Sun Belt Conference tournament preview

Sports Reporter

1. Arkansas-Little Rock
Current record: 25-4 overall, 18-2 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Eliminated in the semifinals by Western Kentucky
This season against Texas State: 2-0
Scoring margin per game: +13.4

Arkansas-Little Rock dominated the Sun Belt Conference this season. The Trojans were first in the Sun Belt in average scoring margin with 13.4 points per game.

The team relies on its top-ranked scoring defense, giving up 50.4 points a game, to put the Trojans in a good position to win ball games.

Taylor Gault, senior guard, is the team’s top scorer with 14.9 points per game. She will lead the Trojans into battle along with the three other upperclassmen on the starting five.

The Trojans plays the eighth-seeded Georgia State Panthers in the first round.

2. Arkansas State
Current record: 21-9 overall, 16-4 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Eliminated by Western Kentucky
This season against Texas State: 1-1
Scoring margin per game: +7.5

Arkansas State comes into the tournament as the second seed led by Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, Aundrea Gamble, junior guard, who averages a conference-best 19.1 points per game and 5.1 assists.

Arkansas State is one of two teams that has beaten Arkansas-Little Rock this season. The Red Wolves have beaten every team in the conference at least once this year.

Arkansas State will play the seventh-seeded Appalachian State Mountaineers in the first round.

3. Troy
Current record: 20-9 overall, 15-5 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Eliminated in the first round by Arkansas-Little Rock
This year against Texas State: 1-1
Scoring margin per game: +3.7

The Trojans are led by their dynamic duo: Ashley Beverley-Kelly, junior guard, and Ronita Garrett, senior forward.

They are the only two players named to the All-Conference First Team from the same school this year.

Troy faces off with the sixth seed, Louisiana-Lafayette, in the first round.

4. Texas State
Current record: 16-13 overall, 11-9 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Eliminated in the semi-finals by Arkansas State
Scoring margin: -1.3

The Bobcats snagged the fourth seed in the Sun Belt conference tournament despite ending the season on a two-game losing streak.

The team is on a two-game skid, but Coach Zenarae Antoine said the Bobcats were confident that they could make a run at the title if “they put their best foot forward.”

The Bobcats have a guard-heavy team. Texas State has three guards who average more than nine points per game.

5. UT-Arlington
Current record: 17-12 overall, 11-9 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Did not qualify for conference tournament
This year against Texas State: 0-2
Scoring margin per game: +6.3

UT-Arlington goes into the conference tournament led by Rebekah Van Dijk, freshman center, who was named to the All-Conference Second Team. Van Dijk is one of two players in the Sun Belt averaging a double-double.

UT Arlington begins its conference tournament campaign against the fourth-seeded Texas State Bobcats.

6. Louisiana-Lafayette
Current record: 18-11 overall, 10-10 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Eliminated in the first round by Western Kentucky
This year against Texas State: 2-0
Scoring margin per game: +2.8

The Ragin’ Cajuns are the turnover machine in the Sun Belt with a +6.97 margin, which ranks first in the conference.

Louisiana-Lafayette will be led by Keke Veal, Ragin’ Cajuns junior guard, and Jaylyn Gordon, sophomore guard. Veal averages 13.8 points and 3.3 assists per game. Gordon averages 13.7 points and 2.3 assists per game.

The Ragin’ Cajuns draw the third-seeded Troy Trojans in the first round.

7. Appalachian State
Current record: 14-15 overall, 9-11 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Eliminated in the first round by Samford (Southern Conference)
This year against Texas State: 1-1
Scoring margin per game: -2.3

The Appalachian State Mountaineers have the tall task of defeating Arkansas State. They defeated Arkansas State earlier this year.

Appalachian State pulled off a 70-69 upset over Arkansas State at home. The only Mountaineer to receive all-conference honors, Maryah Sydnor, junior forward, scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in that game. Sydnor needs to carry the team if the Mountaineers hope to make a legitimate run.

Sydnor was named to the All-Conference First Team, averaging 17.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Sydnor shot a conference-best 84.9 percent from the free throw line.

8. Georgia State
Current record: 13-16 overall, 8-12 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Eliminated in the first round by Texas State
This year against Texas State: 1-1
Scoring margin per game: +0.0

The Georgia State Panthers barely squeaked into the tournament over the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks. The Panthers were tied with the Warhawks with an 8-12 conference record. The Panthers broke the tie with a better overall record of 13-16.

Makeba Ponder, freshman guard, leads the Panthers. Ponder is averaging 11.6 points per game and shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range.

The Panthers are matched with Arkansas-Little Rock, the regular-season conference champions.