Fireside Chats: 2020 Sun Belt Football Late-Season Chat/Basketball Preview

Grab your beverage of choice, select your favorite chair and get cozy by the fire as Brady and David once again muse about the state of Sun Belt football and basketball in the latest installment of our Fireside Chats series – because talking about sports is fun!

Brady Weiler

David, thanks for joining me by the fire. We’ve got plenty of warmth as I’m sure you need on a cold Chicago day and plenty of Sun Belt football and basketball to discuss.

David Salmon

Don’t even remind me. I’ve got my tasty old fashioned, a warm sweater, and Sun Belt excitement to keep me insulated from the outside.

Brady

And we’re arrived at possibly the best Sun Belt matchup of the season when App State head to Conway to face #15 Coastal Carolina for what very well may be the decider for who plays Louisiana in the Sun Belt title game this year. Where do you think that game will go?

David

It certainly has all the makings of an electric affair. This is the matchup everyone has been waiting for, and personally I think the Mountaineer reign atop the Sun Belt east will take a pause in 2020. Coastal is too good at everything to be slowed by App State. It is going to be a great game to see.

Brady

I think the injury question for Zac Thomas coming out of their game with Georgia State makes it an even tougher task for App State. I personally would have taken the Chants without that potential injury but if App is trying to win on the road with their backup QB, that just makes it even more of a challenge. Between today’s men’s soccer title, Dustin Johnson’s Masters win and the run the football team is on, 2020 feels like the Chants’ year.

David

It certainly does. Can anyone knock that school off the pedestal they’re on? Feels like they might clean house on the Sun Belt postseason awards as well. Obviously coach and offensive player of the year are probably locked up, but how many other awards do you think Coastal brings home in December? 

Brady

It’s true. Even if they can’t run the table and even if App ends up repping the East in the title game, feels like Jamey Chadwell is an easy pick of Coach of the Year and ditto Grayson McCall for Player of the Year. Defensive Player of the Year feels like a real tossup – with Georgia State’s Jordan Strachan in the mix, if he can finish as the sole sack leader. While the Chants have a fair few contenders for DPOY, I would probably take the field on that one. I think that’s where you see another team steal some of the spotlight. I’d go Strachan or Arkansas State’s Justin Rice to give a name. Don’t count out Destin Coates for the separate Offensive Player of the Year award either. They won’t give McCall both POY and OPOY even though they very well could.

David

They very well could. We will see how things shake out throughout the remainder of the season. But while one sports window is winding down, there’s another that should be tipping off very soon.

Brady

I see what you did there. It’s almost basketball time! We got our first taste of what’s to come in Sun Belt basketball with the release of the new division-only, playing the same team back-to-back days schedule, as well as the Preseason All-Sun Belt picks and the Coaches’ Poll:

Men’s Basketball Preseason Player of the Year

Ruot Monyyong, Little Rock

Men’s Basketball Preseason All-Conference First Team

Ruot Monyyong, Little Rock

Markquis Nowell, Little Rock

Justin Forrest, App State

Kane Williams, Georgia State

DeVante Jones, Coastal Carolina

Men’s Basketball Preseason All-Conference Second Team

David Azore, UTA

Mylik Wilson, Louisiana

Marquis Eaton, Arkansas State

Elijah McCadden, Georgia Southern

Justin Roberts, Georgia State

Men’s Basketball Preseason All-Conference Third Team

Cedric Russell, Louisiana

Michael Flowers, South Alabama

Ben Coupet Jr, Little Rock

Zack Bryant, Georgia Southern

Caleb Fields, Arkansas State

Preseason Coaches’ Poll (No Divisions)

1 Little Rock 140

2 Georgia State 131

3 Louisiana  106

4 South Alabama 98

5 UTA 87

6 Coastal Carolina 86

7 App State 79

8 Georgia Southern 55

9 Arkansas State  49

10 Texas State  47

11 ULM  35

12 Troy  22

My first question is, looking at the Coaches’ Poll ranked 1-12, who is getting DISRESPECTED by their place?

