It’s still November, which means it’s overreaction season in college basketball. Teams are trying to pick up resume building wins and when they do, it means they are destined for tournament greatness. When they don’t, it means they are busts and are doomed for obscurity.
However, it’s no overreaction that puts a new team atop the Sun Belt Power Rankings. After a 5-0 start, the Georgia Southern Eagles are showing why foregone conclusions have no place in the #FunBelt.
1. Georgia Southern (5-0), Previous – 2
For the second year in a row, the Eagles have started a season 5-0. After an early win over an experienced George Mason squad, Georgia Southern won the Bahamas Showcase with double digit wins over Florida Atlantic and Pepperdine, followed by a three-point victory over Montana. Even more impressive is that the last two wins came without early leading scorer Quan Jackson, who was injured in the game against FAU.
Jackson, a very talented and athletic sophomore, isn’t expected to miss a lot of time. The Eagles leaned on reliable senior Tookie Brown, the tournament MVP, to get past a very good Montana team in the championship. After leading by 20 points at halftime, the Eagles had to hold on late as Brown hit some clutch free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.
Georgia Southern will get another mid-major test tonight at East Tennessee State before a monster challenge at Arizona Thursday, so the perfect record is likely to fall. But up till now the Eagles have been playing the best in the league.
2. Georgia State (3-2), 1
The Panthers may have the more impressive wins than their rival Eagles, but they have also been more inconsistent. Georgia State nearly gave up a 19-point lead in a 62-60 win over fellow in-state school Mercer, then headed to the Cayman Islands Classic. The Panthers opened the event with a 75-65 victory over St. Bonaventure for what was the best win of the season at that point, but then laid an egg against Creighton in a 25-point loss the next night.
Georgia State’s consolation prize was a third-place matchup against in-state power conference opponent Georgia. Coach Ron Hunter had made no secret of the fact he came to this tournament hoping for a meeting with Georgia, as they have refused to schedule the Panthers during his tenure. While I’m sure he would have rather played Clemson in the title game, the Panthers took advantage of the rare opportunity against the Bulldogs with a 91-67 annihilation, backing up their claim as the best team in the state in recent years.
The Panthers have two trips on the docket for this week as they go to Tulane and Liberty. They are still without their second leading scorer from a year ago, senior Devin Mitchell, but he could return this week. If Georgia State should maintain its peak form, then it likely won’t be long before the Panthers reclaim the top spot.
3. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (3-3), 3
Louisiana hasn’t necessarily done anything to keep it’s No. 3 spot, but no other team has been impressive enough to take it either. The Ragin’ Cajuns had a respectable showing in a 89-76 loss to Kansas and then went 2-1 in the Gulf Coast Showcase last week, with its only loss coming to event champion Toledo.
The Cajuns beat Colorado State by 18 and Tulane by seven in their two victories in Deland, as host Florida Gulf Coast was also beat by Toledo. This week, Louisiana will have very manageable opportunities against New Orleans and Southern.
4. UT-Arlington Mavericks (3-3), 4
The Mavericks had a tough loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and followed it up with a victory over UC-Davis. But that is where things got much more difficult as their gauntlet of a non-conference schedule revved into gear. UTA had trips to Indiana and Arkansas over the holiday, with both resulting in double-digit losses.
Those losses were to be expected for such an inexperienced team, but the Mavericks continue to impress with their competitiveness. This week they will travel to Tulsa and host UT-Rio Grand Valley.
5. Texas State (5-1), 8
The Bobcats make the jump into the top five this week after winning the Portland Classic in convincing fashion. While it may not have been against stalwart competition, Texas State picked up three victories by an average margin of victory of 22 points.
Texas State was led by a career-high 33 points by Nijal Pearson in the tournament finals which secured him the tournament MVP. This week the Bobcats will host Rice and travel to UTSA.
6. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (4-3), 6
It was an up and down couple weeks for the Chanticleers as they dropped two close games in the Northern Kentucky Invitational to the host Norse and Manhattan, while picking up a 26-point victory over UNC-Ashville between them. Coastal then returned home to dominate Methodist 88-57.
Zac Cuthbertson is third in the conference in scoring behind Georgia State’s D’Marcus Simonds and Pearson at 19.9 points per game. The Chanticleers next prepare to take on reeling South Carolina in Columbia.
7. Troy Trojans (3-3), 7
After a 15-point loss to Southern Miss, the Trojans rebounded with victories over Central Arkansas and North Alabama. Leading scorer Jordan Varnado (16.8 PPG) was held to just nine points against Southern Miss, but had 20 and 21, respectively, in the two wins.
This week Troy will host Austin Peay before a Monday trip to Florida State.
8. ULM Warhawks (2-3), 5
The Warhawks got run out of the gym, as expected, against Michigan State, and then dropped a loss at home to Tennessee Tech for the Golden Eagles’ only win of the season. Granted, three of Tennessee Tech’s five losses were to Michigan State, Memphis and North Carolina, but it’s still not a good look for the Warhawks after a promising start.
ULM has trips to Northwestern State and Ole Miss this week.
9. South Alabama Jaguars (3-3), 10
Few teams have been as up and down this year as the Jaguars. South Alabama hosted the Goldie and Herman Unger Classic last week and picked up a 21-point victory over Chattanooga before being run out of the gym by Jacksonville the next day, 71-48. The Jaguars responded with a 20-point win over Southeast Missouri State before falling to Texas A&M by 12 a couple days later.
Consistency is the key for Richie Riley’s squad as they go to Southern Miss and host Florida A&M this week.
10. Appalachian State Mountaineers (2-4), 9
The Mountaineers were competitive but left the Charleston Classic with three losses last week. After falling to Purdue by 22 in the first game, App State lost to Wichita State by six and Ball State by eight in overtime.
A win over Winston Salem State on Monday is hopefully a sign of things to come for a squad who so far doesn’t have the results to match its improved play. App State goes to East Carolina later this week.
11. Arkansas-Little Rock (3-3), 11
The Trojans have gotten a couple of Division I wins now over Tennessee State and Howard, but a loss at home to Arkansas Pine-Bluff keeps them from climbing up the rankings. Little Rock is at Central Arkansas and hosts Sam Houston State this week.
12. Arkansas State (2-4), 12
The Red Wolves got their first Division I win of the season over Gardner-Webb on Sunday, but it isn’t enough to pull them out of the cellar after a poor showing in the Battle in the Blue Ridge tournament. Another opportunity for a Division I win awaits at Lehigh this weekend.