What The Howl Is Going on with Red Wolves Basketball?


What The Howl Is Going on with Red Wolves Basketball

The folks at ASU Fan Rules wonder what has happened to Sun Belt Conference and Red Wolves basketball.

Do you remember Wimp Sanderson? Loud plaid sport coats. Used to coach Alabama. Ended up coaching UALR from 1994 to 1999. It’s hard to un-remember Wimp.

I recall his hiring at UALR to be a kind of a coup. Wimp was not a wimpy name in the college basketball community. He was a former SEC Coach of the Year who brought Alabama to the Sweet 16 six times. A scandal evicted him from Bama, but UALR was glad to have him. He brought celebrity to the conference! 

But Wimp only had one good year with the Trojans – a conference title and an NIT bid. Celebrity didn’t bring wins.

I’m not sure why I bring up Wimp now, except to say that Sun Belt basketball has had its share of celebrity coaches, from Wimp to Isaiah Thomas, and the conference continues to putter in mediocrity.

That sunken feeling wasn’t always so at A-State, where we’ve seen our moments of glory. We had that NIT game against the Hogs, for example. We cracked the NCAA tournament in 1999. During the years when the football team struggled to avoid shutouts, Red Wolves hoops was draining threes and surprising the likes of Stanford and LSU. Once upon a time, it was believed that maybe A-State’s destiny was with basketball.

Fifteen years after losing to Utah in the first round of the Big Dance, the Red Wolves are still looking for a return to post-season glory.

It’s not like the Red Wolves are inept, or haven’t shown flickers of promise. The team won the division last year. But then again, so what? Recently, the conference “basketball schools” are Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, who were both ejected from the Tournament in the opening round last year. 

Fans openly wonder why there’s so little excitement surrounding Arkansas State basketball. A colleague made an excellent point: “The moment when you get excited about Red Wolves hoops, they lose a home game to Troy.”

That’s absolutely true. We want to be excited about Red Wolves basketball. We do! But pimp-slapping blowouts from Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Toledo make it difficult. I’m not saying we should have won those games, but we lost them by an average of 17 points. We might as well have played Bane.

The Sun Belt Conference should have offered us some relief. But for every thrashing of UALR and road beating of Texas State, there’s a puzzling loss to Troy and ULM. How can the same guys who held there own on the road against Georgia State and Western Kentucky be schooled so thoroughly by the Warkhawks? 

Fact is, the Sun Belt is a lousy conference for basketball. Currently, the only Sun Belt Conference team boasting a sub-100 RPI is conference-leading Georgia State at 85. EIGHTY FIVE!  (Better, admittedly, than Middle Tennessee or Western Kentucky, two schools that believe themselves too good for the Sun Belt). Out of conference, the Sun Belt is hopeless. The conference’s biggest non-con win might be ULL over Houston. HOUSTON! Where are the wins?

The Sun Belt is so mediocre that any of the eight teams that make it to the conference tournament in New Orleans have an excellent chance to make it to the Big Dance. The Red Wolves should take comfort in that. They have the talent to beat Georgia State, Western Kentucky, ULL or any team in the conference.

It would just be nice to get a win somewhere else, you know?

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