Connect with us

College Basketball

Men’s Basketball Squads Ready for 2020 Sun Belt Championship

AROUND #SUNBELTMBB
• The 2020 Sun Belt Men’s Basketball Championship gets underway with 10 teams comprising the tournament field. The tournament’s 44th edition features the first three rounds on campus sites with the semifinals and championship game at the Smoothie King Center, home of the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, in New Orleans.

• Tournament action gets underway with first-round games on Saturday, March 7, second-round games on Monday, March 9 and quarterfinal games on Wednesday, March 11, hosted by the higher seeds on campus sites. The two quarterfinal winners join No. 1 seed Little Rock and No. 2 seed South Alabama in New Orleans for semifinals games on Saturday, March 14 and championship game on Sunday, March 15. The first-round, second-round, quarterfinal and semifinal games are set for live coverage on ESPN+ with the championship game slated for live coverage on ESPN2 and TuneIn. All tournament games are available through the ESPN App, accessible on computers, smartphones, tablets and connected devices. Live statistics are available on SunBeltSports.org.

• The Smoothie King Center is actually the second NBA arena to host Sun Belt Tournament games. The Charlotte Coliseum hosted the first four and five total Sun Belt Tournaments (1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1989) and was the home for the Charlotte Hornets from 1998-2002 and Charlotte Bobcats (2004-05). Ironically, the original Hornets franchise relocated to the Crescent City in 2002 to become the New Orleans Hornets, which became the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013.

• New Orleans has hosted Sun Belt Tournament games seven times previously (2002, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019). This year marks the seventh-straight year the tournament’s semifinals and championship game will be played in New Orleans.

• The Sun Belt announced on March 3 that the 2021-25 men’s and women’s basketball championships will be held in Pensacola, Fla., at the Pensacola Bay Center and Hartsell Arena on the campus of Pensacola State College.

• For the 2020 Sun Belt Men’s Basketball Championship, the top two seeds – No. 1 seed Little Rock (21-10, 15-5 Sun Belt) and No. 2 seed South Alabama (20-11, 13-7) – receive byes directly to the semifinals at the Smoothie King Center.

• Little Rock seeks its third Sun Belt Tournament title (2011, 2016) and first since sweeping the regular-season and tournament titles and earning a first-round upset win as a No. 12 seed in the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. The Trojans secured their first regular-season title since 2015-16 with their Feb. 29 win over Louisiana.

• Guided by 2019-20 Sun Belt Joe Gottfried Coach of the Year Darrell Walker, Little Rock is one of just two teams, joining Merrimack in the Northeast Conference, in Division I that finished in first place in their conference after being picked 11th or lower in its conference’s preseason poll. 

• South Alabama has its sights on its first Sun Belt Tournament title since 2006. The Jaguars have five conference titles to their credit (1989, 1991, 1997, 1998, 2006). South Alabama enters the championship as the league’s hottest team on an eight-game winning streak. The Jaguars earned a top-three tournament seed for the first time since being the No. 3 seed for the 2013 championship.

• Texas State (20-11, 13-7) is in search of its first Sun Belt Tournament title. The No. 3 seed Bobcats earned a top-four seed for the second-straight year and look to reach the semifinals for the third time in four seasons.

• Two-time defending tournament champion Georgia State (19-12, 12-8) has played in four of the last six Sun Belt Tournament finals (2014, 2015, 2018, 2019), winning the last three. The No. 4 seed Panthers defeated top-seeded Little Rock in their regular-season finale to earn the tiebreaker over Georgia Southern (18-13, 12-8) for the fourth seed.

• Arkansas State, the No. 9 seed for the Sun Belt Tournament, continues to lead Division I in free throws made (561) and rank second in free throw attempts (788). The Red Wolves are 16-8 when shooting 40 percent or better and 15-7 when scoring 65 or more points this season. Arkansas State is second in Division I behind Winthrop with 34 double-figure scoring games from players off the bench. Senior guard Jerry Johnson Jr. has 15 double-figure scoring games off the bench, tied for fifth-most in the nation.

