Fireside Chats: State of the Sun Belt

Brady Weiler ­

Hey, David.

David Salmon ­

Hey, Brady.

Brady

So, we’re trying a new format here to talk Sun Belt outlook, because as you know, the moon has but a couple more rotations to go until it is March. It’s time.

David

And nothing has been decided yet, which makes the next two weeks very important for everyone.

Brady

David, I’ve got some Sun Belt questions for you – if you’re down. I want to start by asking you, generally, your surprise of the Belt to date. This can be a team, an individual player. This can be a good surprise, a bad surprise. It’s your call.

David

We’ll start off on the positive side, and I will say my biggest surprise is the resilience of the UT Arlington Mavericks. Losing Kevin Hervey, letting Coach Cross go, losing other high-impact seniors. Yet here the Mavericks are, in third place in the Sun Belt. That is pretty incredible to me.

Brady­

That is definitely a good call. I still question the decision to move on from Coach Cross, as I really thought he was a great coach for them, but Coach Chris Ogden really has come in and installed what he wants to do. Interesting to see if they’re able to bring in a big high school class this year to try and stabilize their JUCO­-heavy start under him.

 

I’ll take the low-­hanging fruit and say Texas State. We both have been admirers of the job Danny Kaspar has done, being always­-pesky defensively. They’re the total package in 2018/19, it has to be said, surprising a lot of people – including the coaches, who picked them 8th in preseason.

David

They certainly have put things together this year, and while it pains me to not have the Panthers at the top of the league right now, Texas State has been fun to follow.

Speaking of the league, how do you think the Sun Belt top to bottom has been this year in terms of all mid-major conferences?

Brady

So, it’s been kinda an off-year for the league in my eyes. Georgia State provided some marquee wins (though that Georgia win stays looking worse and worse each passing day) but also has faltered and dropped some bad games. Texas State has been great, as I spelled out above, but their record is a little helped by not-­the-­hardest OOC schedule. And they’re the only ones really with the kind of record you aspire to at this time of year.

David

I think that’s fair. It’s weird because normally there are very distinct subsections of the Sun Belt, but this year the middle is very close. There has not been a big difference between Louisiana and Little Rock since conference play started.

Brady

Well now we’ve got the softballs out of the way, time for the heavy hitter – as he completely switches metaphors – how do you see this last two weeks playing out? You can go as far as the full final standings if you’re feeling weird, or just give me the top 4 in order.

 

David

I think the top 4 will stay exactly the same way they are now – Texas State, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, UTA.

It’s boring but I think Texas State and Georgia State will handle the Alabama and Arkansas schools respectively. Then both on the road that final weekend, Georgia State battling Georgia Southern for the second double bye, and Texas State – all but confirmed for first – still beats Texas ­Arlington.

Brady

So I am going for full marks and staking my claim to a full standings:

  1. Texas State
  2. Georgia State
  3. Georgia Southern
  4. UTA
  5. ULM
  6. ULL
  7. Coastal (First to go on­-campus first round)
  8. South Alabama
  9. Little Rock
  10. Arkansas State
  11. Troy (eliminated from conference tourney)
  12. App State (eliminated from conference tourney)

Boring that we have the same top 4, but I think our reasoning is the same ­- someone’s going to win on the road in State/Southern before the cold hand of death comes for us all. And what with all the implications this game provides, this year is as good as any to end the curse.

David

Someone has to, and if not this year, next year when the Sun Belt changes the scheduling formula for this time of year.

We should probably touch on awards. I don’t remember a Sun Belt Player of the Year race being so wide open, but there are certainly a couple guys deserving. Who is your winner?

Brady

This might be another one where we align so hopefully me stealing your answer makes you audible. To me, it’s pretty clear. This year’s ULL team just would not be the same without Jakeenan Gant. He’s 2nd in points/game, 4th in FG%, 2nd in rebounds/game, first (by a LOT) in blocks/game. Full credit to the man, he’s a real player.

David

I agree it’s very clear, but you lost me when you didn’t name Daishon Smith. Counting his performances against Georgia State alone would have been enough to convince me, but he has been the best offensive player in the conference in my mind. Smith is right there with Gant in points/game, averaging 4 assists/game, leading the conference in 3­-point shooting, and averaging 2.2 steals/game. A real shame the Sun Belt only got one season out of him. He was a real treat to watch.

Brady

He really was. So, I have a feeling we both probably figure Danny Kaspar is going to (rightly) win Coach of the Year. So break it down for me. Give me your First and Second Team Sun Belt teams.

David

I want to start off by saying Devin Mitchell should probably be a Second Team Sun Belt player, but he missed the first games and I believe the crunch will squeeze him off the board. Lot of good players this year, but for my teams I have the following:

First Team

  • Daishon Smith (ULM)
  • Marcus Stroman (ULL)
  • Zac Cuthbertson (Coastal Carolina)
  • Jordon Varnado (Troy)
  • Jakeenan Gant (ULL)

Second Team

  • Tookie Brown (Georgia Southern)
  • Ty Cockfield (Arkansas State)
  • D’Marcus Simonds (Georgia State)
  • Nijal Pearson (Texas State)
  • Josh Ajayi (South Alabama)

Lot of good play this year, but the first and second teams are always the hardest part about any conference. Lot of good guard play this year for the #FunBelt.

Brady

100% with you on Devin. I thought long and hard about it but I couldn’t do it. There’s a lot of good at the top.

Here’s my list:

First Team

  • Ty Cockfield
  • Daishon Smith
  • Rayjon Tucker (Little Rock)
  • Jakeenan Gant
  • Jordon Varnado

Second Team

  • D’Marcus Simonds
  • Tookie Brown
  • Nijal Pearson
  • Quan Jackson (Georgia Southern)
  • Zac Cuthbertson

The only caveat I have is D’Marcus is a top 5 player in this league and I thiiiiink First Team is still in play for him. If he goes off like he did this weekend v Coastal the last three and takes us to 1st or 2nd in the standings, not ruling it out.

David

While you dream on that, I will dream on Devin catching Daishon for 3s. This is a Georgia State publication after all.

Brady

If Devin can average a sweet 9 3s a game these last three, it’s his.

Anyway, this was fun! Can’t wait to check back in and see how wrong I was on everything!

David

[Editor’s note: How wrong we were on everything]

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