I just know you all have been sitting around, biting your nails, wondering "when are they finally going to tell me who the best players in the Sun Belt Conference are?!"
Well, your wait is over, you lucky stiff. Last season the SBC had Middle Tennessee State and Denver at the top, Louisiana-Monroe and Florida International at the bottom, and everyone else milling about in between.
Coming into this season, Denver left, and it looks like North Texas and/or South Alabama might join the Blue Raiders at the top, but not much else may change.
In fact, that triumverate will appear at the top of this individual player list, as well.
Let the intrigue begin, eh?
7. A Big, Giant Cluster - No, really, there are ten players on this list. Unfortunately, once you start reaching the bottom of the ladder, there's just a big puddle of talent and question marks.
I suppose you would choose Greg Gantt when you look at Florida Atlantic's roster - the good news is that FAU's leading scorer, rebounder, and shot blocker return. The bad news is those are three different players. Elfrid Payton from Louisiana-Lafayette came mostly off the bench last season but still played almost 23 minutes a game and led the team in assists (3 per game) to go with the rest of his line. Unfortunately, he also had a 1:1 assist to turnover ratio. Hopefully he can improve on that for a team that lost essentially every player that scored more than him from last season.
Louisiana-Monroe's Charles Winborne was second on the team in scoring, but putting up 11.2 points per game and shooting 43.5% on threes isn't enough for your own special mention in my book. Last comes Emil Jones at Troy, a Juco transfer who averaged a very respectable 9.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.9 apg for the Trojans last season. That may keep getting better with a more unified and full offseason of work, but I'm not ready to break him out of this pack just yet.
6. Trey Finn, Arkansas State - 11.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 459 3PT%
Finn made the conference All-Tournament team and is the second-leading scorer of the four returning starters for the Red Wolves. He gets the nod here over teammate Marcus Hooten because while Hooten was a little better with total points, Finn was a much better shooter across the board.
5. George Fant, Western Kentucky - 10.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 0.9 spg
earned Most Oustanding Player during the SBC Tournament after posting 14.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game for the HIlltoppers' tourney-winning squad, and posted solid numbers during the regular season. Definitely a lot of promise for this young man, though it may be tough for WKU to repeat last season's run.
4. Marcos Knight, Middle Tennessee State - 11.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.0 apg
I could have gone with either Knight or JT Sulton here, and it was really a toss-up. I give the nod to Knight because he was higher on the All-Conference team, scored a little more, took some threes, and had far more assists. Even though he was an atrocity at the free-throw line. Don't make me regret this, Marcos.
3. Will Neighbour, Arkansas-Little Rock - 10.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg
Neighbour must be a tough kid, because he put up the stat line you see above despite playing the entire second half of season with torn labrum. I'm very impressed by that, and am very curious to see what he can do with a full, healthy season - or if he's even capable of a full, healthy season. He was the team's leading scorer up until the injury (12.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg).
1b. Augustine Rubit, South Alabama - 15.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg
This was close, very close. I was very impressed with Rubit's numbers once I looked a little closer in order to create this list. He does many things well - shoot, rebound, defend, an occasional shot block. Maybe a bit too many turnovers, but not enough that he isn't right up here neck-and-neck at the top of the pile. If he continues to improve year-to-year as he did last season, watch out folks.
1a. Tony Mitchell, North Texas - 14.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg, .567 FG%, .439 3PT%
Your early favorite for conference player of the year, and last season's Freshman of the Year, Tony Mitchell. He posted ten double-doubles last season, though some of his more ludicrous lines (34/16 vs USA, 30/17 vs DU, 21/22 vs FAU) were bolstered by overtime periods. There's no reason for Mitchell to slow down this season, and he may even be exiting for the NBA at the same time his team as a whole exits the conference.