Tag:Sun Belt
Posted on: November 11, 2011 1:32 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2011 3:29 pm

UNT's Tony Mitchell eager to get back on hardwood

By Jeff Borzello

North Texas kicks off its season against St. Gregory’s tonight, but the Mean Green’s season won’t really start until December 18.

That’s when freshman Tony Mitchell becomes eligible.

“Everybody’s talking about it,” Mitchell said by phone.

“We’re excited about that date,” head coach Johnny Jones added. “It will be an exciting time for us.”

While not playing at one of the BCS-conference schools, Mitchell will be one of the biggest impact freshmen in the country. He originally signed with Missouri out of high school, but the five-star prospect was ruled a partial qualifier due to questions about his transcript and test scores.

Since the Big 12 does not allow partial qualifiers, Mitchell decided he would rather go to another four-year college and sit out as opposed to junior college. North Texas was on Mitchell’s final list before he chose the Tigers – and the Mean Green allow partial qualifiers.

Jones had pursued Mitchell throughout his recruitment, and even welcomed him on campus for an official visit before he chose Missouri. For the Dallas native, it was an easy option.

“It’s basically like Missouri, with the family atmosphere,” Mitchell said. “It was a no brainer.”

Mitchell hasn’t been allowed to practice with the team since arriving at North Texas, but he’s been working out with his trainer to refine his game and expand his skill set. Moreover, he made the U-19 USA team that played in Latvia this summer.

The 6-foot-9 Mitchell led the team in rebounding (7.6) and blocks (1.8) per game, also contributing 5.0 points a contest.

“It was a very exciting, fun experience,” he said. “I just wanted to make my presence felt, make sure everyone hasn’t forgotten about me. I just played, did what I did best.”

Mitchell said it’s been difficult not to be able to play with his future Mean Green teammates, but the time away from the court has allowed him to focus on things outside of basketball. He has concentrated more on academics – the reason he is at North Texas in the first place – and he has matured on and off the hardwood.

Because he has no teammates to rely on yet, Mitchell has needed to become more independent in terms of his work ethic and schoolwork.

“He’s had to sit there and do some things academically on his own,” Jones said. “Because of his set back, it’s helped him in a sense. He had to apply himself in a different way. He’s really grown.”

“I’m basically being a college student,” Mitchell added.

North Texas went 22-11 last season, losing on a last-second shot to Arkansas-Little Rock in the Sun Belt title game. Moreover, the Mean Green lose the majority of last year’s team, including their top four scorers.

There is certainly room for Mitchell to step in and contribute immediately – and Jones needs him to be a star right off the bat. Despite not working out with the team or playing organized basketball for the better part of 18 months, Mitchell will need to shake the rust off quickly.

“Tony can play in any conference, and that’s how I gauge kids,” Jones said. “He has the ability to come in and make people around him better.”

CBSSports.com ranked Mitchell No. 16 among the freshmen entering college, because he should be able to come in and dominate the Sun Belt immediately. His talent along puts him on a different level than most players at the mid-major level.

Throw in the hunger and motivation of sitting out last season, and Mitchell is ready to get back on the court.

“I’m ready to make a huge impact,” he said. “But you still have to prove yourself. I have to live up to the expectations.”

North Texas is confident he will be worth the wait.

Photos: USA Basketball 

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Posted on: March 8, 2011 9:35 pm

Welcome to the Dance, Arkansas-Little Rock!

With one clutch 3-pointer, the biggest shot and biggest Cinderella story of championship week will come from the Sun Belt. Conference player of the year Solomon Bozeman stopped on a dime and pulled up for the game-winning 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left to send Arkansas-Little Rock to the NCAA tournament. The Trojans overcame a seven-point deficit in the final 1:28 to defeat North Texas, 64-63. Bozeman finished with 20 points to lead UALR.

Coming into the conference tournament as the No. 5 seed from the West division, Little Rock were just 15-16 during the regular season, losing seven of its last 10 games. The Trojans turned it around in the postseason, though, holding opponents to fewer than 60 points per game. After reaching the NCAA tournament three times during a five-year span in the late 1980s, the Trojans had gone 20 seasons without an appearance. The alma mater of Derek Fisher is finally back in the Big Dance.

