Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Sun Belt conference tournament preview

This is part 29 of a 32-part series that will take a look at every conference and conference tournament in the country.  We'll recap who's playing and what the stakes are for each team in the conference.

The standings:
Arkansas-Little Rock 17-3 (27-4)
Louisiana-Monroe 15-5 (19-12)
Texas-Arlington 13-7 (22-9)
Louisiana-Lafayette 12-8 (16-13)
Georgia Southern 10-10 (14-16)
Georgia St 9-11 (16-13)
Texas St 8-12 (14-15)
South Alabama 8-12 (13-18)
Arkansas St 7-13 (11-20)
Appalachian St 7-13 (9-22)
Troy 4-16 (9-22)

Tournament format:
New Orleans from Thursday March 10 to Sunday March 13.  Only the top 8 are going, though, and it's the staggered double bye setup for the top two teams.  This makes Louisiana-Monroe the last team in the country to begin Championship Week, starting its tournament Saturday afternoon.

The matchups:
1) Arkansas-Little Rock vs. 4/5/8) Louisiana-Lafayette/Georgia Southern/South Alabama
2) Louisiana-Monroe vs. 3/6/7) Texas-Arlington/Georgia St/Texas St

The stakes:
What exactly do you do with UALR?  The conference strength (17th) isn't optimal.  The non-con SoS is fatal (271).  But the two signature road wins (SDSU, Tulsa) have value as does the 13-4 road/neutral mark.  In the end, the non-con SoS probably outweights everything else, as unfair as it is that road games at cupcakes kill your resume.  They played no teams between 51 and 175 in the non-con, and it's that lack of depth that will kill them.  It's a shame, but there's really no other option.

The NIT is probably beyond reach of ULM or UTA, but they deserve some kind of postseason.  It's a shame for UTA they couldn't hang in the bubble race for longer.  Deeper down, ULL is a postseason bubble team but probably deserves a bid, while Georgia St should probably be on the other side of that bubble.

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