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Sun Belt Conference Tournament: Preview and predictions on one of the most intriguing mid-majors in college hoops

Updated: Mar 8



It’s March baby! Conference tournament season is upon us. The Sun Belt, one of the premier mid-major conference tournaments has begun, and is down to the quarterfinals - with the top four seeds in action for the first time today.


The Sun Belt's tournament is in Pensacola, Florida and features an intriguing field, with the top two teams currently post the nations second and ninth longest active win streaks.


Even some of the dark horse teams have some very talented players. Let’s get our March previews off to a good start and break down this bracket.



The Favorites:


James Madison: (+120)


The Dukes catapulted into the college basketball spotlight with a buzzer beater opening night win against (at the time) a Top 10 Michigan State team. Since then they haven't really slowed down, as they roll into Pensacola with the nation's second longest win streak at 10. They also boast a program best 28-3 record heading into the conference tournament.


The Dukes rank 51st in the NET rankings so if the Dukes fall short in Pensacola, they would land squarely on the bubble. Still, the reality is that despite their 28 wins, the committee tends to not favor mid-major darlings that only have one quad one victory, so they likely need to win this tournament, or at least make a deep run and avoid any bad loss.


If you watch this James Madison team, they are legit. They start five seniors and are led by conference player of the year- Terrence Edwards who averages 17.3 points per game. The Dukes also have a solid big in TJ Bickerstaff who is one of the better versatile defensive bigs in the league. James Madison is definitely a tournament team in my mind. They should be the favorites here. It’s not going to be easy for them cause the league is stacked.


Appalachian State (+190)

Although James Madison has slightly better odds, it's the Mountaineers who were the league's regular season champion. They are riding a seven game winning streak and have won 13 out of their last 14. They also swept James Madison during the regular season and beat Auburn in the regular season holding the Tigers to 39% shooting.


App State’s defense is legit. They rank fourth in the nation in field goal percentage defense. They do not give any easy shots. They play team defense. Junior forward Trevon Spillers is their leader, he averages 13.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game on 60 percent shooting. App State has an arsenal of weapons, they can go up to nine deep in their rotation. App State is 12-6 ATS in conference play and they have covered their last six games.


It’s obvious they are playing better than any team in the conference.



Troy (+600)


The Trojans finished third in the conference after being picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll. Scott Cross has now led the Trojans to three consecutive 20 win seasons, and that include a home win over Appalachian State.


While the two teams ahead of them are veteran laden, Troy has three freshmen in the rotation. Christyon Eugene is a dynamic scorer on the wing who is averaging 15.3 points per game and shoots 43% from three. One area Troy struggles is defensive rebounding (273rd per Ken Pom) and they send teams to the foul line a lot.


This team has the talent to compete with anyone in the league but I’m not sure if they are ready yet to win three games in three days to grab the auto bid.


Louisiana (+1000)


The Ragin Cajuns have four key rotational players back from their team that made the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Kobe Julien is one of the league's best scorers averaging 17 points per game and Themus Fulks is an experienced floor general.


However, Louisiana has lost four of their last five games. All of their conference road wins have come against the bottom half of the conference.


We get the odds and the experience, but this is a probably stay away in our mind.


The pick: Appalachian State


They were the best team in the conference all year. They are so good defensively. I would argue the Mountaineers win against Auburn is more impressive than James Madison’s opening night win against Michigan State. That win is largely carrying JMU's perception and I just think Appalachian State is the better overall team. I can see Troy or Southern Miss upset James Madison. App State doesn’t really have a threat on their side of the bracket.


We will take App St to make their second NCAA tournament appearance under coach Kerns.


Follow Austin Montgomery on Twitter - @AMontgomeryLive 








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