Sun Belt Preview: Louisiana to overtake Georgia State?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Sun Belt Conference.

The last two seasons, Ron Hunter’s Georgia State team has reigned supreme over the Sun Belt Conference. They’ve won 34 league games and a pair of outright regular season titles during that stretch, advancing to the 2015 NCAA tournament where they pulled off an upset of No. 3 seed Baylor in the opening round.

But that GSU team is gone for the most part. R.J. Hunter went pro while Curtis Washington and Ryan Harrow graduated, but the Panthers still should be able to compete at the top of the league this season. Former Louisville guard Kevin Ware is back for his senior season while Indiana transfer Jeremy Hollowell is eligible to play this year. Throw in the return of Marcus Crider, a physical, undersized four that was named to the preseason  all-Sun Belt second-team, and Hunter has a group capable of making it a three-peat.

They won’t, however, be favored to do it. Louisiana will be, as Bob Marlin returned the league’s best player in Shawn Long. Long is a difference maker at this level, a 6-foot-9 shot-blocker with three-point range and the ability to pop off for a double-double on any given night. He can win games on his own, but the good news for the Ragin’ Cajuns is that he won’t have to. Devonta Walker is back up front while Kasey Shepard and Jay Wright man an underrated back court.

The third real contender for Sun Belt supremacy is Louisiana-Monroe. Losing Tylor Ongwae is going to hurt, but the Warhawks do bring back two all-conference caliber players in big man Majok Deng and guard Nick Coppolla. They have size, they have length and they can defend. The question is going to be whether or not they can score enough without Ongwae; they struggled in the game they were missing him last season.

Both Arkansas State and South Alabama are worth keeping an eye on if, for no other reason, than because they have two of the best players in the league on their roster. Arkansas State big man Anthony Livingston averaged a double-double as a sophomore and would be the best front court player in most mid-major conferences. USA’s Ken Williams is the best guard in the conference and is a very well-coached team that swept Louisiana last season. Texas State also falls in this category. They can really defend and have a first-team all-league player in Emani Gant, although their issues on the offensive end will be tough to overcome.

Georgia Southern and Arkansas-Little Rock both lost a ton of talent, but UALR was able to land FAMU transfer Jermaine Ruttley, which is a major reason they’re picked to finish in the middle of the pack instead of the bottom of the league.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule


  • Favorite: “Louisiana-Lafayette. They have a ton of talent, not just Shawn Long. They have a really nice front court, Jay Wright is underrated in the back court. They have the most coming, the best player coming back. They’re good, and there’s a reason they got picked to win. Bob Marlin does a fantastic job.”
  • Sleeper: “You gotta talk about Arkansas State. Livingston is really good. They missed the conference tournament last year, but they bring everybody back.”
  • Star to watch: “Shawn Long is the best player in the league. There are two ‘high major’ players in the conference — Long and Livingston — but Long, on a great night, can win game by himself. Talent wise, size wise, he’s an NBA guy. When he’s on, nobody in the league can stop him. He’s that level of player.”


With R.J. Hunter in the NBA and Ryan Harrow lost to graduation, Long becomes the biggest name in a league that has become known as a place for high major transfers to land on their feet. Long, whose career at Mississippi State was derailed by the post-Renardo Sidney fallout, is arguably the best big man in mid-major basketball. He’s a 6-foot-10 low post scorer that can knock down threes and is the best rim protector in the league. He’s got a shot at an NBA career when he’s done in college.


  • Anthony Livington, Arkansas State: Still just a junior, Livingston averaged 15.3 points and 10.0 boards last season.
  • Emani Gant, Texas State: An excellent defender, Gant is the best offensive weapon on a team that can struggle to score.
  • Ken Williams, South Alabama: With the Georgia State guys gone, Williams is the best guard in the league.
  • Kevin Ware, Georgia State: Ware will have plenty of opportunity as a senior after playing behind a pair of shot-happy guards last year.



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

Matt Haarms decides to leave Purdue, enter transfer portal

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue center Matt Haarms has entered the transfer portal and intends to play his final college season at another school, coach Matt Painter announced Monday.

The slim, 7-foot-3 Haarms was one of the Big Ten’s top defenders and played a key role during the Boilermakers’ 2019 NCAA Tournament run, when he replaced injured center Isaac Haas in the starting lineup.

But Haarms lost the starting job following a hip injury in December and wound up averaging 8.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2 blocks per game while shooting 52.4% from the field.

He finished fourth on Purdue’s career list for blocks with 210.

Louisville’s Nwora enters NBA draft after All-America season

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville forward Jordan Nwora has announced on social media that he will enter the NBA draft.

Nwora was selected to The Associated Press All-America third team as a junior. His decision to turn pro was expected after limited participation in last year’s NBA combine because of a knee injury. He returned to the Cardinals and was named Atlantic Coast Conference preseason player of the year before going on to average 18 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while shooting 44% from the field. The 6-foot-7 Nwora was named to the AP’s All-ACC first team.

The Buffalo, New York, native said on his verified Twitter account that the abrupt end to the season was “heartbreaking and awful” because he believed No. 14 Louisville (24-7) was ready to win the NCAA championship. But he noted that community health and safety should be the priority because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nwora called Cardinal teammates and coaches his family in his post and added, “I will proudly represent Louisville wherever I go.”

