After Georgia State and the father-son team of Ron and R.J. Hunter captured America’s heart with a first-round upset over Baylor in the NCAA tournament last season, the Panthers face a bit of a rebuilding year before one of their better recruiting classes comes in next season. Four-star shooting guard D’Marcus Simonds and three-star Chris Clerkley both come in next season, and are currently ranked the 9th- and 14th-best prospects coming out of the state of Georgia in the class of 2016 by 247Sports.
For the 2015-’16 season however, the league appears to be ruled by Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin Cajuns were a bit underachieving last season, finishing with the second-best Pomeroy Rating in the conference but finishing fourth in the league standings. Lafayette had an incredibly deep team last season, giving out over 40 percent of its minutes to bench guys. That depth should help them during the slog of conference play, but one has to wonder whether tightening up the rotation a bit might help them decide on their crunch time lineup a bit more easily.
Lafayette will be led by a pair of seniors in Kasey Shepherd and Shawn Long. Shepherd had the fourth best steal rate in the country last season, and also shot 52 percent from two and 85 percent from the line. Long, meanwhile, finished 2015 as the 7th best defensive rebounder in the nation and shot 58 percent inside the arc. Both are potential conference players of the year, and should spearhead the Ragin Cajuns to the tournament.
One team that could see itself shoot up the standings this year is UT-Arlington. The Mavericks finished just 10-10 in conference play last season, but lose just two seniors who played more than 20 minutes per game last season. Arlington had two potentially significant players, Johnny Hill and Drew Charles, play just 21 and 22 games respectively last season, and having a full year out of Charles (Hill transferred to Purdue) should help the Mavericks improve on their .500 mark in conference play last season.
The Sun Belt’s overall ranking as a conference was propped up quite a bit by Georgia State’s ranking of 64 according to KenPom, but equally as useful for the league was for the second year in a row, no team finished with a KenPom ranking of 300 or lower. The Sun Belt will probably drop off a bit as a whole this season, with the best teams finishing around 100th to 110th overall, but the league as a whole has done a great job of turning itself into a competitive league which always seems to produce one team that has the ability to make noise come March.
3. UT Arlington
4. Appalachian State
5. Georgia State
6. Arkansas Little Rock
7. Texas State
8. South Alabama
9. Georgia Southern
11. Arkansas State
All League Team
Josh Hagins, Arkansas Little Rock
Shawn Long, Louisiana Lafayette
Kasey Shepherd, Louisiana Lafayette
Ken Williams, South Alabama
Frank Eaves, Appalachian State