College basketball season is upon us. I hope you were ready.
With the first games spattered over the weekend and the Tip-Off marathon now behind us, we know a little more about Sun Belt basketball. The conference has been tested and here’s what we’ve learned:
1. The Sun Belt Can Beat Inferior Opponents. Wins are great, but what is concerning is how the conference has fallen flat against quality opponents. Entering Wednesday, the conference holds an 8-8 record. All eight wins have come against lesser opponents and have been blowouts in favor of the Sun Belt. That is great for a conference that wants to step up as a major contender, but soon there needs to be some wins over the big boys.
2. Poor Play Against Quality Opponents. All eight losses have come against stiff competition; schools like No. 16. Wichita State or Southeastern Conference foe Vanderbilt. The average margin of defeat was 12 points, and the Sun Belt as a whole is averaging just under 69 points per game in these contests. For a conference that feels that it is widely competitive and is ready for the next step, it will have to perform better against these bigger schools.
3. WKU Is Not Ready. Many thought the Hilltoppers were the team to beat in the Sun Belt. Many thought they could take the next step and be on the map of a top 25 team. Unfortunately, their convincing loss to Wichita State proved otherwise. It’s not because they are young. It’s not because they aren’t talented. It’s because they were not ready.
4. Actually, No Team Is Ready. Both Georgia State and South Alabama held leads in their games against Vanderbilt and Texas, but neither could close out with a win. The Jaguars blew a halftime lead of 14 points, while Georgia State went back-and-forth with Vanderbilt the entire game. Both schools have high aspirations for this season, but they will need to find a way to win these games.
5. Ryan Harrow Is Going to Be a Problem for Opponents. Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter and Devonta White stole the spotlight early on, but former Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow has found a home at Georgia State. He is averaging more than 23 points through his first two games.
6. Teams Lack Depth. Georgia State’s depth was called into question before the season and proved costly in the Panthers loss to Vanderbilt on Tuesday. The bench scored just three points. South Alabama suffered a similar problem during its loss to the Longhorns, as its bench scored eight points. These teams will need more production off the bench, if they plan to be a force in the NCAA.
7. UALR Is Fun to Watch. UALR spreads the ball around and gives everyone an opportunity to score. Despite its loss to North Florida, the Trojans moved the ball effectively and could be a major force in the Sun Belt when it is time for the conference play.
8. Teams Need to Finish Games. Georgia State, South Alabama, UALR and Texas State all held leads late in games, but found a way to lose them all. These teams have experience and are very talented, but have trouble closing out games. Maybe it’s something that will work itself out as the season progresses. It is definitely something that needs to be fixed.
9. UL-Lafayette Can Put Up Points. Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long are two of the more dynamic players running the floor for the Sun Belt. Both are averaging at least 20 points per game. It was never a question about whether they could score, but, instead, how their defense would do. A big game against Baylor looms in the distance (Nov. 17) and should be a date circled on Sun Belt calendars.