The second week of Sun Belt Conference play in men’s hoops officially wrapped up Monday as Louisiana rolled past Texas State 81-58.
Georgia State, back in the SBC after playing in the league from 1976 to ’81, has already made a statement with an undefeated conference record and blowout win over preseason favorite Western Kentucky, Still, several other schools remain in contention with the Panthers for the league’s top spot.
In what will be a weekly feature this season for the Cajun Redzone, here is my SBC Hoops Insider going into this week’s action.
AT THE TOP
Georgia State (10-6, 3-0 SBC): The Panthers, who went 15-16 last season in the CAA, are the only remaining SBC team unbeaten in league play. They’ve won seven in a row since an overtime loss at Southern Miss on Dec. 7. Three of those wins came against Conference USA teams Old Dominion, UTSA and East Carolina.
Louisiana (11-5, 2-1): After losing two of three, including a stunner at ULM, the Cajuns blasted UT Arlington and Texas State last week. They’re led by stars Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long and have a full roster for the first time this season with the return of starters Bryant Mbamalu (foot) and Elridge Moore (ankle) from injuries.
South Alabama (6-11, 0-4): The Jags have lost six straight games and are 0-4 in the league for the first time since 1998-99. Their last win came against NAIA school Dillard on Dec. 17. New coach Matthew Graves has talent – obvious after several narrow non-conference losses – but the Jags are young and haven’t shot well overall.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Troy F Tevin Calhoun
Calhoun averaged 26 points last week in wins over Arkansas State and UALR. The senior scored a career-high 35 points at ASU after making 11 of 15 shots, including seven of nine from 3. He added 17 points against UALR.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: The Ragin’ Cajuns are the only Division I team this season with two players averaging 20 points per game. Shawn Long is averaging 21.3 points, while Elfrid Payton is scoring 20.2 per game.
36: Number of points allowed by Texas State in last week’s 61-36 win over ULM. It was the fewest points by a Bobcat opponent since Grambling had 35 in 1985.
1,058: Career rebounds for South Alabama forward Augustine Rubit. It’s the most by an active player in any NCAA division and first in school and Sun Belt history.
7: Current winning streak for Georgia State. It’s tied for the third-best in program history and the longest since winning 11 in a row in the 2011-12 season.
1998: Western Kentucky lost to Georgia State 77-54 last week. It was the worst loss at home for the Hilltoppers since a 22-point defeat to Arkansas State in 1998.
25: Consecutive free throws made by Georgia State guard R.J. Hunter in the last three games. That broke the old school mark of 23 set by Nate Williams in 2003-04.
GAME TO WATCH
Arkansas State at Georgia State (Thurs., Jan. 16, 6 p.m. central)
This game could have huge implications in the SBC race. Georgia State has a potent trio in Ryan Harrow (18.6 ppg), R.J. Hunter (18.4 ppg) and Manny Atkins (13.7 ppg) and leads the league in turnover margin. They also shoot it well but are last in rebounding margin. The Red Wolves shoot a conference-best 38.8 percent from 3-point range and have tremendous depth but also struggle on the boards. Their top three scorers are transfers Kirk Van Slyke (17.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, .404 3PT), Melvin Johnson III (14.7 ppg, .512 3PT) and Brandon Reed (10.9 ppg, .384 3PT).
PARROTT’S SBC POWER RANKINGS
1. Georgia State (10-6, 3-0 SBC)
Last week: Beat Western Kentucky 77-54.
This week: Thursday vs. Arkansas State; SAT vs. UALR.
Skinny: The Panthers sit atop the conference after a 23-point win at two-time reigning Sun Belt tourney champ Western Kentucky. They look to extend their seven-game winning streak this week at home, where they’re 5-0 this season.
2. Western Kentucky (10-6, 2-1)
Last week: Lost to Georgia State 77-54.
This week: Thursday vs. UALR; Saturday vs. Arkansas State.
Skinny: The Hilltoppers shot 28.6 percent in last week’s loss to Georgia State and are home again this week. It’s a long conference season and still time for them to fight for the league title, but they have to shoot it better for that to happen.
3. Louisiana (11-5, 2-1)
Last week: Beat UT Arlington 90-70; beat Texas State 81-58.
This week: Thursday at South Alabama; Saturday at Troy.
Skinny: Following a double-OT loss to ULM in their Sun Belt opener, the Cajuns downed league newcomers UT Arlington and Texas State last week. All of their losses have been on the road, but they but did win on Dec. 4 at Louisiana Tech.
4. Arkansas State (10-5, 3-1)
Last week: Lost to Troy 98-84; beat South Alabama 72-60.
This week: Thursday at Georgia State; Saturday at Western Kentucky.
Skinny: Last week the Red Wolves were stunned at home by Troy but recovered to beat a struggling South Alabama squad. They’ll be challenged this week on the road, but they have the league’s best record this season away from home (4-3).
5. Troy (7-9, 2-2)
Last week: Beat Arkansas State 98-84; beat UALR 75-62.
This week: Thursday vs. ULM; Saturday vs. Louisiana.
Skinny: The Trojans and new coach Phil Cunningham lost their first two conference games to Georgia State and Western Kentucky before going 2-0 last week. Tevin Calhoun has given their offense a lift going into this week’s home stand.
6. UALR (8-8, 3-1)
Last week: Beat South Alabama 65-60; lost to Troy 75-62.
This week: Thursday at Western Kentucky; Saturday at Georgia State.
Skinny: Picked to finish sixth in the league, the Trojans started 3-0 in the conference before losing to Troy. They’ve held league opponents to 37.7 percent shooting and will need tough defense again this week on the road against two quality teams.
7. UT Arlington (6-10, 1-3)
Last week: Beat ULM 83-79 in OT; lost to Louisiana 90-70.
This week: Saturday at Texas State.
Skinny: The Mavericks split two games last week and will need more scoring help until guard Reger Dowell (thigh) is healthy. Guard Lonnie McClanahan has averaged 26 points in the last two games since the Sun Belt scoring leader got hurt.
8. ULM (4-7, 1-2)
Last week: Lost to UT Arlington 83-79 in OT; lost to Texas State 61-36.
This week: Thursday at Troy; Saturday at South Alabama.
Skinny: Going 0-2 last week spoiled a Jan. 4 double OT win for the Warhawks over the Cajuns. They shot 26.4 percent in the Texas State loss and need top scorer Amos Olatayo to bounce back from his four-point performance (1-of-10 shooting).
9. South Alabama (6-11, 0-4)
Last week: Lost to UALR 65-60; lost to Arkansas State 72-60.
This week: Thursday vs. Louisiana; Saturday vs. ULM.
Skinny: The Jaguars have lost six in a row largely due to inconsistent offensive play and rank last in the conference in field goal percentage. Playing this week on their home court, where they’re 6-3 this season, might help them get back on track.
10. Texas State (5-12, 1-3)
Last week: Beat ULM 61-36; lost to Louisiana 81-58.
This week: Saturday vs. UT Arlington.
Skinny: The Bobcats followed the program’s best defensive effort in nearly 30 years with a decisive road loss to the Cajuns. New coach Danny Kaspar has seen his squad struggle on both ends of the court and still has a lot of work to do to build a winner.
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