Sun Belt Basketball has made some noise during March in recent years. Who will claim the conference tournament championship in 2019?
While many mid-major leagues elect to have early conference tournaments, the Sun Belt Conference saves its drama for Selection Sunday. Last year, the Georgia State Panthers topped the UT-Arlington Mavericks to head to the NCAA Tournament. This season, Georgia State has put itself in position to repeat again as champs, but there’s a handful of worthy challengers looking to punch their tickets as well.
Just behind first-place Georgia State sits three teams tied for second. UT-Arlington, Georgia Southern, and Texas State all finished with 12-6 league records and received seeds two through four, respectively. The Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana finished in fifth place at 10-8 and should not be overlooked as contenders in the tournament.
The 2019 Sun Belt Conference Tournament will be held at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans and will feature a new format. Double byes will be given to the top two seeds, which means Georgia State and UTA get a free pass to the semifinals. Georgia Southern and Texas State will first play in the Quarterfinals on Friday. Louisiana will await the winner of 8 seed South Alabama vs. 9 seed Arkansas State while 6 seed Coastal Carolina plays the winner of (7) ULM vs. (10) Appalachian State. Troy and Little Rock finished in the last two spots in the league and won’t play in the postseason tournament.
It’s an odd and somewhat exhausting format in some ways, but it does reward the top seeds for performing well in the regular season. In the last couple of years, the Sun Belt Tournament has seen the top seeds go down early. The championship game in 2017 had a 4 seed vs. 6 seed and last season was a 2 seed vs. a 4 seed. Such a change makes it more likely the top couple seeds will advance to the finals.
With the majority of teams in the Sun Belt preferring to play an uptempo style, this will be entertaining basketball. Expect back and forth games and some high scores. And like most mid-major conference tournaments, don’t be surprised if the unexpected happens.