The Sun Belt’s regular season was never much of a race.
That’s what happens when you have one dominant team rush to a 10-0 start in league play. That’s precisely what Middle Tennessee State did. After putting together an impressive non-conference slate — one that was strong enough to garner them serious consideration for an at-large bid prior to a couple of missteps late in the year — the Blue Raiders steamrolled the league, winning the conference by a full two games and their division by six games.
But that doesn’t mean this league isn’t competitive.
Denver put together a couple of impressive performances before league play started. Arkansas-Little Rock, who finished second in the conference, went 6-2 on the road in league play. North Texas has a potential first round pick on their roster. Even Western Kentucky managed to pick up wins against the league’s top two teams.
Where: Hot Springs, AR
When: March 3rd-March 6th
Final: March 6th, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2
Favorite: Middle Tennessee State
Its not difficult to figure out why MTSU is the favorite to win the conference tournament. Their record in league play speaks for itself, but they also picked up wins at Loyola Marymount, at UCLA, and at home against Belmont, Akron and Ole Miss. Perhaps their most impressive performance of the season came at Vanderbilt, when the Blue Raiders gave the Commodores all they could handle. The Blue Raiders are a tough defensive team that can has the league’s Player of the Year, Laron Dendy, on their roster.
And if they lose?: Denver
You may not realize it because of how low deliberate their pace is, but Denver is the most efficient team in the conference offensively. How do they do it? The same way any team that plays a Princeton-esque offense does: they shoot the grip off of the ball. In simpler terms, they make more than 40% of the threes they shoot, and they shoot a lot of them. The best news? Denver is hitting their stride late in the season. The Pioneers have won four straight heading into the postseason.
Sleepers: Arkansas-Little Rock isn’t exactly a sleeper, but they won the Western Division and finished second in the conference overall. The biggest sleeper in the league, however, is North Texas. Why? Because they have the most talented player in the conference. Tony Mitchell, a Missouri-signee, was an all-american in high school and played on the USA’s U-19 team. He’s been a bit inconsistent this year, but he’s capable of going for 30 and 15 every time he steps on the floor.
– Tony Mitchell, North Texas: Mitchell averages 15.3 ppg and 10.8 rpg.
– LaRon Dendy, MTSU: Mitchell may be the most talented big man in the conference, but Dendy isn’t far behind. At 6’9″, he rebounds, blocks shots and is a scoring option on the block.
– Chris Udofia, Denver: The 6’6″ forward averages 14.9 ppg, but you’d be shocked to find out the league’s second-leading shot-blocker at 2.4 bpg only averages 5.3 rpg.
– DeJuan Wright, FIU: The 6’3″ guard leads FIUs three-man attack with 14.5 ppg and 7.7 rpg.
– Raymond Taylor, FAU: The 5’6″ point guard has seen his production go down every year he’s been in college, but he’s as exciting as anyone in the country when he gets going.