Player to know: Solomon Bozeman. Who else could it possibly be? Although most of America was introduced to Bozeman on his game-winning 3-pointer, he has been doing things like that all season for the Trojans. Bozeman is a tremendous outside shooter, knocking 46.3 percent of his 3-pointers. He took his game to another level during the conference tournament, averaging 19.5 points in four games, getting to the free-throw line an astonishing 50 times.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 19-16, 7-9 Sun Belt
  • Team colors: Maroon, silver and black
  • We’re thinking: 16-seed
  • KenPom ranking: 212
  • RPI: 205
  • Best win: Tulsa (18-12)
  • Worst loss: South Alabama (12-16)
  • Notable stat: The Trojans rank ninth in the country in 3-point percentage, knocking down 40.5 percent of their outside shots.
  • Most recent tournament history: 1990. Went into the tournament as a No. 16 seed and lost to UNLV in the first round.

Photo: US Presswire

Posted by Jeff Borzello

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Category: NCAAB
Tags: BELT, Sun Belt
Posted on: March 8, 2011 9:43 am

Sun Belt championship game preview

The best part of championship week is the Cinderella stories that emerge, lower-seeded teams making runs through their respective conference tournaments to get automatic bids. Luckily, the Sun Belt Conference championship game (7 p.m., ESPN2) features two that fit the description: North Texas and Arkansas-Little Rock.

North Texas (22-10, 8-8) came into the season as the Sun Belt favorite, after winning the title last year. The Mean Green struggled in conference play, though, finishing fourth in the West division. It looks like they have hit their stride in the conference tournament, winning their three games by an average of nearly 16 points per contest. North Texas swept Arkansas-Little Rock during the regular season.

The Mean Green have a balanced crew, led by guard Tristan Thompson. The senior guard has been lighting it up in the conference tournament, totaling 64 points in his last two games. Thompson teams in the backcourt with fellow seniors Josh White and Dominique Johnson. White is a solid scorer, although he has been inconsistent lately, while Johnson is an efficient offensive playmaker. Up front, George Odufuwa averages a double-double and has been playing well in the league tournament.

Arkansas-Little Rock (18-16, 7-9) didn’t look like much of a threat heading into the tournament. The Trojans had lost their final three games and seven of their last 10, stumbling into the postseason as the No. 5 seed in the West. UALR has been doing it with defense in the conference tournament, holding South Alabama, Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee to an average of 58.7 points per game.

Sun Belt Player of the Year Solomon Bozeman leads the way for the Trojans. Bozeman is an unbelievable scorer who has put the team on his back in the conference tournament, averaging nearly 23 points per game. He has been to the free-throw line an astonishing 42 times in three games. If Bozeman gets hot, look out. UALR is a very deep team, with balanced offensive options after Bozeman. Alex Garcia-Mendoza and D’Andre Williams are playing well at the right time.

The match-up to watch in this one will be Thompson vs. Bozeman. Both players are on fire in the conference tournament and have the ability to carry their respective teams to a victory. North Texas has to attack the rim offensively, drawing fouls and scoring from the charity stripe. Defensively, the Mean Green have to guard the arc. On the other side, UALR has to be disciplined defensively and get consistent perimeter production.

North Texas seems to have rid itself of whatever plagued it during the conference season; the Mean Green are hitting on all cylinders right now and look very difficult to beat. Bozeman will keep Little Rock in the game, but he doesn’t have the supporting cast to match Thompson and North Texas. Expect the Mean Green to be an intriguing 16-seed in the NCAA tournament.

Photo: US Presswire

Posted by Jeff Borzello

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Category: NCAAB
Tags: BELT, Sun Belt
Posted on: March 7, 2011 12:15 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2011 12:19 pm

Sun Belt blown wide open

With the top three favorites getting knocked out before the semifinals, we suddenly have our most wide-open conference tournament: the Sun Belt.

It was a crazy Sunday in the conference, as Middle Tennessee (17-15, 10-6) was the only team with a bye to advance out of the quarterfinals.

Regular-season champion Florida Atlantic (21-10, 13-3) was defeated by defending champion North Texas (21-10, 8-8), which received 36 points from guard Tristan Thompson. Perennial contender Western Kentucky (16-15, 8-8) knocked off Louisiana-Lafayette (14-15, 11-5), which came into the tournament with 11 straight wins. West division champ Arkansas State (17-15, 11-5) lost to Player of the Year Solomon Bozeman and Arkansas-Little Rock (17-16, 7-9). Middle Tennessee destroyed Florida International (11-19, 6-10) to restore some semblance of sanity.

Where does that leave us? Is Middle Tennessee automatically the favorite?

