Deven Simms was Grant McCasland’s first big get as head coach for the Arkansas State Red Wolves. A 6’4″ junior guard, Simms was a first-team all-America junior college standout from Connors State College who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds. If the Red Wolves hoped to have more than just another “rebuilding year,” McCasland was going to need every bit of Simms’ production.
The season started rocky for Simms, who at first seemed to waiver about his commitment to the Red Wolves, and later was suspended for the first two games of the season. Since coming of suspension, Simms has delivered on the promise of his potential. During the Red Wolves’ recent three game win streak, Simms has outright shined, averaging 20.6 points and four boards per game, creating a potent 1-2 punch with Arkansas State’s leading sharpshooter, Devin Carter.
“(Simms) let the game come to him,” said McCasland following the Red Wolves 74-62 win over South Alabama. “You can tell when he’s super engaged in what’s going on and when he’s trying to fit in, and we don’t need him to fit in. We need him to be aggressive.”
Aggression paid of with a season high 23 points and 10 boards for Simms on Monday night, following a 17 point performance in a gritty 82-80 victory over Troy on Saturday. The Red Wolves improved their record to 14-6 (5-2), two games behind conference leading Georgia Southern.
Georgia Southern is not going away
When asked about the competition in the Sun Belt, McCasland noted the toughness of the conference, citing the road wins and lack of blowouts (UT-Arlington over Louisiana notwithstanding). “You got to bring it every night,” said McCasland.
Playing tougher than anyone in the Sun Belt is Georgia Southern, winners of eight straight and undefeated in the conference. Led by the lights-out shooting of guards Tookie Brown (18.5) and Ike Smith (19.9), the Eagles are averaging 83 points per game in conference. Monday night against Coastal Carolina, Brown and Smith combined for eight 3-pointers and 44 points to deliver a decisive 91-80 home victory. Against hated rival Appalachian State, Brown poured in a season high 32 to pace a 92-88 win.
Any team hoping to overtake Georgia Southern will have to find a way to stop Brown and Smith.
Sun Belt Orbit, Week 3
As of this writing, the Sun Belt features three sub-100 RPI programs: UTA (58), Arkansas State (83), and Georgia Southern (91).
Sun Belt Standings (Jan 24)
- Georgia Southern 7-0
- UT-Arlington 5-2
- Arkansas State 5-2
- Georgia State 5-2
- Texas State 4-3
- Coastal Carolina 4-3
- Louisiana 3-4
- Little Rock 3-4
- Troy 3-4
- South Alabama 2-5
- Appalachian State 1-6
- ULM 0-7
Conference Recap, January 21-23
The Mavericks and Panthers are back, baby
With Kevin Hervey back to nailing jumpers for UT-Arlington, the Mavericks have won three straight, including a blowout 108-71 victory over Louisiana at the Cajun Dome on Monday night. During the three game Maverick Renaissance, a refreshed Hervey is averaging 19.3 points and 7 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, Georgia State has been even more impressive, winning four in a row since starting conference play at 1-2. In wins over Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Louisiana and ULM, the Panthers are outscoring their opponents by an average of 13 points thanks in part to a shooting surge from freshman guard D’Marcus Simonds.
Are the Bobcats dangerous?
Texas State, who recently went 1-1 on a Louisiana road trip, is languishing with an RPI of 267 with a win over Tulane being its only significant out-of-conference victory. Yet, the Bobcats are interesting in the Sun Belt, led by 6’7″ senior forward Kavin Gilder-Tilbury. Texas State, picked to finish dead last in the Sun Belt during the preseason, dispatched UT-Arlington earlier in the year and is currently 4-3 and 5th in conference. Beware of Bobcats.
Touching the Sun: Georgia State
After stumbling early in conference play, the Panthers have dispatched its last four opponents to get back into the Sun Belt race. Jeremy Hollowell, 6’8″ senior forward, is averaging 17 points and 5.5 boards during Georgia State’s winning stretch.
Plunging to Earth: Little Rock
The Sun Belt champs seemed ready to make a run after crushing South Alabama on Saturday, but the Trojans of Little Rock took a step back after losing to the Trojans of Troy on Monday. Little Rock is desperately missing 6’11” inside man Lis Shoshi, who has been sidelined the last three games with a foot injury.
Next Game to Watch: Arkansas State at Louisiana, Jan 30th
The Red Wolves are undefeated at home, in and out of conference, but are 1-2 on the road in Sun Belt play. A contest at the Cajun Dome will be a good test for the Red Wolves, who will have to find a way to stop the Sun Belt’s highest scoring team (82 ppg).