Georgia State and their loaded back court was thought to be the overwhelming favorite to win the Sun Belt regular season title, especially after Shawn Long spent much of the early part of the season battling injuries. And while the Panthers eventually won their second straight title, it took collapses from UL-Monroe and Georgia Southern in the final two weeks of the season for that to happen. Is this the year that Ron Hunter gets his team to the NCAA tournament?
When: March 12-15
Where: Lakefront Arena, New Orleans
Final: March 15, 12:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
Favorite: Georgia State
The Panthers weren’t as dominant as they were in the Sun Belt a season ago, but they won their second straight league title thanks to a win over Georgia Southern on the final day of the regular season. They’re led by of the best back courts in America: R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware. GSU certainly has the talent to pull an upset if they get to the NCAA tournament.
And if they lose?: Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern, playing in the Sun Belt for the first time, ended up challenging the Panthers to the very end, losing to them in what turned out to be the regular season title game. Led by Jelani Hewitt and Trent Wiedeman, the Eagles will be looking to bounce back after losing two of their last three games.
- Louisiana: The Ragin’ Cajuns are coming off of an NCAA tournament trip, when they were carried through the Sun Belt tournament by Elfrid Payton. This year, it’s big man Shawn Long leading the way.
- Louisiana-Monroe: The Warhawks looked like they had a shot to win the regular season title before they lost three of four late in the season.
Player of the Year: Ryan Harrow, Georgia State
Harrow finished the season as the league’s leading scorer and was second in assists, which isn’t bad for a player that was supposed to be the second-best guard in his back court.
Coach of the Year: Mark Byington, Georgia Southern
Byington led the Eagles to a second-place finish in the Sun Belt in the program’s first season in the league, improving despite the fact that they struggled in their final season in the CAA.
- R.J. Hunter, Georgia State – Hunter had a bit of a disappointing season, as his 19.5 points and 3.8 assists was dulled by 30.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
- Jelani Hewitt, Georgia Southern – Hewitt was sensational this season, averaging 18.2 points and 3.8 assists to lead the Eagles within a game of the conference title.
- Shawn Long, Louisiana – Despite being a bit beatup this season, Long finished the year as the fourth-leading scorer, leading rebounder and leading shot-blocker. Not bad.
- Tyler Ongwae, UL-Monroe – Ongwae finished the year averaging 13.9 points, 6.9 boards and 2.8 assists for a team that finished tied for second in the standings.
CBT PREDICTION: Georgia Southern gets another crack at Georgia State and knocks them off in the title game.