UL coach Bob Marlin had no issues saying Little Rock was the team to beat in the Sun Belt going into the season. The Trojans had two preseason All-Sun Belt honorees in Ruot Monyyong and Markquis Nowell, and Monyyong was recognized as the Preseason Player of the Year. Georgia State, meanwhile, is the clear-cut favorite to win the East race with 131 votes ahead of expected runner-up South Alabama with 98 points. Marlin’s Cajuns were picked to finish second in the West, and UL is hoping its encouraging group of newcomers will allow it to finish even higher.
Hope no one involved with Sun Belt Conference basketball had any plans for New Year’s Day. The revised schedule has the conference opening up league play on Jan. 1, including the Cajuns taking on Texas State in the Cajundome. It’s part of a COVID-related curveball to the schedule for safety reasons. Sun Belt teams will now play 18 games — all against teams in their own division — and games will be more like weekend baseball series. Each series will be back-to-back on a Friday and Saturday night.
UL back in the running
For the first time in Bob Marlin’s 11 years as UL’s coach, the Cajuns didn’t have a single representative on last year’s Sun Belt Conference postseason teams out of three five-player teams. In the preseason poll at least, it sure appears a new streak will begin this season. Sophomore guard Mylik Wilson was recognized as a second-team preseason pick, while senior guard Cedric Russell a third-team pick. Interestingly, three of the five members on the preseason’s first team were from the East — one each from Appalachian State, Georgia State and Coastal Carolina — while the only West representatives are from preseason favorite Little Rock.
Rivalries lost … for now
Certainly, they could be renewed on an even bigger stage when the Sun Belt West and East divisions reunite March 5-8 in Pensacola, Florida, for the conference’s postseason tournament. But without that developing, many of the league’s best rivalries will be put on hold this season because of the coronavirus. For example, one of UL’s most meaningful true rivalries in any sport these days is the men’s basketball grudge matches with Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb has said he’d play UL in every home game if he could because of the energy that matchup offers each game.
The 2020 college basketball season may be the most unpredictable in recent memory. With only division play, predicting the winners is a complicated process. Two teams that have reason to believe they were picked too low are UT-Arlington in the West and Coastal Carolina in the East. UTA lost six of its 10 league games to East teams last year, while Coastal lost eight of its 12 to West teams. Moreover, the Chanticleers return four regulars in Garrick Green, Devante Jones, Malik LaGania and Tim Ceasar in addition to getting Ebrima Dibba back, who only played in six games. UTA returned three regulars including second-team preseason pick David Azore.