Josh Hagins, No. 12 Little Rock knock off No. 5 Purdue in 2OT

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Leading by 13 with 3:19 remaining, No. 5 seed Purdue looked to be well on its way to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The problem for the Boilermakers: they took their foot off the gas too early.

No. 12 Little Rock ramped up the defensive pressure, forcing multiple turnovers while doing enough offensively to get themselves in position tie the game in the final seconds of regulation. Josh Hagins delivered, hitting a three-pointer with 6.8 seconds remaining to force overtime. From there the Trojans and Boilermakers traded punches through two overtimes, with Little Rock ultimately winning in double overtime 85-83.

Essentially the difference was Hagins, who ran the point well for the Trojans and finished with 31 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals. Little Rock’s been one of the best stories in college basketball thanks to the work of first-year head coach Chris Beard, and the presence of a point guard as good as Hagins has certainly helped the Sun Belt champions.

As for Purdue, the questions about their perimeter play and whether or not they had enough to be a factor in the NCAA tournament have been asked all season long. And down the stretch against the Trojans it was easy to see why many remained concerned.

Purdue struggled to take care of the basketball against the Little Rock defense, committing 18 turnovers with many of those coming as they were trying to put the game away. Just as bad for the Boilermakers was their inability to get A.J. Hammons the ball, thus failing to take advantage of the one matchup that was in their favor. Hammons finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks, but after scoring with 16:28 remaining in regulation he didn’t score again until the second overtime.

Hammons got the occasional touch, with Little Rock doubling down to get the ball out of his hands, but far too often Purdue’s offense consisted of wasted motion followed by a challenged shot late in the shot clock. That kind of execution won’t get it done in March, especially against a team that defends as well as Little Rock.

Next up for the Trojans is No. 4 Iowa State, which took care of No. 13 Iona in the first game of the day. And after picking up the program’s first NCAA tournament victory in 30 years, Little Rock has designs on their first-ever Sweet 16 appearance.

Transfer guard originally headed to Louisiana Tech commits to Arkansas-Little Rock

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In mid-April Louisiana Tech announced the addition of guard Jermaine Ruttley for the 2015-16 season, with the former Florida A&M player eligible to compete immediately for the Bulldogs. Then the coaching carousel got going, with Michael White moving on to Florida and Dusty May, who some Louisiana Tech players wanted to take over, heading to Gainesville as well.

As a result Ruttley reopened his recruitment, and Saturday morning it was reported by ESPN.com that he’s decided to attend Arkansas-Little Rock. News of Ruttley’s commitment was originally reported Friday night, but that proved to be premature.

The 6-foot-3 Ruttley averaged 17.4 points per game at Florida A&M last season after playing at Kaskaskia Community College. In announcing the addition of Ruttley to the program, Louisiana Tech stated that Florida A&M was working with them and the NCAA to ensure that Ruttley would be eligible to compete immediately due to a possible postseason ban for academic progress rate issues.

Now that Ruttley has picked UALR, the Trojans will likely need similar cooperation to ensure that the high-scoring guard can take the floor in 2015-16. UALR, which has a new head coach in Chris Beard, returns its top two scorers from last season in guard Josh Hagins and forward Roger Woods.

Ruttley is the fourth addition to the UALR program, joining junior college transfers Jalen Jackson and Lis Shoshi and freshman Tyson Batiste.

2014-2015 Season Preview: Georgia State is the heavy-favorite in the Sun Belt again

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source:
R.J. Hunter (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The power in the Sun Belt will once again lie in Atlanta. In 2013-2014, during just their second season in the conference, Georgia State steam-rolled through the regular season. They went 17-1 in league play and had the look of a program that was going to give some high seed nightmares. That was until they ran into Louisiana in the Sun Belt title game, blowing a nine-point lead in the final three minutes before losing in overtime.

The Panthers are looking for redemption this season, and they bring back enough talent that they should be the overwhelming favorites to get it. Ryan Harrow, who a former top 40 recruit that played at both N.C. State and Kentucky, starred for the Panthers last year. He’ll be joined in the back court by former top 50 recruit and Louisville guard Kevin Ware this season. Oh, and the best player on the team is sharpshooter R.J. Hunter. Georgia State is loaded. Period.

source:
Shawn Long (Getty Images)

Their biggest challenger will likely be Louisiana once again. That’s because the Ragin’ Cajuns have another future NBA draft pick on their roster. Shawn Long may not be a top ten pick like Elfrid Payton was, but he is a 6-foot-10 big man that blocks a lot of shots, averaged 18.6 points and can hit threes. Oklahoma State transfer Brian Williams will provide a jolt of athleticism and toughness on the wing, but the x-factor will end up being Xavian Rimmer, a senior guard that played his best basketball late in the season and during the Sun Belt tournament.

Those two teams are probably a cut above the rest of the conference, but there are some capable teams in the league. Georgia Southern will be one to keep an eye on. There are a couple question marks — namely, how will GSU adjust to a new conference and just how long Eric Ferguson will be suspended for his offseason legal troubles — but if all goes according to plan, the Eagles return star guard Jelani Hewitt and get back a pair of former all-Southern Conference big men (Ferguson and Trent Wiedeman) who redshirted last season.

