It’s finally March and conference tournament time is upon us–the precursor to March Madness. Here’s another conference tournament preview to whet your pallet.
When and Where: March 8-11 in Hot Springs, Ark.
The Front Runner: You’d be hard-pressed not to think Middle Tennessee State is going to run away with the title, but the same could have been said last year, when they were the No. 1 seed but lost to No. 9 Arkansas State in the Second Round. They were head and shoulders better than every other team in the league, which is evident by their 27-4 (19-1 Sun Belt) record. South Alabama, with a 14-6 league mark, was the next closest in the standings–MTSU beat them by four and 35 this year. The only loss for the Blue Raiders was to a pesky Arkansas State.
The Best of the Rest: South Alabama was the next best in the league but it was a runaway by the Blue Raiders. But don’t count out the Red Wolves from Arkansas State–they’ve been the only team that seems able to beat MTSU. No. 5 Arkansas-Little Rock (17-14, 11-9) might pose a threat as well and will face No. 4 Florida International (16-13, 11-9).
Who to Watch For: No. 7 Florida Atlantic might have only been 9-11 in the Sun Belt, but they feature the league’s top scorer in guard Greg Gantt. FIU’s Tymell Murphy, an undersized forward, averages 15.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game for the Golden Panthers. At 6-foot-5, he’s versatile as he can clearly score but can block shots (1.1) and create turnovers (1.8 steals per game). Unfortunately for both the Florida schools, neither is likely to make it to the finals, thus depriving television viewers of seeing them in action.
Who’ll Be Dancing?: The best team in the league is Middle Tennessee and they seem poised to secure the automatic bid. Head coach Kermit Davis knows that despite their success this year, they still have a void to fill. “These guys have done a lot of firsts. They have probably broken every team record in the history of the school,” Davis said during a press conference Tuesday. “There’s one thing that Bruce Massey or Marcos Knight or myself or the rest of the guys in that locker room have not done since they’ve been here, and that’s win a Sun Belt Conference tournament championship.” The journey begins Saturday for Davis’ Blue Raiders.