By Andrew Zimmel
First Time Assistant Sports Director and Long Time Listener
Sun Belt Conference play is halfway over for Men’s Basketball, and through the first half a lot has happened. Buckle up and get ready for an emotional roller coaster that includes early season injuries, records being shattered and a (potential) happy ending.
Down Goes Davis
If you are just catching up with Men’s Basketball this season, this is arguably the most important thing, therefore warranting it going first. Coming into the season, Marlin Davis looked slated to start for the Bobcats. Off of a solid freshmen season, Davis looked to add on to his numbers in 2018. He was to become the second leader that the team had been lacking to that point, but five minutes into the January 6th meeting with the Troy Trojans, Davis went down holding his knee and had to be helped to the locker room. While the Bobcats were able to pull out the 57-56 win thanks to an Alex Peacock layup, the team lost its starting guard for the rest of the season to an ACL tear that sidelined Davis. What we didn’t know is that transfer Junior Tre Nottingham would be able to play the way he was. Coming in for Davis, he played the remainder of that Troy game dishing out six assists to go with six points in 35 straight minutes of action. Since then, Nottingham has started every game for the Bobcats averaging close to 12 points and four assists going 4-1 as a starter. Nottingham’s play has also influenced Nijal Pearson who has been asked to do a little less for this team.
The Pearson Way
A perfect segue into the season Pearson has been having. After a season for the record books, fans around the Sun Belt were surprised and disappointed to see Pearson left off of all three All Sun Belt teams and having D’Marcus Simonds from Georgia State beating him out for Freshmen of the Year. In the preseason, the disrespect continued with coaches ranking placed him on the All Conference Third team. You would think that Pearson would have a stand out season this year, but that has not been the case. While he has had a small increase in scoring and rebounding, the shooting percentages from all over the court and free throw line grew. It’s right to assume that the increase in points is due to having the ball in his hands more often, more shots should equal more points.
This goes back to the question many of us had before the season began. How would Pearson, a versatile guard from Beaumont, Texas, serve as the primary scorer on a team that had one of the best shooters in Texas State history, Kavin Gilder-Tilbury, graduate last spring? When pre-conference started, it was obvious to many that this team did not have a scorer to pair next to Pearson. Now that we are halfway through Conference, it is even more clear to see. Of the Sun Belt leading scorers, only Pearson ranks in the top 30 (15th at 13.9). Now compare that to the team Georgia State has put together with Simonds leading the Conference by scoring 21 points per game, good for 25th in the nation. Devin Mitchell and Jeff Thomas both round out the top 30 both averaging over 10 points per game for the Panthers. The Bobcats don’t have anyone besides Pearson averaging 10+ points. It has not shown up in the standings, but a team that is in the bottom of the Conference will have a tough time trying to score points in the tournament in March.
This Texas State team leads the conference, or is in the top five in almost every defensive category. If you’re going to be below average at offense, might as well be great on defense.
I have written it in the past and I will it write again, I am nervous for this team. There were too many one point victories and being on the wrong side of blowouts for me to think that they will do better in the second half. The Bobcats are second in the conference at 6-2 trailing only Louisiana (who remains perfect). I think the Bobcats go 6-4 in the second half which would put them at 12-6 on the season, good enough to get a high seed.
I have them winning their last two games, so hopefully they go into the Sun Belt Tournament rolling. I’ll see you then.
Featured image by Tino Manor.