Skip to content

2013-2014 Sun Belt Preview: Star-studded league should provide plenty of drama

Oct 20, 2013, 10:40 AM EST

source:

Elfrid Payton (AP photo)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Sun Belt was one of the conferences that had the most reshuffling during conference realignment, as four schools are headed out of the league while three new programs — Georgia State, Texas State and Texas-Arlington — come aboard.

Ironically enough, while the league loses powerhouse Middle Tennessee State, North Texas forward Tony Mitchell and Florida International head coach Rick Pitino, the Sun Belt will likely end up having more star power on their rosters than any mid-major league in the country.

It starts with one of the new additions, as Ron Hunter’s Georgia State squad seems primed for a huge year. Hunter’s back court will be loaded, as his son R.J., a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, returns after averaging more than 17 points as a freshman. He’s got a chance to be an NBA Draft pick down the road. He’s joined by Devonta White and Manny Atkins, who both averaged about 15 points, but the most notable name will be Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow. If Harrow lives up to his potential and Hunter can find some production on the interior, the Panthers have the chance to be really, really good.

(MORE: Ron Hunter channels his inner ‘Coach Dad’)

As talented as Hunter and Harrow are, however, neither will enter the season as the Sun Belt’s Preseason Player of the Year. That title falls to Augustine Rubit, a 6-foot-7 forward that averaged 19.4 points and 10.2 boards as a junior. In layman’s terms, he’s a beast, but if the Jaguars are going to improve on their 14-6 record in Matthew Graves’ first season as head coach, Rubit will need a supporting cast that loses two starters to step up.

No mid-major player had a bigger summer than Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton. The 6-foot-3, do-it-all guard — he averaged 15.6 points, 5.9 boards, 5.6 assists and 2.4 steals — not only managed to make the U19 national team, but he started for them over more highly-regarded players. Throw in the return of Shawn Long, and Bob Marlin’s club will also contend for the league title.

Then there’s Western Kentucky. They return four starters from a team that finished just 10-10 in league play, but they are also coming off of their second straight run to the NCAA tournament. T.J. Price is the Hilltopper to make note of.

And finally, Arkansas State. The Red Wolves lose three of their top five scorers from last season, but leading scorer Ed Townsel is back, as is sophomore Cameron Golden. The key will be transfers. Brandon Reed averaged 15.1 points as a freshman back in 2009-2010 before transferring to Georgia Tech while Melvin Johnson III averaged 13.0 points as a junior at UT-San Antonio in 2011-2012.

Arkansas-Little Rock and UT-Arlington both have enough talent to make a push as well.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Georgia State, Texas State, Texas-Arlington,
Out: Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, Florida International, Florida Atlantic

source:

AP photo

PRESEASON SUN BELT PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Augustine Rubit, South Alabama

Rubit came within 18 points of averaging 20 and 10 a season ago, and he’s returning to school to play for a team with a real shot of winning the league title. I know how much talent there is in this conference; this decision was still pretty easy.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • R.J. Hunter, Georgia State: Hunter averaged 17.5 points as a freshman and will be playing this season with Ryan Harrow.
  • Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette: If he can refine his jump shot, Payton has a shot to follow the footsteps of Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
  • Brandon Reed, Arkansas State: Reed averaged 15.1 points as a freshman with the Red Wolves, but tried transferring to Georgia Tech. That resulted in two uneventful season, so Reed came back under the graduate transfer rule.
  • Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette: The best big man in the league not named Augustine Rubit.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Georgia State
2. Louisiana-Lafayette
3. South Alabama
4. Western Kentucky
5. Arkansas State
6. Arkansas-Little Rock
7. UT-Arlington
8. Troy
9. Texas State
10. Louisiana-Monroe

Latest Posts
  1. Report: Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins broke his jaw

    Nov 27, 2014, 12:56 PM EST

    St Joseph's v Gonzaga St Joseph's v Gonzaga

    Perkins was kicked in the face by a Georgia player.

