Friday, October 30, 2009

Sun Belt Conference Preview


Although the Sun Belt Conference was not as good last season as it was two years ago, when South Alabama received an at-large bid and Western Kentucky reached the Sweet Sixteen, it was not that much of a down year. It featured an outstanding race for the conference title, as Western Kentucky and Arkansas Little-Rock won their respective divisions, both with 15-3 records. WKU beat out Troy by just one game, while UALR was four games clear of its nearest contender. Seven teams finished at least .500 in conference play. Western Kentucky won the conference tournament and then reached the second-round of the NCAA Tournament before falling on a last-second shot to Gonzaga. The Hilltoppers are a threat to make some noise in the Big Dance again this season -- but they will receive plenty of pressure from several Sun Belt teams.

East Division
1. Western Kentucky: A.J. Slaughter is the next Western Kentucky star, while Sergio Kerusch and Steffphon Pettigrew are a tough tandem to match-up with.
2. Troy: The Trojans are a fun team to watch, led by the backcourt of Brandon Hazzard and Richard Delk, and Alabama transfer Yamene Coleman. 
3. Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders have one of the better inside combos in the conference in Desmond Yates and Montarrio Hadcock.
4. South Alabama: The Jaguars took a step back last season, and lose four starters from a year ago; LaShun Watson is the top returnee.
5. Florida International: New coach Isiah Thomas is the headliner, and he brings in a dynamite first recruiting class to kick things off.
6. Florida Atlantic: A team that loses three starters from a 2-16 team is clearly going to struggle; Shavar Richardson and freshman Ray Taylor will lead the way. 

West Division
1. North Texas: The athletic Mean Green return all five starters from last season's 20-win team, starting with all-league forward Eric Tramiel.
2. Denver: Another team that returns all five starters, the Pioneers have an outstanding tandem in wing Nate Rohnert and forward Rob Lewis.
3. Louisiana-Monroe: The Warhawks could be a real sleeper in the SBC, as they return four starters and regain the services of injured guard Tony Hooper.
4. Louisiana-Lafayette: Yet another team that returns five starters, the Ragin' Cajuns have an excellent frontcourt duo in Travis Bureau and Chris Gradnigo.
5. Arkansas Little-Rock: The Trojans will certainly take a step back after last season's conference title, but Matt Mouzy and Solomon Bozeman are a solid backcourt.
6. Arkansas State: The Red Wolves will try to move out of the division cellar this season, and all-conference guard Donald Boone leads the way.
7. New Orleans: Georgia transfer Billy Humphrey is the key man for the Pioneers; he is a big-time scorer who will make an immediate impact.

Player of the Year: A.J. Slaughter, G, Western Kentucky

All-Conference Team:
G- A.J. Slaughter, Western Kentucky
G- Brandon Hazzard, Troy
G/F- Nate Rohnert, Denver 
F- Desmond Yates, Middle Tennessee
F- Eric Tramiel, North Texas

Second Team:
G- Richard Delk, Troy
G- Tony Hooper, Louisiana-Monroe 
G- Donald Boone, Arkansas State
G- Sergio Kerusch, Western Kentucky
F- Steffphon Pettigrew, Western Kentucky

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