It’s officially conference tournament season! We got a fun one with the Sun Belt kicking off this Tuesday afternoon. The Sun Belt aka the "Fun Belt" has been one of the more entertaining mid-major conference tournaments this season. The additions of Marshall and James Madison have really made this conference very interesting. Southern Miss won the regular season championship with a 14-4 conference record, but there are a lot of teams that can be extremely competitive here. Let’s break down all the madness that will be going down in Pensacola, Florida this week.
Here is our preview and prediction, provided by Betfred Sportsbook.
When: February 28; March 2-6
Where: Pensacola Bay Center in Pensacola, Florida
Format: Teams seeded by record in conference play (tiebreaker system for teams with same records); top-10 teams get a first-round bye and top-four teams get a double bye (sending them through to the quarterfinals)
Watch: ESPN+; Championship Game on ESPN2 on Mar. 6 at 7 p.m. ET
James Madison +310
Southern Miss +550
South Alabama +1000
Old Dominion +3000
Appalachian State +4500
Georgia Southern +5000
Texas St +7500
Georgia St +13000
Coastal Carolina +15000
UL Monroe +20000
Arkansas St +250000
The Thundering Herd are the favorites to win this tournament despite being the No. 3 seed. A loss to Old Dominion in the final regular season game pushed them to this side of the bracket, but it doesn't make them any less dangerous.
This is a team that can be extremely fun to watch. Head coach Dan D’Antoni, yes the brother of Mike D’Antoni leads the Thundering Herd. Marshall has one of the most explosive backcourts in the nation with Taveion Kinsey and Andrew Taylor. Taylor and Kinsey are the only pair of teammates averaging over 20 points per game each anywhere in college basketball this season. Marshall also has a talented 7-foot center Micah Handlogten that anchors the middle.
Out of all the teams in the conference, Marshall is the team that is legitimately built to make a run in March. They will have a tough path, opening against an Old Dominion team that just beat them, as well as a potential semifinal showdown with Louisiana.
Remember when Eric Musselman recruited a five-star McDonald's All American to Nevada? That seemed like forever ago. But that man Jordan Brown is now the starting for the Ragin Cajuns. Brown is the most physically imposing player in the conference averaging 19.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game on 57.4 percent shooting. Brown’s backcourt mate Greg Williams is a 13 points per game scorer who shoots 40 percent from three. Louisiana has a really good inside/outside tandem going.
The Ragin’ Cajuns have also proven that they can beat some of the best teams this conference has to offer, as they already have victories over Marshall and Southern Miss this season. They made it the finals as an 8 seed last season. Let’s see if they can cut down the nets this time around.
It’s weird to think the regular season conference champion and the No. 1 of the tournament is listed fourth in the tournament odds to cut down the nets. Are the Golden Eagles getting disrespected here? Let me tell you the Eagles are one of the best stories in the sport- they went 1-17 in the league last season and rebounded to win the regular-season title. The only thing ingredient that needs to be added to the Oscar script, a berth to the NCAA Tournament. Southern Miss went 25-6, they beat Liberty and Vanderbilt on the road. They beat all the top seeds at least once. They rank top 50 nationally in defensive efficiency.
The scoring trio of Austin Crowley, Felipe Haase, and DeAndre Pinckney does very well.
The Jaguars are the eight seed in the conference but they have the talent to make a run. South Alabama played the toughest non-conference schedule by far. The Jaguars played five Quad 1 games including a matchup with the Alabama Crimson Tide in Mobile, as well as New Mexico, Oklahoma, FAU, and UAB. The Jaguars were competitive in four out of five of them. They match up with all of the teams here. They rank eighth in the nation in defending the three, and down low they have journeyman center Kevin Samuel, who began his career at TCU. It feels like he's been playing college hoops the last half decade, but he brings a physicality to the paint where he averages nearly 2.5 blocks per game. Isaiah Moore is one of the best D-2 transfers in the nation averaging 18 points per contest. The road won’t be easy, but South Alabama is a dangerous competitor in this one.
I went back and forth with Marshall and Louisiana. On one hand, seeing Kinsey and Taylor in March would be fantastic. If paired with the right matchup, this a team that can make it to the second weekend. But, the Thundering Herd have an extremely hard path.
Therefore, I think the value may actually be on Louisiana. They have made it to the conference final before. They have a mismatch downlow with Jordan Brown. It’s hard to predict how teams are going to shoot in conference tournament games. I’ll take the Rajun Cajuns, their fan base travels. The Rajun Cajuns redeem themselves from last year and make it to the NCAA Tournament.
The pick: Louisiana +330
Follow Austin Montgomery on Twitter - @AMontgomeryLive
To get full odds on the Sun Belt and all conference tournaments, visit Betfred Sportsbook
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