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Mailbag: Little Rock’s chances and a look at the Sun Belt as a whole

Also, a plea for you to buy us beer(s).

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas-Little Rock at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, did you know that the college basketball season is finally starting next week? Well, it is.

Exactly what the season will look like remains unknown, and anyone pretending to have any confidence in how it will go probably also has a nice beachfront property they’d be willing to sell you.

Nonetheless, we march on. There are undoubtedly umpteen questions surrounding the season, but we’ll try to answer a few of yours as the hours countdown until the first tip off.

We’re buying Little Rock stock this year. They entered the Other Top 25 preseason ranking as our No. 22 team, and they’re expected to be one of the top teams in the Sun Belt once again. Markquis Nowell and Ruot Monyyong are one of the best inside-out duos in the country, and Darrell Walker brings back almost 80% of his team’s minutes from a roster that went 15-5 in league play last season. They’ll be a tough out for anyone on a given night.

Little Rock was deemed the preseason pick to win the league by Blue Ribbon Yearbook, but Georgia State will be close behind them. The Panthers bring back a strong backcourt with All-Conference picks in Kane Williams and Justin Roberts along with a third stellar guard in Corey Allen. They’re deep and talented just like Little Rock, which is why those two are probably a cut above the rest of the league.

If you’re looking for a dark horse, consider Louisiana. The Ragin’ Cajuns took a small step back last year as Bob Marlin integrated a lot of new pieces, but he’ll bring back three starters including preseason All-Conference picks in Cedric Russell and sophomore Mylik Wilson. Overall, the Sun Belt should be a solid league from top to bottom with a lot of up-tempo teams and talented guard play.

For those who aren’t aware, this is what the Big Sky’s conference schedule looks like:

Big Sky Conference

It’s a scheduling model that we’re seeing all over college basketball, and it seems like it’s the optimal choice to try to get as much of the season played as possible. The only thing that would make it better, in my opinion, is an open week for all schools at the same time that could be used for makeup games if there’s a situation in which the open weekends do not allow for rescheduling.

He’s in a crowded backcourt, but getting Riller at No. 56 is pretty solid value for a guy that had a mid-second-round grade in multiple places. As to why he fell, there’s probably no rhyme or reason to it. Often times, teams picking in the second round zero-in on a specific player, and if he’s there, they pull the trigger. It’s not that Riller isn’t talented, he just wasn’t the guy that teams ahead of the Hornets wanted.

His ability to score at will should make him a candidate to stick on the roster, especially for a team that’s in no hurry to win now.

It’s going to happen come hell or high water. There’s simply too much money at stake not to.

Holding it in a single location like Indianapolis is a smart move that makes sense as a one-off solution during These Unprecedented Times. There will likely be some minor tweaks to the schedule such as an extended break between Selection Sunday and the start of the tournament to allow time for testing, travel, etc. But like everything else this season, it’s going to look different and it’s hard to make any concrete predictions about it this far out.

Liberty and Lipscomb are the top two, yes, and it’s a pretty sizable gap.

North Florida and Stetson could knock on the door though. The Ospreys have one of the league’s best players in Carter Hendrickson, but they’ll need to get some production from a new crop of guards if they hope to compete. We’ll likely see their offense take a sizable step back after ranking 31st in the country in efficiency, according to KenPom.

Stetson was one of the most inexperienced teams in the country last year, but Donnie Jones brings back more returning production than anyone else in the league. The Hatters have size at every position and improved defensively down the stretch last season. A bet on the Hatters is a bet on another year of experience and continuity for a team that has already proven it can hang with the league’s best.

Losing Jason Wade to injury is a huge blow to the Monarchs, clearly. He was one of the best wing defenders in Conference USA last year when he was healthy, and he was expected to be a huge boost to ODU’s hopes of getting back in the mix for the league title.

C-USA is deep and talented, and losing a key piece like Wade would be detrimental to any team. There’s still enough talent on the Monarchs’ roster to compete, especially in the backcourt. But there’s no denying that without Wade, it’s going to be an uphill battle to stick with the league’s elite.

Sam visited Indianapolis in The Before Times for a Marquette game and bought me five beers before the game at some local watering holes.

It’s a simple solution folks. You want to write for us? Buy us beer(s).