement saying that he is not in the running to fill the opening.

“I am not a candidate for the University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball head coaching vacancy. I wish them well in their search for a new coach,” the statement read.

Miller is a native of Pittsburgh and an alumni of the school — he’s the guy that had the assist on Jerome Lane’s famous dunk — and with the issues that are currently swirling around him and the Arizona program, there was speculation that he was looking for an escape plan.

Maybe he wasn’t.

Maybe he was and the Pitt administration decided they couldn’t risk hiring someone who had an assistant coach arrested in the FBI’s sweep of college basketball and who himself may be on wiretaps talking about who knows what. Releasing this statement would then be a way for him to save face and say he was never interested.

And then maybe there’s option No. 3: Pitt has won the Dan Hurley sweepstakes.

As it stands, both the Panthers and UConn are in the process of chasing after the Rhode Island head coach, and it’s not uncommon in coaching searches for a coach to announce that he is not a candidate for the job after the job decides they want someone else. Call it a professional courtesy.

But that’s neither here nor there.

What we do know now is that Sean Miller will not be the next head coach at Pitt.