One bid for the NCAA Tournament is available in the Sun Belt Conference. The winner of this conference tournament, which will be very weird and strange this season, will represent the league in the Field of 68.
There are a lot of things that make this year’s tournament unique. Seeding was done by division and the matchups are across divisions, so the #4 seed in the West plays the #5 seed in the East in the first round. The East #3 plays the West #6 and so on.
Second, and perhaps most important, the conference tournament is in Pensacola, Florida for the first time. It will be played at the Pensacola Bay Center, a multi-purpose arena that seats over 10,000, and then also at the Hartsell Center, which is on the Pensacola State College campus. That venue looks like a high school gym. The teams that play in the small venue could be at a big disadvantage when they play in the bigger venue.
We’ll highlight that and also look at the teams as a whole.
(PSC – Pensacola State College; BCA – Bay Center Arena)
Friday March 5
W4 Arkansas State vs. E5 Georgia Southern (PSC)
E3 South Alabama vs. W6 Louisiana-Monroe (BCA)
E4 Appalachian State vs. W5 Little Rock (PSC)
W3 UT Arlington vs. E6 Troy (BCA)
Saturday March 6
E1 Georgia State vs. W4/E5 winner (BCA)
W2 Louisiana vs. E3/W6 winner (PSC)
W1 Texas State vs. E4/W5 winner (BCA)
E2 Coastal Carolina vs. W3/E6 winner (PSC)
Sunday March 7
E1/W4/E5 winner vs. W2/E3/W6 winner (BCA)
W1/E4/W5 winner vs. E2/W3/E6 winner (BCA)
Monday March 8
Championship Game at 7 p.m. ET at Bay Center Arena
Teams that play at PSC could face a serious disadvantage going to the bigger arena. It’s not like these teams have time to practice with games on consecutive days in this tournament. There aren’t any bad time slots or anything like, but the venue change could be a big deal for a team like Coastal Carolina, whose offensive profile consists of hitting a lot of threes. They’ll go from the small gym to the big one, but they’ve probably been practicing at the small gym because that’s where the first game is and you can’t just bypass that one and take it for granted.
The Odds from BetMGM Sportsbook
Georgia State +300
Texas State +300
Coastal Carolina +500
UT Arlington +1400
Little Rock +1600
South Alabama +1600
Appalachian State +2500
Arkansas State +2500
Georgia Southern +2500
Louisiana Monroe +10000
Texas State grades out as the best team overall in this conference, living mostly on a high TO% on defense and a high 3P% on offense. The Bobcats have a TO% on defense over 23% and have made 39.5% of their threes. Georgia State takes really good care of the basketball and is good on the offensive glass, but bad on the defensive glass. Louisiana is also a good offensive rebounding team, but a team that struggles to defend the three.
If we look exclusively in conference action, Texas State leads defensively and is the most balanced team. The Bobcats are first in eFG% offense, even though Georgia State leads in offensive efficiency, largely because Texas State will turn the ball over more than other teams.
The top four teams in this league are largely interchangeable. Even Louisiana is dangerous with a 39.4% 3P% in conference play.
Arkansas State is a good offensive team, but a horrendous defensive team by conference standards. Georgia Southern grades well defensively, but struggles quite a bit on the offensive end. Appalachian State is sneaky because the Mountaineers get maybe the best Opening Round matchup against a Little Rock team that seems to have given up on the season.
Final Thoughts & A Pick
Coastal Carolina actually gets a good draw here with the UT Arlington/Troy winner, but that venue switch for a team that struggles to score on two-point shots is a bit of a concern. Texas State is also on the horizon as the top team in the conference and a team that will have already played in the big venue.
Louisiana is another team with three-point prowess that could be hurt by moving to the smaller venue. The more I look through what these teams have to contend with, the more I like Texas State at +300 as the co-favorite.
The Bobcats are the pick here.