David

I suppose it remains to be seen if they can recreate their phenomenal stretch run last year, but if I am a South Alabama fan or player, I’d be a little slighted by being ranked 4th. The Jaguars are heading into Richie Riley’s 3rd season at the helm, and last year they saw a pretty significant improvement. They finished the season on an 8 game win streak and were positioned to make some noise in the Sun Belt Tournament before it was cancelled. They did lose some key players in Josh Ajayi and Trhae Mitchell, but with Chad Lott returning and another year in Riley’s system, I really think the Jaguars are just getting started.

Brady

I too was a little surprised they were only at 4 – and at the gap in points between them and Little Rock and GSU at the top also. For me, I’ll skip down to the bottom of the standings. As I’ve probably said a bunch on the pod and on these chats, I’m a fan of Scott Cross as a coach and I just don’t think Year 2 under him will spell an emphatic last place finish for Troy. I’m not predicting they go worst to first like Little Rock’s 11th-place prediction to winning the regular season last year, but I think Troy will be a tougher out this season.

David

Still a great hire for that program in Troy. I can’t say that I disagree with the coaches too much in terms of awards and preseason team selection but I will ask, are you feeling and agreeing with the Little Rock love? 

Brady

It’s hard to pick against them considering they keep their entire starting lineup that won the regular season last year. And given how fantastically wrong everyone was on them last season, I’m sure no one was going to be caught making the same mistake this year and betting against them. I’d certainly be glad to coach a team in the East division and miss them until a possible tournament game, I’ll put it that way.

So this is, of course, a general chat about the conference as a whole, but at the end of the day, we’re a Georgia State website. With that in mind, Georgia State had Kane Williams named to the preseason First Team and Justin Roberts to the Second Team. Excepting them, who on Georgia State’s team could you see playing their way onto the postseason honors list?

David

I’m going to cheat and give you two answers, because really I believe in both of these guys. The easy answer would be Nelson Phillips. Last year, we really got to see what he can do when given the opportunity to excel, and he certainly delivered. A full offseason and some more fine tuning, I expect Nelson to be a big part of what the Panthers do this season. 

The less expected answer is going to be Eliel Nsoseme. Nsoseme is eligible this season after transferring from Cincinnati last year, and I fully expect him to be that defensive stopper the Panthers are accustomed to having. The 6’9″ forward should look to fill that Malik Benlevi role that I believe the Panthers were missing last season from a positional standpoint.

Panther fans absolutely have reason to be excited this year after a disappointing end to last season. Obviously we will talk about it on the pod, but what is something Panther fans should expect this season, Year 2 in the Coach Lanier regime? 

Brady

With the addition of Nsoseme and the continued growth of Nelson Phillips – as you alluded to – AND the addition of UGA transfer JoJo Toppin and another year of growth for the now-sophomore big men, I expect the defense to more resemble what Coach Lanier is looking to instill. Down the stretch, the team’s defense started to lapse more and more but I think the new pieces and another year in the system for the returning players will mean a step-up on the defensive side. 

David 

Yup. Depth was the calling card with the Lanier plan and I think we saw it sort of wane down the stretch as you said. The rotation will be interesting to follow as guys will be fighting for playing time, but the step forward for the bigs would go a long way to helping Georgia State win the east, something I do expect them to do. 

Brady

It’s never too early to put way-too-early predictions on record for all to see, so my final question – who’s facing off in the Sun Belt final in Pensacola?

David

It depends on how the tournament schedule comes together, but I can’t see any team knocking off the Panthers or Little Rock in their quest for the Sun Belt auto bid. Both of those teams are returning too much, and are too good not to be fighting for NCAA tournament rights. If anyone else knocks either off, it would present a huge upset for the conference.

Brady

Given they can only face off in the tournament, really hard to oversell the hype that will come for that one if that’s indeed how it shapes up. We’ll check back in with these takes once the conference season gets going, but I’ll say I hope you’re right because that would be one epic game if that’s what we get with a trip to the Dance on the line.

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