• UTA, the No. 7 seed for the Sun Belt Tournament, has reached the tournament final each of the previous two seasons, losing both times to Georgia State. This season, the Mavericks have posted 28 double-figure scoring performances from players off the bench and their leading scorer has come off the bench 14 times by seven different players.

• Texas State has the Sun Belt’s highest ranking in the Ken Pomeroy Ratings (98th), ESPN College Basketball Power Index (105th), Jeff Sagarin Ratings (107th) and NCAA NET Rankings (121st), while Little Rock has the conference’s top ranking in the CBSSports.com RPI (89th). The Sun Belt is currently ranked 14th among the Division I conferences, according to the Sagarin Ratings.

• For the first time this season, the Sun Belt boasts two teams ranked in the latest CollegeInsider.com Men’s Mid-Major Top 25 with Little Rock moving up three spots to No. 15 and Texas State making it first appearance in the poll at No. 22. Georgia State was among the teams receiving votes.  

• Texas State senior guard Nijal Pearson headlined the 2019-20 Sun Belt men’s basketball postseason honors, named Player of the Year and earning first-team All-Sun Belt honors for the second year in a row. The school’s all-time leading scorer enters the Sun Belt Tournament 12th among active Division I players with 2,099 career points. Pearson is just the 10th player in Sun Belt history to reach 2,000 career points. His career points total currently ranks seventh in conference history behind 2,238 career points by Western Kentucky’s Courtney Lee from 2004-08 and 2,221 career points by South Alabama’s Jeff Hodges. Pearson is the first player in school history to score 500 points in three consecutive seasons.

• Little Rock junior forward Ruot Monyyong, the 2019-20 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, leads the conference in rebounds per game (9.8), blocks per game (2.0) and double-doubles (16). His presence in the middle for the Trojans has been highlighted by averaging 7.6 boards per game off the defensive glass, which ranks 14th nationally. His 16 double-doubles rank tied for 12th nationally. His 62 blocks rank third all-time in school history and are the most in Little Rock’s Division I era. Monyyong has scored in double figures 24 times and posted 18 double-digit rebounding performances going into the Sun Belt Tournament.

• Georgia Southern redshirt senior guard Ike Smith continues to move up the Sun Belt’s career scoring list. Smith enters the Sun Belt Tournament with 1,906 career points (22nd among active Division I players), good for 16th on the conference’s all-time list. Also poised to move into the conference’s top 25 in career points before season end is South Alabama redshirt senior forward Josh Ajayi with 1,691 career points (47th among active Division I players). Ajayi’s 829 career rebounds rank 26th among active Division I players and 21st in Sun Belt history.

• Appalachian State senior forward Isaac Johnson enters the Sun Belt Tournament ranked fifth among active Division I players with 959 rebounds. His career total ranks sixth on the conference’s all-time rebounds list behind 1,010 rebounds by Little Rock’s Muntrelle Dobbins from 1993-97 and 963 rebounds by Old Dominion’s Kenny Gattison from 1982-86.

• Louisiana freshman guard Mylik Wilson, the 2019-20 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, is one of only nine freshmen this season and one of only 21 freshmen in Division I since the 1992-93 season to average 11.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game. He has impressed in his rookie campaign, averaging 11.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game. Wilson leads all Sun Belt freshmen in points, rebounds, steals and minutes played (34.0) per game. His minutes played per game ranks fourth in the league entering the Sun Belt Tournament.

• South Alabama redshirt senior forward Trhae Mitchell continues to move up the conference’s all-time blocks list. The third-team All-Sun Belt selection enters the Sun Belt Tournament sitting 18th with 185 career blocks behind 194 blocks by Charlotte’s Ray Gromlowicz from 1983-87.

