By Garrett Jones
They don’t call it the “Fun Belt” for nothing.
One of college basketball’s most underrated conferences tips off in a fitting site- Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Georgia State enters with the best overall record at 22-9, holds the 1-seed, and undoubtedly the team to watch.
They boast impressive non-conference wins over a pair of Southeastern Conference schools- Georgia by 24 points, and a three-point road win over an Alabama team that could receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Panthers likely don’t have the resumé necessary to grab a precious at-large bids, but if they end up winning the Sun Belt, will return to familiar territory.
Romantic college basketball fans won’t soon forget Georgia State’s upset as a 14-seed over No. 3 Baylor in 2015, led by future NBA reserve RJ Hunter. RJ is long gone, but his father- and head coach Ron Hunter- still remains. Keep an eye on the Panthers under his watch.
9-seed Arkansas State had a less memorable regular season- but that’s at no fault of senior guard Ty Cockfield. The player to watch in this tournament put up a conference-best 22.4 points per game off incredible shooting clips of 44 percent overall and 36 percent from outside.
He also put up numerous memorable single- performances, highlighted by a season-best 35 points in the team’s 90-87 overtime loss to rival Louisiana. In non-conference games against Minnesota and Syracuse, he put up a respectable 20 and 17 points, respectively.
Keep an eye on Texas State- no doubt a sleeper in this tournament. The Bobcats hold the 4-seed and a double-bye on a friendly side of the bracket. They have struggled recently to finish conference play, but still went a respectable 12-6 in the Sun Belt.
The tournament tips off Tuesday night with 8-seed South Alabama hosting Arkansas and 7-seed ULM hosting 10-seed Appalachian state in the campus-hosted preliminary rounds.
You can catch the true madness- or in this case- “Fun” all week long on ESPN plus, culminating with Sunday’s championship game on ESPN2.
Predicted tournament champion: Georgia State.