Courtesy: Sun Belt Conference
NEW ORLEANS – The UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns enter the 2015-16 season as the favorite with their leading scorer, and 2014-15 First Team All-Conference honoree, senior Shawn Long tabbed as the 2015-16 Preseason Student-Athlete of the Year the conference announced on Wednesday.
Voting of the Preseason Sun Belt All-Conference Team and Preseason Poll was conducted by the league’s 11 head coaches.
The Ragin’ Cajuns return all of their starters from a squad that went 22-14 overall, 13-7 in the conference and finished fourth in the Sun Belt standings. The Cajuns advanced to the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament last season before they lost to eventual tournament champion Evansville. Long was named a First Team All-Conference honoree last season after he averaged 16.4 points per game and led the conference in rebounding at 10.2 per game. Also returning for the Cajuns this year are junior Hayward Register (6.7 ppg, 37.6%, 62 3FGM), senior Kasey Shepherd (9.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.8 spg), sophomore Bryce Washington (6.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and junior Jay Wright (9.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.6 apg).
Long headlines the 2015-16 Men’s Basketball Preseason All-Conference First Team and is joined by four all-conference honorees from the 2014-15 season: Anthony Livingston (Arkansas State, Jr., F, Interdisciplinary Studies), Ken Williams (South Alabama, Junior, Guard, Interdisciplinary studies), Emani Gant (Texas State, Senior, Forward) and Wesley Person (Troy, Sophomore, Guard, Global Business). Livingston averaged a double-double last year with 15.9 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, one of 18 student-athletes nationally to average a double-double. Williams ranked eighth in the conference last season in scoring average (15.7 ppg) and 3-point percentage (.370). Gant was one of three student-athletes in the conference that averaged 12.8 points and seven rebounds per game last year. Person was last season’s Freshman of the Year award recipient after he averaged 14.2 points per game and 2.6 3-pointers made per game.
Georgia State, the 2014-15 regular-season and tournament champions, was second in the preseason poll and garnered two first-place votes. The Panthers return two starters from a team that entered the 2015 NCAA Tournament as a No. 14 seed and pulled off a memorable upset of No. 3 seed Baylor in the first round. Seniors Markus Crider (9.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Kevin Ware (7.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg) are the lone returning starters for Georgia State after it lost key scorers Ryan Harrow (18.3 ppg) and R.J. Hunter (19.7 ppg). Hunter was the 28th overall selection in the NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics.
2014-15 Sun Belt Coach of the Year Keith Richard begins his sixth season at the helm of a revitalized UL Monroe men’s basketball program. The Warhawks were picked to finish third in the preseason poll after they finished tied for second in the conference last year with a 24-13 overall record and 14-6 mark in conference. The 2014-15 season marked the first one in the last four that the Warhawks played without NCAA sanctions of scholarship reductions, practice limitations, postseason bans and loss of non-conference games that dated back to poor academic scores prior to Richard’s arrival.
Arkansas State was picked fourth in the preseason poll. The Red Wolves finished ninth last year and missed the Sun Belt Conference tournament for the first time in school history. Seventh-year head coach John Brady returns four starters from last year’s team including Livingston, redshirt senior Sean Gardner (12.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and senior Frederic Dure (6.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg).
Little Rock enters the 2015-16 season with a new head coach, Chris Beard, and four returning letterwinners that will be joined by nine newcomers. Senior Roger Woods (11.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is the team’s lone returning starter joined by letterwinners senior Josh Hagins (12.1 ppg, 52 steals), junior Maurius Hill (6.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and junior Mareik Isom (6.8 ppg, 45.0 3FG%).
Appalachian State enters its second season in the conference and its second under head coach Mark Fox as the sixth team in the preseason poll. The Mountaineers return four starters from last year’s team and added 10 newcomers. All four returning starters are seniors: Chris Burgess (9.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg), Dustin Clarke (5.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg), Frank Eaves (16.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and Michael Obacha (3.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg).
South Alabama, which last season won its first Sun Belt Conference tournament game since 2012, begins year three under head coach Matthew Graves as the seventh team in the preseason poll. The Jaguars return three starters and seven letterwinners from last year’s team. Williams is joined by sophomore Taishaun Johnson (12.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Barrington Stevens III (7.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg).
The two Sun Belt Conference institutions from Texas, UT Arlington and Texas State, finished tied for eighth in the preseason poll. The two teams squared off in the first round of last year’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament with Texas State edging the Mavericks 68-62. UT Arlington finished fifth in last year’s standings and hasn’t had a losing conference season since 2010-11. Texas State welcomes seven newcomers to a squad that has seven returning student-athletes.
Georgia Southern was voted 10th and Troy 11th to round out the preseason poll. The Eagles will look to replace the loss of three starters, including Defensive Student-Athlete of the Year Jelani Hewitt (14.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg), this season. Troy returns the 2015 Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in Wesley Person.
The 2015-15 season begins on Nov. 13. This season’s conference schedule will feature a 20-game, double round-robin slate leading to the conference championship beginning March 10 at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. The top eight of the 11 teams in the conference standings will qualify for the tournament with the winner earning the league’s automatic bid to the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. The championship game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament is scheduled for Selection Sunday, March 13th.
Preseason Coaches Poll
(First place votes in parenthesis)
|Rank||Team||Points (1st Place Votes)|
|1||UL Lafayette||119 (9)|
|2||Georgia State||108 (2)|
Preseason First Team All-Conference
Anthony Livingston (Arkansas State, Jr., F, Interdisciplinary Studies)
Shawn Long (UL Lafayette, Sr., F/C, General Studies)
Ken Williams (South Alabama, Junior, Guard, Interdisciplinary studies)
Emani Gant (Texas State, Senior, Forward, General Studies)
Wesley Person (Troy, Sophomore, Guard, Global Business)
Preseason Second Team All-Conference
Frank Eaves (Appalachian State University, Senior, Guard, Management)
Markus Crider (Georgia State, Senior, Forward, Speech)
Kevin Ware (Georgia State, Senior, Guard, Religious Studies)
Josh Hagins (Little Rock, Senior, Guard, Health Science)
Majok Deng (UL Monroe, Senior, Forward, General Studies)
Preseason Third Team All-Conference
Jeremy Hollowell (Georgia State, RS-Junior, Forward, Interdisciplinary Studies)
Roger Woods (Little Rock, Senior, Forward, Criminal Justice)
Devonta Walker (UL Lafayette, Sr., F, General Studies)
Jay Wright (UL Lafayette, Jr., G, General Studies)
Nick Coppola (UL Monroe, Junior, Guard, Risk Management and Insurance)
Preseason Student-Athlete of the Year
Shawn Long (UL Lafayette, Sr., F/C, General Studies)