Arkansas-Little Rock loses Will Neighbour but they bring back Josh Hagins, James White and a healthy J.T. Thomas. Louisiana-Monroe loses a couple of starters, but they bring by all-league forward Tylor Ongwae. Losing a guy that averages 20 points isn’t easy to overcome, but UT Arlington‘s offense should be more balanced without Reger Dowell. Their senior back court of Lonnie McClanahan and Jamel Outler will be tough. Arkansas State lost seven of their top eight from last season. John Brady better home those new guys are ready to compete from day one.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Georgia Southern, Appalachian State
Out: Western Kentucky

PRESEASON SUN BELT PLAYER OF THE YEAR: R.J. Hunter, Georgia State

The Sun Belt has had quite a bit of individual talent in the league over the last year or two, but Hunter is as good as any of them. That includes lottery pick Elfrid Payton. Hunter is a 6-foot-5 off-guard that is one of the best shooters in the country and capable of putting 30 on anyone.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SUN BELT TEAM:

  • Ryan Harrow, Georgia State, Sr.: Harrow thrived last season after transferring into the program from Kentucky, playing the role of point guard alongside Hunter.
  • Shawn Long, Louisiana, Jr.: Long is not only a very good college player, his ability to block shots and hit threes will get him NBA attention
  • Jelani Hewitt, Georgia Southern, Sr.: Hewitt was a big-time scorer in the SoCon for GSU last season, and his production should translate to the Sun Belt as well.
  • Tylor Ongwae, Louisiana-Monroe, Sr.: Ongwae, a 6-foot-7 forward, averaged 16.2 points in his first season with ULM after transferring into the program from a JuCo.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @SunBelt

PREDICTED FINISH

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

2013-2014 Sun Belt Preview: Star-studded league should provide plenty of drama

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source:
Elfrid Payton (AP photo)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Sun Belt was one of the conferences that had the most reshuffling during conference realignment, as four schools are headed out of the league while three new programs — Georgia State, Texas State and Texas-Arlington — come aboard.

Ironically enough, while the league loses powerhouse Middle Tennessee State, North Texas forward Tony Mitchell and Florida International head coach Rick Pitino, the Sun Belt will likely end up having more star power on their rosters than any mid-major league in the country.

It starts with one of the new additions, as Ron Hunter’s Georgia State squad seems primed for a huge year. Hunter’s back court will be loaded, as his son R.J., a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, returns after averaging more than 17 points as a freshman. He’s got a chance to be an NBA Draft pick down the road. He’s joined by Devonta White and Manny Atkins, who both averaged about 15 points, but the most notable name will be Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow. If Harrow lives up to his potential and Hunter can find some production on the interior, the Panthers have the chance to be really, really good.

(MORE: Ron Hunter channels his inner ‘Coach Dad’)

As talented as Hunter and Harrow are, however, neither will enter the season as the Sun Belt’s Preseason Player of the Year. That title falls to Augustine Rubit, a 6-foot-7 forward that averaged 19.4 points and 10.2 boards as a junior. In layman’s terms, he’s a beast, but if the Jaguars are going to improve on their 14-6 record in Matthew Graves’ first season as head coach, Rubit will need a supporting cast that loses two starters to step up.

No mid-major player had a bigger summer than Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton. The 6-foot-3, do-it-all guard — he averaged 15.6 points, 5.9 boards, 5.6 assists and 2.4 steals — not only managed to make the U19 national team, but he started for them over more highly-regarded players. Throw in the return of Shawn Long, and Bob Marlin’s club will also contend for the league title.

Then there’s Western Kentucky. They return four starters from a team that finished just 10-10 in league play, but they are also coming off of their second straight run to the NCAA tournament. T.J. Price is the Hilltopper to make note of.

And finally, Arkansas State. The Red Wolves lose three of their top five scorers from last season, but leading scorer Ed Townsel is back, as is sophomore Cameron Golden. The key will be transfers. Brandon Reed averaged 15.1 points as a freshman back in 2009-2010 before transferring to Georgia Tech while Melvin Johnson III averaged 13.0 points as a junior at UT-San Antonio in 2011-2012.

Arkansas-Little Rock and UT-Arlington both have enough talent to make a push as well.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Georgia State, Texas State, Texas-Arlington,
Out: Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, Florida International, Florida Atlantic

source:
AP photo

PRESEASON SUN BELT PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Augustine Rubit, South Alabama

Rubit came within 18 points of averaging 20 and 10 a season ago, and he’s returning to school to play for a team with a real shot of winning the league title. I know how much talent there is in this conference; this decision was still pretty easy.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • R.J. Hunter, Georgia State: Hunter averaged 17.5 points as a freshman and will be playing this season with Ryan Harrow.
  • Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette: If he can refine his jump shot, Payton has a shot to follow the footsteps of Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
  • Brandon Reed, Arkansas State: Reed averaged 15.1 points as a freshman with the Red Wolves, but tried transferring to Georgia Tech. That resulted in two uneventful season, so Reed came back under the graduate transfer rule.
  • Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette: The best big man in the league not named Augustine Rubit.

PREDICTED FINISH

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