The Blue Raiders lost three of their final four heading into the conference tournament, including one to four-win Houston Baptist. They have bounced back since then, though, winning two in a row by a combined 43 points. This is a very deep team, utilizing a 10-man rotation. James Washington III and Jason Jones are the main options offensively, although J.T. Sulton is coming on strong down low.

Heading into the tournament, we said North Texas and Western Kentucky would be the two sleepers to watch. North Texas, which reached the NCAA Tournament last year, still has plenty of talent. Thompson leads a deep perimeter group that also features scorers Josh White and playmaker Dominique Johnson. George Odufuwa has posted 16 double-doubles for the Mean Green. When Western Kentucky is getting the production it has been receiving from its frontcourt, the Hilltoppers are tough to beat. The trio of Sergio Kerusch, Steffphon Pettigrew and Juan Patillo combined for 65 points and 24 rebounds against Lafayette in the quarters.

Arkansas-Little Rock lost seven of its final 10 games, but the Trojans are hitting their stride at the right time. Solomon Bozeman is the league’s best player, although he has been inconsistent lately. Fellow guard Alex Garcia-Mendoza, a native of Mexico, has posted double-figures in four of his last five games. Little Rock makes a killing from the 3-point line and the free-throw line, getting just 45.7 percent of its points from 2-point shots.

The semifinals are set, with Middle Tennessee taking on Arkansas-Little Rock, and North Texas facing Western Kentucky. North Texas was the preseason favorite; with the way the Mean Green are playing, have things come full circle?

Updated Sun Belt Bracket

Photo: US Presswire

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Category: NCAAB
Tags: BELT, Sun Belt
Posted on: March 7, 2011 12:15 pm
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Posted on: March 4, 2011 4:06 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2011 4:10 pm

Sun Belt Conference tournament preview

The Sun Belt Conference usually features a wide-open race with plenty of contenders, and this season was no different for the most part. However, the threats came and went, with second-place a revolving door occupied by a handful of different teams. The only constant during the entire campaign was Florida Atlantic (21-9, 13-3 in the Sun Belt), which started the conference season 8-0 and coasted to a regular-season title.

The two teams that split the West division title, Arkansas State (17-14, 11-5) and Louisiana-Lafayette (14-14, 11-5) both started slowly. Arkansas State was 4-4 before winning seven of its final eight league games, while Lafayette bounced back from a 1-5 start to win its last 11 overall games heading into the conference tournament. Middle Tennessee (15-15, 10-6) lost three of its final four and Denver (13-16, 9-7) dropped seven of its last 10.

Due to its consistency, Florida Atlantic is the frontrunner for the league tournament. The Owls have won 18 of their last 23, jumpstarted by back-to-back wins over Mississippi State and South Florida in the non-conference season. They take care of the ball offensively, and guard the rim at the other end. Greg Gantt and Ray Taylor form a very solid backcourt, while Brett Royster is the league’s best defender. This is a balanced outfit with an experienced coach in Mike Jarvis.

Winners of 11 in a row, it’s hard to argue with Lafayette as the biggest threat. The Leopards get up and down the floor, aggressively driving to the basket and attacking the offensive glass. They have several match-up problems on the roster, led by all-conference guard J.J. Thomas. Arkansas State is also playing well right now. The Red Wolves rebound the ball very well and have a balanced offensive group. Martavius Adams is the go-to-guy, but he struggled down the stretch. Donald Boone picked up the slack, averaging 13.0 points in his last eight games.

There are plenty of sleepers lurking in the weeds. Western Kentucky (14-15, 8-8) has a dominant frontcourt, led by all-conference forwards Sergio Kerusch and Steffphon Pettigrew, and former Oklahoma transfer Juan Pattillo. The three combine to average 42.8 points and 22.7 rebounds per game. North Texas (19-10, 8-8) was the preseason favorite, as the Mean Green have a very good backcourt trio led by Tristan Thompson, and a double-double machine down low in George Odufuwa.

