2007 Sun Belt Tournament Preview
by Jordan Adams - 03/02/2007
The Sun Belt is another great example of a conference tournament that will have all competitors scrapping for that coveted at-large birth to the Big Dance. Top seed South Alabama is in, as the Jaguars clinched the regular season title and will now look for a better seed with a sweep of the board.
But for everyone else, it's a clean slate and all it will take is a solid three or four game run to punch a ticket to Danceland. While South Alabama has the easiest road with their top seed, don't tell them to relax and take it easy. Five teams finished three games or closer to the Jaguars, thanks in large part to the three game skid they ended the regular season with, so can anyone say lack of focus? Will they regain their swagger and cruise through this league tournament as they did their conference schedule until they clinched, or does this open the door for another Sun Belter to steal a berth?
South Alabama - The Jaguars were 13-2 in conference play and had the regular season title locked up. Then they chose to pack it in, losing their final three games to mediocre teams. First up is Middle Tennessee State, whom split the season series, each winning on the other's home court. This should help get some momentum back for the conference's top seed.
Western Kentucky - Long dominant in this conference, now they have to sweep through this tournament to make it back to the NCAAs. They only finished one game back of South Alabama and we should see a rubber match in the conference finals to settle the score from their regular season split. Hilltopper guard Courtney Lee could be the conference's best player.
Arkansas State - The Indians finished in a tie for first in the West Division with Louisiana-Monroe. They won the final four of the regular season, including victories over the co-first Warhawks and at third place North Texas. Their quarterfinal match-up has them slated against New Orleans, and they should make it 2-for-2 against the Privateers.
North Texas - Certainly the surprise of the conference this season, the Mean Green had victories over the best in the league and they should find themselves in one of the semifinals. Nearly five players average double figures, showing off the best depth and balance in the Sun Belt.
QUARTERFINAL MATCH-UPS: #1 South Alabama vs. #9 Middle Tennessee State- The talent isn't really comparable and I expect the Jaguars to cruise in this one, setting the tone for the rest of the bracket.
#4 Louisiana-Monroe vs. #5 North Texas - The best match-up of these second round games. ULM was solid in the regular season, but North Texas's depth and balanced scoring attack will be too much.
#2 Arkansas State vs. #7 New Orleans - The Indians will advance because New Orleans simply won't have enough. Just hope they aren't caught peeking ahead to a semifinal match-up against power Sun Belter Western Kentucky.
#3 Western Kentucky vs. #6 Florida Atlantic - This one shouldn't be close. The Hilltoppers are the type of team that could easily capture this tournament, despite a bit of an off-regular season in league play. It will be WKU playing the title game.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
If South Alabama comes to play, it will make for an exceptional final four match-up. They, along with Western Kentucky, Arkansas State and North Texas, all can win this thing, but I expect the Hilltoppers to rise again and capture this league championship tournament for the fourth time since 2001.