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Sun Belt Conference basketball preview: Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns one of the favorites

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Oct. 30, 2021

UL, second in the Sun Belt Conference’s preseason basketball coaches poll, lost its top-two 2020-21 scorers with Cedric Russell going Ohio State and Mylik Wilson to Texas Tech.

Georgia State, picked first, returns its five most-frequent starters from the top Sun Belt scoring team in 2020-21.

The Ragin’ Cajuns (17-9, 10-9 Sun Belt last season), who lost an exhibition game 73-68 Sunday at Alabama, open Nov. 9 against West Florida at the Cajundome.

Here’s a Sun Belt preview, in order of predicted finish by division:

THE SCHEDULE:Six toughest games for UL basketball in 2021-22

CONFERENCE PLAY:How the Cajuns' 2021-22 Sun Belt schedule shapes up

RECRUITING:Cajuns get commitment from Texas high school guard Chancellor White

East Division

Georgia State

The Panthers return five double-digit-scoring starters: preseason All-Sun Belt selection Corey Allen, double-double man Eliel Nsoseme, assists-leader Justin Roberts, Kane Williams and Jalen Thomas.

Georgia State, which has three straight Sun Belt Tournament championship-game appearances, has five newcomers including guard Jordan Rawls (Western Kentucky). The Panthers also regain Nelson Phillips and big Joe Jones III, both of whom sat out 2020-21.

South Alabama

The Jaguars lost four of their top-five scorers, including Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year Michael Flowers (league-high 21.0 ppg). But top-rebounder Jamal West and Kayo Goncalves stayed.

Seven Division I newcomers arrive, including three who came midway through last season: guard Tyrell “Turbo” Jones (Auburn), Charles Manning Jr. (7.2 ppg for LSU in 2019-20) and Diante Smith (TCU). Greg Parham (18.4 ppg at VMI) and Jay Jay Chandler (Texas A&M) are experienced; Javon Franklin (Auburn) and Lance Thomas (Memphis) add depth.

Appalachian State

Preseason All-Sun Belt pick Justin Forrest (team-high 13.2 ppg), and Michael Almonacy (12.7) return for the 2021 Sun Belt Tournament champions. Adrian Delph (13.0 ppg), top-rebounder Donovan Gregory and James Lewis Jr. also remain for a program with back-to-back winning seasons after eight straight under .500.

Coastal Carolina

The Chanticleers lost reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year DeVante’ Jones (Michigan) and DeAnthony Tipler (East Tennessee State). But they return Essam Mostafa (12.2), Ebrima Dibba (Sun Belt-high 5.5 apg) and Garrick Green while adding transfers Vince Cole (St. John’s) and Rudi Williams (Kansas State).

Troy

Scoring-leader Nick Stampley, rebounding-leader Zay Williams, Khalyl Waters and Duke Miles return for the Trojans, who add TK Smith (Kent State) and bigs Efe Odigie (UTEP) and Rifen Miguel (Ohio).

Georgia Southern

With top-two scorers Zack Bryant and Eric Boone gone, Elijah McCadden is the Eagles’ only returning double-digit scorer. But Prince Toyambi (team-high 6.0 rpg) stayed too and former Ole Miss redshirt Carlos Curry arrives.

West Division

UL

Kobe Julien could make a big impact after missing most of the last three seasons with injuries. The Cajuns also return Theo Akwuba, last season’s SBC Defensive Player of the Year and a preseason All-Sun Belt, and Dou Gueye.

Bob Marlin added transfers too, including Jordan Brown (Arizona, Nevada) and guards Greg Williams Jr. (St. John’s), Antwann Jones (Creighton, Memphis) and Jalen Dalcourt (San Jose State). Brown was 2020-21 Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year. Williams should handle the point.

Texas State

Conference Coach of the Year Terrence Johnson returns preseason All-Sun Belt point Mason Harrell, top-rebounder Isiah Small, Caleb Asberry and Shelby Adams from a team that won its first SBC regular-season championship.

The Bobcats also added Nate Lacewell (San Jose State).

Arkansas State

The Red Wolves return SBC Freshman of the Year and 2021-22 preseason Player of the Year Norchad Omier (league-high 12.3 rpg) along with top-scorer Marquis Eaton and 2020-21 starters Caleb Fields, Keyon Wesley and Christian Willis. Arkansas transfer Desi Sills brings defensive intensity.

Texas-Arlington

The Mavericks lose double-digit-scoring transfers Shahada Wells (TCU) and Sam Griffin (Tulsa) but keep David Azore (12.8 ppg), SBC blocks-leader Kaodirichi Akobundu-Ehiogu and Patrick Mwamba. They re-signed ex-UTA swingman Pedro Castro, who led Houston Baptist last season in five categories including scoring, and added former UTRGV point guard Javon Levi and ex-Michigan State point Jack Hoiberg, Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg’s son.

UL Monroe 

The Warhawks keep top-scorer/rebounder Russell Harrison and double-digit scorer Koreem Ozier.

Little Rock

Second-leading scorer Nikola Maric returns for the Trojans, who lost top scorer/assists-leader Markquis Nowell in February and double-double big Ruot Monyyong in the offseason.



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