After a successful non-conference run for Western Kentucky, with wins over Louisville, Southern Illinois and Georgia, things have considerably slowed down. As we get through the second weekend of Sun Belt conference play, it doesn’t look like the Sun Belt will be sending two teams back to the NCAA Tournament, after sending South Alabama as an at-large bid and Western as an automatic bid a year ago.
Let’s take a look at the current RPI rankings for some of the better teams of the Sun Belt (via kenpom.com):
91. Middle Tennessee State (11-5, 5-0)
111. Western Kentucky (10-6, 4-1)
143. South Alabama (10-6, 3-2)
210. Arkansas-Little Rock (11-5, 4-1)
A year ago, Western didn’t have a win over a top-5o RPI team and was ranked about 35th going into the Sun Belt Conference tournament. Most people you talked to said that the Toppers were going to have to win the Sun Belt Tournament to make it to the NCAA.
Also contributing to the odds that the Sun Belt will be a one-bid leauge is the fact that the teams really don’t have any more opportunities for “quality wins” over top-50 and even top-100-caliber teams.
KenPom.com has some very interesting statistics, projecting the rest of the season for teams. In Western’s case, the site predicts the team loses two more games the rest of the season (at MTSU and at Arkansas State). The site projects a 70-68 win over MTSU on Thursday night.
It predicts Western will win 11 more games this season, giving head coach Ken McDonald the first 20-win season of his career.
While the Sun Belt is somewhat weak this season, with just six teams with winning records right now, three of those teams look to be favorites for the NCAA Tournament (South Al., MTSU and WKU). It could be a very interesting week in Hot Springs in March. Here’s another interesting fact for you while Hot Springs is on your mind: an East Division team will have to play a first-round home game before heading to Hot Springs. The way the seeding works is that the division winners get byes in the first round.
As far as my early projections for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament:
WKU should either be the 1-seed or the 3-seed, but as we know, this is one strange team when it comes to consistency.
WKU may be better off being the 3-seed. It would mean they would most likely draw the West Division winner (most likely UALR). If they were the 1-seed, WKU would play South Alabama in the semi-finals and probably MTSU in the finals.
Each Sun Belt regular season game is going to be critical for the sake of seeding.