  2. Pregame Shootaround: Enjoy your Turkey Day!

    Nov 27, 2014, 11:19 AM EST

    Frank Kaminsky (AP Photo) Frank Kaminsky (AP Photo)

    It’s not just football that’s on today.

  3. St. John’s seniors say they ‘grew up’ against Minnesota, but have they?

    Nov 27, 2014, 3:14 AM EST

    D'Angelo Harrison (AP Photo) D'Angelo Harrison (AP Photo)

    A lot is riding on this season for St. John’s. Can they consistently be the ‘grown up’ team they claimed to be on Wednesday night?

  4. Late Night Snacks: Two ranked teams fall at the Battle 4 Atlantis

    Nov 27, 2014, 3:07 AM EST

    Kelan Martin, Marcus Paige AP

    Two Big East teams made statements in the Bahamas, and No. 3 Arizona won the Maui Invitational.

  5. The little things made a big difference in No. 3 Arizona’s win over No. 15 San Diego State

    Nov 27, 2014, 2:07 AM EST

    Sean Miller Sean Miller

    Arizona scored 22 points off of 14 San Diego State turnovers, and that along with good foul shooting proved to be the difference.

  6. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s shot propels Georgetown past No. 18 Florida

    Nov 27, 2014, 12:56 AM EST

    D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera

    Georgetown committed 19 turnovers, but they shot 49 percent from the field and earned another quality win for the Big East.

  7. Rick Pitino gets his 700th career victory, but his team remains cold from three

    Nov 26, 2014, 10:22 PM EST

    Rick Pitino Rick Pitino

    Through five games Louisville is shooting 24-for-105 from three. They’ll need to shoot better than that when Ohio State visits next Tuesday.

  8. #POSTERIZED: St. John’s forward Sir’Dominic Pointer finishes with authority (VIDEO)

    Nov 26, 2014, 9:11 PM EST

    Sir'Dominic Pointer, Tony Chennault Sir'Dominic Pointer, Tony Chennault

    Sir’Dominic Pointer picked off Minnesota center Elliot Eliason’s outlet pass and made the big man pay for his mistake.

  9. Binghamton’s leading returning scorer, rebounder takes indefinite leave of absence

    Nov 26, 2014, 8:05 PM EST

    Tommy Dempsey Tommy Dempsey

    Justin Reed was one of America East’s best guards in each of his first two seasons, but that hasn’t been the case in 2014-15.

  10. Buddy Hield, improved shot selection the keys in Oklahoma’s win over No. 22 UCLA

    Nov 26, 2014, 6:42 PM EST

    Buddy Hield, Zeek Woodley Buddy Hield, Zeek Woodley

    After launching 22 three-pointers in the first half, Oklahoma took a wiser approach to the offensive end of the floor as they outlasted No. 22 UCLA.

  11. No. 5 North Carolina’s loss highlights issues with their rebounding, toughness

    Nov 26, 2014, 5:29 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    It’s hard to put too much stake in one loss, but there are a couple of things from this game that we need to keep an eye on.

  12. Report: Iona reels in well-traveled transfer wing

    Nov 26, 2014, 5:24 PM EST

    Iowa State v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Cameron Biedscheid averaged 6.2 points per game as a freshman at Notre Dame in 2012-13.

  13. Ankle injury to sideline New Mexico’s starting point guard three to five weeks

    Nov 26, 2014, 4:37 PM EST

    Cullen Neal AP

    Joining Cullen Neal on the sideline is Arthur Edwards, who is expected to miss 4-6 weeks thanks to a dislocated finger.

  14. Butler upsets No. 5 North Carolina in Battle 4 Atlantis opener

    Nov 26, 2014, 3:51 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The importance of this win for Butler cannot be overstated.

  15. If No. 12 Villanova doesn’t have a star on their roster, no one told JayVaughn Pinkston

    Nov 26, 2014, 3:19 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    JayVaughn Pinkston is the leader and go-to guy for Villanova. And he is not their star because … why?

  16. Charges faced by Minnesota’s Daquein McNeil are quite serious

    Nov 26, 2014, 9:00 AM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    He was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault.