By Reid McEowen
With the Sun Belt conference wrapping up their men’s basketball regular season on Feb. 27, it is now time to shift focus to the conference tournament as the 12 teams of the Sun Belt conference battle it out in Pensacola, Florida for an automatic bid into the March Madness Tournament.
Coming into the tournament, there are a few teams that have had their sights on March since the beginning of the season. The Georgia State Panthers are on a six-game win streak as they take top of the East Division and are the one seed on their side of the bracket.
While the Panthers are the clear favorite to come out of East, their path to the finals is not going to be smooth sailing. They will likely face Coastal Carolina or the South Alabama Jaguars. Both teams were able to grab wins against the Panthers during the regular season and will look to upset Georgia State one last time for a chance at an automatic bid into March Madness.
On the other side of the bracket, Texas State is looking to stake its claim to the throne of the Sun Belt Conference. The Bobcats have had their eyes on March since the beginning of the season. Texas State is top off the West Division as they have won seven straight and have relied heavily on their dynamic guards, Juniors Mason Harrell and Caleb Asberry.
However, their journey to the finals will likely go through the dynamic Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. The Ragin’ Cajuns have been a thorn in the side of the Bobcats all year as Louisiana was able to grab two regular season wins against Texas State. As the second seed in the West Division, the Ragin Cajuns are my favorite to come out of the West and battle for their bid to the big dance.
I expect the Sun Belt Men’s Basketball Conference tournament to be a battle between the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns and the conference favorite Georgia State Panthers. Expect this potential matchup to be a battle of veteran guards as Panther’s senior Corey Allen and Ragin’ Cajuns’ senior Cedric Russell lead their respective teams in scoring. Russell’s high scoring will be a lot for the Panthers to handle, however, Georgia State is one of the few teams with five players with scoring averages in the double figure. It is this differentiation that seems to give the Panthers the edge in this match up. With their unselfish style of play and the Ragin’ Cajuns reliance on Cedric Russell for offense, I think the Panthers will be able to pull this one out and punch their ticket in the big dance.
Whoever the winner of the tournament is, they will likely be a 16 seed and will have the daunting task of trying to be the second 16 seed to beat a one seed. The top seeds have a 135-1 all-time record against their 16-seed counterparts, but it’s been done once before, so there’s always a chance for a Cinderella story again.
Edited by Emma Moloney