Sun Belt Conference Tournament Bracket

Top Three Players:

1. Solomon Bozeman, Arkansas-Little Rock
2. Tristan Thompson, North Texas
3. Sergio Kerusch, Western Kentucky

  • Conference RPI: 23
  • KenPom.com Conference Ranking: 27
  • Sagarin Conference Ranking: 24
NCAA Tournament Locks: None
NCAA Bubble Teams: None

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance

  • Arkansas-Little Rock: 1990 (lost to UNLV, first round)
  • Arkansas State: 1999 (lost to Utah, first round)
  • Denver: 0 NCAA appearances
  • Florida Atlantic: 2002 (lost to Alabama, first round)
  • Florida International: 1995 (lost to UCLA, first round)
  • Louisiana-Lafayette: 2005 (lost to Louisville, first round)
  • Louisiana-Monroe: 1996 (lost to Wake Forest, first round)
  • Middle Tennessee: 1989 (lost to Virginia, second round)
  • North Texas: 2010 (lost to Kansas State, first round)
  • South Alabama: 2008 (lost to Butler, first round)
  • Troy: 2003 (lost to Xavier, first round)
  • Western Kentucky: 2009 (lost to Gonzaga, second round)

Photo: US Presswire

Posted by Jeff Borzello

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Category: NCAAB
Tags: BELT, Sun Belt
Posted on: January 24, 2011 5:06 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2011 8:07 pm

Hoops takes root at hockey hotbed Denver U.

Joe Scott points Denver toward a brighter futurePosted by Eric Angevine

The University of Denver has NCAA championships. Seven of them. The fact that those banners were earned by the other denizen of 6,000-seat Magness Arena was actually a positive aspect of the basketball coaching job for Joe Scott (right), who came to the Rocky Mountains after three years at his alma mater, Princeton. Before that, it was four seasons and an NCAA appearance with the Air Force Falcons.

"I compare it a little bit to Air Force. Basketball was not ever that big of a deal before we got to Air Force. It was a football school," Scott said after a Friday morning practice. "I sort of felt the same way about hockey. The culture of winning and being successful is there, and transferring it to basketball was something they wanted to do here. It’s a good situation because of that."

When Scott left Princeton, it looked somewhat like he was jumping before he could be pushed. The program that annually battled Penn for the Ivy League championship had endured a 38-45 run under Scott, and alums weren't happy. But whatever the reason for the move, Scott now has the Pioneers sitting pretty in one of the most beautiful locations in the world. The team is steadily improving, going from 7-11 in the Sun Belt in Scott's first season, to 9-9 in his second, then 10-8 in his third. As of today, DU tops the conference's West division with a 6-1 record. It's a surprise, following a 4-9 non-conference showing, but Scott says it all fell into place naturally.

"We faced a lot of adversity early on. We have a 6-foot-8 senior, Rob Lewis, who’s out for the year. He was practicing with us, and sometime around November first, we found out he’s not going to be able to play," Scott related. "Our transfer center, Trevor Noonan, around October 28, he gets sick with an intestinal disorder and over the course of the next few weeks, he loses 30 lbs."

Scott also pointed out that many of the teams his Pioneers lost to -- Utah State, Colorado State, St. Mary's and Portland, specifically -- are doing very well right now. He developed the players he did have into weapons, telling them to emulate the teams who had beaten them, rather than getting down.

"Playing those kinds of teams was good for our guys, because that’s the kind of team we are now. We execute and make you pay."

Denver is peaking at the right time. With the Western Athletic Conference suffering several defections over the summer, his program has been asked to leap into the resulting gap, to begin annual play against the likes of Utah State and New Mexico State in the 2012-2013 season. Scott looks forward to the challenge.

"From a recruiting standpoint, the Sun Belt didn’t hurt us, but it never really helped us, because we don’t recruit in the Sun Belt states. Now we’re going to be playing in a league where, when we recruit, kids know the league," he said. "We’re Denver, we’re in the West. Going into a league that has more name recognition can bump up our recruiting a little bit so we can have some sustainability. We’ll be ready for the WAC. We’re in our sixth year of building the program and we’re doing OK right now. The timing is right for us, and I know it’s good for the school."

For now, Scott and the Pioneers are focusing on maintaining the lead they've built. After six straight wins, Saturday brought a road loss to Middle Tennessee State. The head coach says his kids need to focus on winning the regular season in the Sun Belt, after which he believes postseason success will come.

"The tournament’s a crapshoot. The truth is you should be playing your best basketball rolling into March so you give yourself the best chance in those three days. We’re here all year long, and sixteen regular season games are important, and over those sixteen games you can put yourself in the mix to challenge for a conference championship. That’s critically important."

Baby steps are important. Asking this program to ever win an NCAA championship might be asking too much, but you can bet they'd like to shoulder aside some of those hockey banners and hang a few Sun Belt and, eventually, WAC banners in Magness Arena.

Category: NCAAB
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