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Sun Belt Conference tournament preview

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1. Georgia State
Current record: 22-9 overall, 15-5 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Eliminated in championship round by Louisiana-Lafayette
This season against TXST: 1-1
Scoring margin: +10.2

Georgia State, second in scoring offense, is favored to win the conference tournament. The Panthers are ranked first in the conference in blocked shots, steals and assist-to-turnover ratio. Ryan Harrow, Panthers senior guard, and R.J. Hunter, junior guard, complement each other and are ranked first and second in scoring in the conference. Harrow averages 20.2 points a game. Hunter averages 19.7 points a game. The Panthers will not have to face a legitimate opponent until the semifinals.

COACH KASPAR’S TAKE: “As far as the tournament, I think Georgia State is playing great basketball right now. They have two of the top five players in the league: R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow.”

2. Georgia Southern
Current record: 21-8 overall, 14-6 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: N/A
This season against TXST: 2-0
Scoring margin: +8.6

Texas State would only face Georgia Southern in the championship game. The Eagles are ranked first in the conference in 3-point shooting, averaging 7.7 per game. Jelani Hewitt, Eagles senior guard, is third in the conference in scoring, averaging 18.2 points per game. The Eagles will not face an opponent until the semifinals.

COACH KASPAR’S TAKE: “I do believe Georgia Southern is a very good team. Obviously they are a senior-dominant team that knows how to win. That’s the best way I can put it.”

3. Louisiana-Monroe
Current record: 20-11 overall, 14-6 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Eliminated in first round by UT-Arlington
This season against TXST: 2-0
Scoring margin: +4.3

Louisiana-Monroe has been a consistent team throughout the season. The Warhawks are eighth in scoring offense, but their defense makes up for it. The Warhawks are ranked second in scoring defense. Tylor Ongwae, Warhawks senior forward, is the team’s leading scorer and averages 13.8 points per game. Just behind Ongwae is Majok Deng, Warhawks junior forward, who averages 9.9 points a game.

COACH KASPAR’S TAKE: “Louisiana-Monroe—they are a good basketball team. I think Coach (Keith) Richard has done a great job after losing Margaret Williams and keeping good players in the hunt.”

4. Louisiana-Lafayette
Current record: 19-12 overall, 13-7 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: 2014 Sun Belt Conference Tournament champions
This season against TXST: 2-0
Scoring margin: +8.2

Louisiana-Lafayette is peaking at the right time. The Ragin’ Cajuns are on a six-game winning streak. The team has two very talented players: Shawn Long, Ragin’ Cajuns junior forward, and Jay Wright, sophomore guard. Long is expected to declare for the NBA draft after the season and could potentially be selected in the first or second round. Long, one of two players averaging a double-double in the conference, leads the Ragin’ Cajuns in scoring and rebounds.

COACH KASPAR’S TAKE: “A team that is playing very, very good basketball right now is Louisiana-Lafayette. They are very hot. I think Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia State are the two hottest teams going into the postseason tournament.”

5. UT-Arlington
Current record: 16-14 overall, 10-10 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Eliminated in quarterfinals by Louisiana-Lafayette
This season against TXST: 2-0
Scoring margin: +0.7

The Mavericks threaten their opponents with fast breaks and the quick shots they put up. Lonnie McClanahan, Mavericks senior guard, averages 11.6 points and 2.9 assists per game. The Mavericks are a dependable rebounding team, averaging 36.6 defensive and 37.0 offensive per game.

COACH KASPAR’S TAKE: “You have to stop their fast break. You have to stop them from laying the ball off the glass even though they have some good shooters.”

6. South Alabama
Current record: 11-20 overall, 9-11 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Did not qualify for postseason tournament
This season against TXST: 0-2
Scoring margin: -4.7

South Alabama’s scoring offense is ranked sixth in the conference, averaging 69.6 points per game. Ken Williams, Jaguars sophomore guards, averages 15.9 points per game. Williams has 10 games with 20 points or more this season. The Jaguars are ranked third in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage, averaging 6.5 per game. Williams converts 2.6 of his 3-pointers per game, the second-highest mark in the Sun Belt.

7. Arkansas-Little Rock
Current record: 13-17 overall, 8-12 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Eliminated in quarterfinals by Arkansas State
This season against TXST: 1-1
Scoring margin: -1.1

Arkansas-Little Rock is second in the conference in 3-point shooting percentage, averaging 34.7 per game. Josh Hagins, junior guard, ranks among the top 15 in conference scoring. Hagins averages 12.1 points per game. The Trojans will have to intensify their defense to prolong their tournament presence, especially against first-round opponent South Alabama. The Trojans are allowing their opponents 70.8 points per game.

8. Texas State
Current record: 13-16 overall, 7-13 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Did not qualify for postseason tournament
Scoring margin: +1.9

Texas State is one of the best defensive teams in the conference allowing its opponents 60 points per game. The Bobcats will rely on Emani Gant, junior forward, and Kavin Gilder-Tilbury, sophomore forward, for offensive support. Ethan Montalvo, junior guard, gives the Bobcats an outside shooting threat. Montalvo averages 1.7 three-pointers per game and can give the Bobcats the offensive edge if he remains consistent throughout the tournament.

COACH KASPAR’S TAKE: “I do believe our players are going in this with renewed hope. This is our third season. If (our) guys can shoot in the mid-forties, out-rebound (the) opponent and defend the way we have, we are going to win some games.”

Follow Sabrina Flores on Twitter @SabrinaFloresTX.