2020 Sun Belt Conference Tournament Predictions and Expert Picks
This year's edition of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament gets underway on March 7 with two games being played in the first round of the tournament. This is a very unique set up as the top two teams get a bye right into the semifinals, while seeds three and four get their tournament started in the quarterfinals. The fifth and sixth seeds get started in the second round against the winner of the first two games, respectively. The winner of the tournament is designated the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Champion and receives the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which begins March 17 with the First-Four play-in games. The first two rounds plus the quarter finals will be held at the campus of the higher seed before shifting to the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans for the semi-finals and finals.
The Sun Belt Conference had about as good a year as possible for a smaller, lesser-known conference. Six teams finished with 16 or more wins, with two more teams sitting at the 15-win mark. The bottom two teams, UL-Monroe and Troy, have combined to go just 18-42 this season, which makes them the doormat of the Sun Belt conference (both 5-15 in Sun Belt action). There is no one team that stands out above the rest as Little Rock, Texas State, South Alabama and Georgia Southern have taken turns beating each other, which is why the top of the standings looks like a log jam, with Little Rock just sneaking away with the regular-season title.
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This tournament may not give us some aesthetically pleasing basketball, but It'll be competitive, and any result would not shock me.
The Favorite: Little Rock
The team to beat in the Sun Belt tournament has been the same team to beat throughout the regular season, and that is Little Rock. The Trojans rolled through the regular season with little resistance, losing just five times in 20 conference games. They lost their last game to a motivated Georgia State team, who was fighting for tournament seeding whereas Little Rock had the top spot already sewn up. Little Rock is a team that won't wow you on the offensive end of the floor, averaging a shade more than 73 points per game while giving up just under 70 points, which has them in the middle of the pack. The one thing they do extremely well is rebound the basketball, topping the league in rebounds per game, and they are second in terms of field goal percentage, both two points and beyond the arc. Little Rock is a well-rounded team that only has to navigate the Semi-Finals and Finals in order to punch their ticket to the dance. Should all go according to plan, they will look to avenge the regular-season finale loss to Georgia State by beating them in the Semis.
The Contenders: South Alabama
I know it's kind of dull of me to list the top seed and the second seed as the favorite and contender in this tournament. However, outside of these two squads, I don't see any team that has the full game to pull off the upsets. South Alabama had a solid season, and they come into this game with major momentum on their side having won eight straight games, which vaulted them into the No. 2 spot ahead of Texas State thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker. South Alabama leads the conference in field goal percentage, which tells me they can essentially get any shot they want, and they have the ability to knock it down. In a tournament where getting hot at the right time can be the difference between losing and going on a run to the Finals, South Alabama has to make sure to get hot in just two games against tired teams. That's something I believe they can do with great ease.
Tournament Matchups Schedule
Game 1: No.8 Arkansas State vs. No. 9 UL-Lafayette (12:00 p.m. Saturday, March 7)
Game 2: No.7 Texas-Arlington vs. No.10 Coastal Carolina (3:00 p.m., Saturday, March 7)
Game 3: Winner of Game 1 vs No.5 Georgia Southern (7:00 pm. Monday, March 9)
Game 4: Winner of Game 2 vs No.6 Appalachian State (7:00 pm. Monday, March 9)
Game 5: Winner of Game 3 vs No.4 Georgia State (7:00 pm. Wednesday, March 11)
Game 6: Winner of Game 4 vs No.3 Texas State (8:00 pm. Wednesday, March 11)
Game 7: Winner of Game 5 vs No.1 Little Rock (12:30 pm. Saturday, March 14)
Game 8: Winner of Game 6 vs No. 2 South Alabama (3:00 pm. Saturday, March 14)
Game 9: Winner of Game 7 vs Winner of Game 8 (2:00 pm. Sunday, March 15).
Sun Belt Conference Tournament Predictions:
If you're looking for a tournament that's going to cause chaos among the tournament bracket, this isn't the tournament for you. The top two seeds are the best teams in the conference. And because the Sun Belt places so much emphasis on the regular season and gives the top two seeds a bye to the semis, winning a single game to get to the finals is something Little Rock and South Alabama can do. The only other team I believe has a chance in this tournament is the No. 4 seed, Georgia State. The Panthers just beat Little Rock. Therefore, should they match up again in the semis, they will be full of confidence while Little Rock may do some second-guessing. Nonetheless, I'm taking Little Rock to prevail should they get to the finals.
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