Editor's Note: On April 9, 2012, Georgia State was officially invited to join the Sun Belt Conference and compete for 14 league titles starting July 1, 2013. This is the fifth of a seven-part series looking at the Panthers' move into the Sun Belt, including an historical look back, a peek around the conference as a whole, as well as sport-specific information about GSU's upcoming league opponents.
Sun Belt Conference basketball will play its 38th season as 10 teams battle into the March conference tournament in New Orleans. The men’s and women’s teams will compete at the same venue on the same days for the league’s bids to the NCAA Championship.
After being formed in 1976-77, the Sun Belt’s first NCAA men’s tournament team went all the way to the Final Four. “Cornbread” Maxwell led UNC-Charlotte past Syracuse and Michigan before becoming a Boston Celtic.
Last year, the Sun Belt had two teams earn NCAA bids, including 20-win Western Kentucky, which won the tournament to claim its 23rd all-time NCAA berth and fourth in the last six years. The Hilltoppers are from Bowling Green, Ky., and play in a 7,000-seat arena where they average almost 5,000 fans a game.
Some of the new rivalries will be familiar old rivalries as Georgia State has played Troy 23 times since 1996; played South Alabama 18 times; and UALR 17 times as former conference rivals.
Troy is now coached by a former “Lefty” Driesell assistant while he was at Georgia State. South Alabama, which returns the league player of the year, and UALR each won 17 games last year.
South Alabama lost a 75-73 thriller to Georgia State last year in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament in the Sports Arena. Sun Belt Player of the Year Augustine Rubit scored 31 points and had 11 rebounds, but Manny Atkins' 26 points and R.J. Hunter's 25 points made the difference for Georgia State.
|SUN BELT SERIES
|Original Sun Belt Members||Video|
|Today's Sun Belt Members||Video|
|GSU's Youth Movement Heads to the SBC||Video|
|Introducing SBC Football||Video|
|Introducing SBC Men's and Women's Basketball||July 9|
|Introducing SBC Baseball and Softball||July 10|
|Introducing SBC Olympic Sports||July 11|
Arkansas State is coached by former LSU boss and SEC Coach of the Year John Brady. He guided the Red Wolves to 19 wins a year ago.
The Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette return a first-team all-conference pick and the league freshman of the year, so playing in the 11,000-seat Cajundome will be tough.
The Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks had no seniors last year and return a full roster to play in their 7,000-seat arena.
The Mavericks of UT Arlington won 19 games last year and made the CollegeInsider.com tournament, one year after winning 24 games and earning an NIT bid. They opened a new arena in 2012.
The Bobcats of Texas State have added a new coach, who was the Mid-Major National Coach of the Year while at Stephen F. Austin.
The Sun Belt women’s teams have been solid since their start in 1983. The league has had two teams in the NCAA tournament 18 times.
The Sun Belt has had four postseason teams in each of the past two years, with one NCAA and three WNIT squads last year after putting two each in the NCAA and WNIT in 2012.
Not only have Sun Belt teams gotten into the NCAA tournament often in the last 30 years, they have been successful, netting 64 NCAA tournament wins as well.
The Sun Belt had three 20-game winners last year. Middle Tennessee has earned five consecutive NCAA bids to lead the way, but it is moving to Conference USA starting this fall.
The UALR Trojans have produced seven straight 20-win seasons and earned six straight postseason bids.They return eight letterwinners from that team.
Western Kentucky won 22 games and advanced to the second round of the WNIT last year. The Hilltoppers return two first-team all-conference picks and look solid again in 2013-14.
South Alabama notched 17 wins and South Arkansas State claimed 15 wins a year ago.
The Mavericks of UT Arlington come into the Sun Belt from the WAC with a new head coach and eight returning letterwinners.
The Bobcats of Texas State have been re-building with a new coach who has won 27 games her first two years and returns eight letterwinners to go with a solid recruiting class.
The Sun Belt Championship moves to Lakefront Arena in New Orleans in 2014. The top eight seeds from both the men’s and women’s standings will earn spots in the conference tournaments that begin on March 12.
The men will award double byes to the first- and second-place seeds to advance to the semifinals. The third- and fourth-place teams get one bye into the quarterfinals in the eight-team tournament,
The women will play a traditional eight-team bracket with no byes, using the standard 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 seeding and bracket play.