Florida guard Scottie Lewis returning for sophomore season

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida guard Scottie Lewis, one of the Southeastern Conference’s top defenders, is returning for his sophomore season.

Lewis made the announcement Monday via social media by saying “we have some unfinished business.”

“My dream of playing in the NBA is still a top priority, but my heart is in Gainesville!” he added. “I am excited for the journey that lies ahead. My story hasn’t even started, and trust me the best is yet to come!”

A McDonald’s All-American in high school, the 6-foot-5 Lewis had been considered a one-and-done prospect when he arrived in Gainesville last summer. But his defensive prowess overshadowed his offensive skills for much of his first collegiate season.

The New Jersey native averaged 8.5 points and 3.6 rebounds to go along with a team-leading 36 blocks. He was second on the team with 36 steals.

He was at his best in SEC play, averaging 9.2 points and shooting 43.6% from 3-point range. He scored a career-high 19 points in the team’s regular-season finale against Kentucky. The postseason was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Gators (19-12, 11-7 SEC) now await word on a pair of sophomores: point guard Andrew Nembhard and versatile forward Keyontae Johnson.

Nembhard entered the NBA draft last year before withdrawing his name and returning for a second season. Johnson led Florida in scoring this season, averaging 14 points, and was second on the team with 7.1 rebounds. He also led the team with 38 steals.


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Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey declares for the NBA draft

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Kentucky freshman Tyrese Maxey announced on Monday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft and forgoing his final three seasons in college.

Maxey is projected as a lottery pick after averaging 14 points, 4.3 boards and 3.2 assists for the Wildcats this past season. He burst onto the college basketball scene on the first night of the season when he went for 26 points in a win over No. 1 Michigan State during the Champions Classic, and while he was not quite capable of keeping up that pace throughout the season, he did enough to prove himself as a quality pro prospect.

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Taking a risk on Tyrese Maxey high in the 2020 NBA Draft means betting on the fact that his 29 percent three-point shooting as a freshman had more to do with adjusting to the college level than it does his actual shooting ability. Coming through high school, Maxey had the reputation for being a big-time scorer because of his ability to make deep jumpers off the bounce and because of the way that he can finish around the rim with a variety of floaters and layups.

And while he would show flashes of being the dominant scorer Kentucky needed him to be, the Wildcats late-season surge was a direct result of Immanuel Quickley’s improvement, not Maxey finding consistency. We spent the entire season saying “just wait until Maxey finds his stroke” and he never really did. He needs to be able to make that shot because the rest of his game is somewhat limited. He’s not a natural creator, he’s wired to score more than anything else, and he certainly isn’t an elite athlete by NBA combo-guard standards, although he is a pretty good on-ball defender. He’s also a worker, and by all accounts a great kid and competitor. I think there’s a real chance his ceiling is as a second-unit scorer, but if it all comes together I can see him putting together a career on par with Lou Williams.

Mike Tirico to host NBC Sports’ new daily sports talk show ‘Lunch Talk Live’

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A new daily sports talk shot called Lunch Talk Live will debut on NBCSN at noon ET on Monday, April 6th.

The show will feature Mike Tirico joined like by special guests every single day, including a lineup of NBC Sports’ on-air personalities, current and former athletes and prominent people in sports media.

The show will focus on how the sports world is navigating the coronavirus pandemic, providing a platform for intelligent discussion on the state of sports and how we, as a society, are adapting to living in this challenging time. the goal is to detail personal stories of how different people from across the sports industry are functioning in the day-to-day.

“In these challenging times, we are all missing sports and the people who make sports memories,” said Tirico. “Hopefully, we can bring a midday connection with some of them to help fill the void.”

“We’re excited to bring viewers fresh programming every day with unique, topical conversations from prominent individuals in all corners of sports,” said Sam Flood, the Executive Producer & President of Production for NBC Sports. “This will be a daily lunch date to share sports and stories we miss during these unique times.”

The show will be an hour long. It will air on weekdays at Noon ET on NBCSN and will be streaming on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Additionally, content will also be provided on the NBC Sports’ YouTube channel as well as other social media platforms.

All episodes of the show will be hosted remotely.

Here is the schedule for the week:

Monday 4/6

12:00p- Justin Leonard // Peter King
12:15p- Cris Collinsworth & Dale Earnhardt Jr
12:30p- Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski
12:40p- Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
12:50p- Jeff Burton & Steve Letarte

Tuesday 4/7

12:15p- Rebecca Lowe & Kathryn Tappen
12:30p- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman
12:40p- NASCAR Driver Denny Hamlin

Wednesday 4/8

12:15p- Al Michaels & Doc Emrick
12:30p- PGA Golfer Justin Thomas
12:50p- Kyle Petty & Dale Jarrett

Thursday 4/9

12:50p- Keith Jones & Eddie Olczyk

Friday 4/10

12:15p- Michele Tafoya & tbd
12:40p- Dan Hicks & Paul Azinger
12:50p- Robbie Mustoe & Robbie Earle