Tournament seems wide open with four possible favorites

Wes Watt

Even the magnificent magic eight ball will have trouble predicting the winner of the women’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

League parity has spread with little difference at the top or bottom of the standings. South Alabama, Middle Tennessee State, Arkansas State and Western all have four conference losses.

But the top-four seeds aren’t the only ones hunting for the championship.

On paper, the second group of participants appears to drop off from competition as North Texas, Louisiana-Lafayette, New Mexico State and Denver all have eight or more losses. But all have at least one victory over one of top-four seeded teams.

South Alabama coach Rick Pietri knows how tough the competition is. Three of the No. 1 seeded team’s four losses have come from Western, MTSU and ASU.

The Jaguars will open the tournament with an eighth seeded Denver team that has given his team all it wanted in two games during the regular season. Both games came down to the final minute of play and Pietri said his team cannot hide behind

its No. 1 seed.

“It’s definitely an honor to be seeded one,” Pietri said. “But the way the conference season has been played, there is no good seed.”

ASU’s schedule throws even more parity to the mix. The Indians hold victories over top seeded USA and third seeded Western. But has losses to eighth seeded Denver and suffered a 23-point loss to MTSU on Feb. 19.

Although the East Division has three teams in the top-four seeds, ASU coach Brian Boyer said he doesn’t think the East has any advantage over the West.

Boyer said just because the East has more teams in the top four doesn’t mean a thing, when it comes to tournament time records go out the window.

“The entire tournament is balanced,” Boyer said. “We’re balanced and very versatile. We have to play as a team and use our depth.”

The Lady Toppers are on a roll winning seven of eight. But they have suffered losses to Louisiana-Lafayette, the team which will be Western’s opening round opponent, and seventh seeded NMSU both in the last month. However, getting two big wins over MTSU will increase the growing parity in the SBC Championship.

Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said the home court will not play a big role in the tournament. She said it’s her team that has to come prepared to play and the fans cannot put the ball in the hoop for them.

“It does nothing for you as far as putting points on the board or giving you more rebounds, trips to the free throw line,” Cowles said. “But it allows our fans to come on out.”

One advantage the Lady Toppers have in their corner is the team’s maturity, Cowles said.

“There has been some games here in late February where it seemed like all odds at different points in the game were going against us,” Cowles said. “We’ve taught ourselves how to fight through and how to push.”

MTSU will take on North Texas, and have won five of their last seven games with the two losses coming to Western. The Blue Raiders hold big wins over USA and a 23-point thumping of ASU.

Reach Wes Watt at [email protected]