With an 11-member setup the Sun Belt Conference has played a 20-game conference schedule the last couple of years, which may be seen as a positive when it comes to determining the regular season champion (home-and-home between every team). But for a conference that spans from North Carolina (Appalachian State) to Texas (UT-Arlington, Texas State) travel was far from easy in that setup.
And with Coastal Carolina joining next season, it was clear that the league needed to do something with its scheduling.
Thursday the Sun Belt members approved an 18-game conference schedule, which will begin with the 2016-17 season when the league consists of 12 members. Included in the agreement is the assignment of travel partners (similar to setups in the Pac-12 and Ivy League), and teams playing no more than three consecutive conference games on the road.
Schools will also be guaranteed at least five weekend home games during conference play, and there will be no more weekends in which teams play conference games both home and away (a team won’t play at home Thursday and then have to hit the road for a game Saturday or vice versa, thus cutting down on travel). Obviously with the addition of Coastal Carolina the Sun Belt needed to make some changes in their scheduling, and this week the conference made the moves they needed to make.
After putting together an outstanding 2013-14 season in which he helped lead his team to the NCAA tournament (alongside Elfrid Payton), Louisiana forward Shawn Long once again averaged a double-double in 2014-15. On the receiving end of more attention from opponents Long averaged 16.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game for the Ragin’ Cajuns, who won 22 games and reached the quarterfinals of the CIT.
With this being his fourth season of college basketball (third playing), there was some thought that Long could move on. However according to Luke Johnson of the Acadiana Advocate (Lafayette, Louisiana), Louisiana head coach Bob Marlin announced at the team banquet that his 6-foot-9 star forward will return to school for his senior season.
Long’s decision to return for a fifth year (he sat out the 2011-12 season at Mississippi State before transferring) is a big one for Louisiana, which is now due to return four of its top five scorers from last season. Just two days ago Louisiana received a commitment from 6-foot-11 junior college forward/center Larenz Stalcup, so the return of Long gives them even more depth in the paint.
With the amount of talent due back in Lafayette, Louisiana is capable of challenging reigning Sun Belt champion Georgia State and making a run at its second NCAA tournament appearance in the last three years.
Georgia State has been active recruiting transfers the last few offseasons and the Panthers and head coach Ron Hunter landed a commitment from former Alabama guard Devin Mitchell, he announced.
The 6-foot-4 Mitchell is a former Rivals top-150 prospect but only saw limited action during his freshman season with the Crimson Tide. With Alabama hiring a new head coach in Avery Johnson, it was probably best for a fresh start for both parties. Mitchell played 76 total minutes during the 2014-15 season and scored nine points and tallied four assists. He struggled from the field, going 3-for-23 and 2-for-17 from 3-point range.
The Sun Belt might be a better fit for Mitchell and Hunter has found a lot of success taking in transfers. Ryan Harrow had a successful two-year run at Georgia State after transferring from Kentucky and former Louisville guard Kevin Ware also made his way to the Panthers.