• With 109 Sun Belt wins, Louisiana head coach Bob Marlin ranks fourth in Sun Belt history in all-time conference wins. Marlin’s total trails former Middle Tennessee State’s Kermit Davis, Jr., (117), South Alabama’s Ronnie Arrow (112) and UAB’s Gene Bartow (111).

• Marlin is one of four current head coaches in the conference’s top 12 all-time in Sun Belt coaching wins – ULM head coach Keith Richard is sixth (101), Coastal Carolina head coach Cliff Ellis is eighth (89) and Georgia Southern head coach Mark Byington is 12th (70).

• The Jan. 18 game between Louisiana and Texas State resulted in an interesting statistic. In that game, both teams were perfect from the charity stripe – Ragin’ Cajuns were 13-of-13 and the Bobcats were 8-of-8. It marked the eighth time since the 2014-15 season that this occurrence happened in a Division I men’s game, according to Sports Reference.

• Ten Sun Belt players were named to the midseason watch list for the 2020 Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship, which will be held April 3-5 at Atlantic Station in Atlanta as a part of the festivities surrounding the 2020 NCAA Men’s Final Four.

• Nowell and Coastal Carolina sophomore guard DeVante Jones were among names on the midseason watch list for the 2019-20 Lou Henson Award, presented annually to the nation’s top Division I mid-major player. Smith, Pearson and South Alabama redshirt senior forward Trhae Mitchell were among the initial list of players listed on the preseason watch list.

• The Sun Belt is showcasing a record 341 games on the ESPN family of networks this season – 327 regular-season home games (172 men and 151 women) and 18 Sun Belt Basketball Championship games (nine men and nine women).

• The Sun Belt pulled in numerous national preseason honors and recognitions, headlined by South Alabama recognized as the conference’s preseason favorite by multiple publications.

• South Alabama was selected by the conference’s 12 head coaches as the preseason favorite as well to go along with Mitchell selected as the league’s Preseason Player of the Year.

• Sun Belt men’s basketball has three new head coaches roaming the sidelines this season – Appalachian State’s Dustin Kerns, Georgia State’s Rob Lanier and Troy’s Scott Cross.

• Three former Sun Belt standouts are on NBA rosters this season. Former Little Rock star Rayjon Tucker is the latest addition, signing with the Utah Jazz on Dec. 23. Tucker spent the first part of the season with the Wisconsin Herd, the NBA G League affiliate of the Milwaukee Bucks, starting 16 games and averaging 23.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 33.8 minutes per game. Tucker joins Louisiana’s Elfrid Payton, who is in his sixth NBA season and first with the New York Knicks, and UTA’s Kevin Hervey, who signed a two-way contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 13.

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
2020 SUN BELT MEN’S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
First Round at Campus Sites
Saturday, March 7
Game 1 – No. 9 Arkansas State at No. 8 Louisiana (ESPN+), 11 a.m.
Game 2 – No. 10 Coastal Carolina at No. 7 UTA (ESPN+), 2 p.m.

Second Round at Campus Sites
Monday, March 9
Game 3 – Game 1 Winner at No. 5 Georgia Southern (ESPN+), 6 p.m.
Game 4 – Game 2 Winner at No. 6 Appalachian State (ESPN+), 6 p.m.

Quarterfinals at Campus Sites
Wednesday, March 11
Game 5 – Game 3 Winner at No. 4 Georgia State (ESPN+), 6 p.m.
Game 6 – Game 4 Winner at No. 3 Texas State (ESPN+), 7 p.m.

Semifinals at Smoothie King Center
Saturday, March 14
Game 7 – Game 5 Winner vs. No. 1 Little Rock (ESPN+), 11:30 a.m.
Game 8 – Game 6 Winner vs. No. 2 South Alabama (ESPN+), 2 p.m.

Championship Game at Smoothie King Center
Sunday, March 15
Game 9 – Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner (ESPN2), 1 p.m.

All Times are Central and Subject to Change

Advertisement

Must See

More in College Basketball