Dates: March 5-8
Site: Hot Springs, AR
Outlook: The Sun Belt conference was a wild one to follow this season. The favorites from the two divisions — Western Kentucky and North Texas — struggled all season long, opening the door for none other than the Mike Jarvis-led Florida Atlantic Owls.
FAU, who is paced by the back court duo of Greg Gantt and Raymond Taylor (who stands all of 5’6), won their first eight games in league play, and while they lost three of five at one point, the Owls never really loosened their stranglehold on the Sun Belt. FAU may have won the conference regular season title, but they don’t seem to be the most dangerous team heading into Saturday’s start. That honor goes to Louisiana-Lafayette, who has rallied after starting out league play at 1-5 with 11 straight wins, ten of those coming in conference play.
The Rajin Cajuns’ rally got them to 11-5 in the Sun Belt, which was good enough to tie with Arkansas State for the West division title. Arkansas State is about as balanced a team as you will find, with their top five players all averaging between 8-11 ppg. The Red Wolves also finished the season on a bit of a tear, winning five of their last six games.
Championship game: March 8th, 7:00 pm, ESPN2
Player to watch: Tristan Thompson, North Texas
Believe it or not, Rick Barnes’ Tristan Thompson may not even be the best Tristan Thompson in the state of Texas. The elder Thompson, a 6’5″ senior averaging 17.1 ppg for the Mean Green, has developed into quite a player at this level.
Champion: Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers have a ton of issues this year, but if they can put it all together, no one in this conference has the 1-2-3 combination that WKU boasts with Sergio Kerusch, Juan Patillo, and Stephffon Pettigrew.