The conference has eliminated the divisional format, so only one team will claim any sort of championship, and you will have to play everyone twice. In the old format the divisional champs had met only once during the season. Determining the regular season champ for the guaranteed NIT bid was influenced by the luck of the draw in inter-divisional games, with a full double round robin schedule the balance will make tie-breaking easier.
Only the top 8 teams will make the conference tournament. The #1 and #2 seeds will be placed in the semi-finals, so they need to win twice to win the league's auto berth. The #3 and #4 seeds will be placed in the quarter-finals and need to win three to take the auto-bid. The #5, #6, #7, and #8 seed will have to win four games to win the automatic NCAA bid and will have to beat two teams that come in fully rested.
The Sun Belt has a long history of the regular season's top team failing to win the league's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. The top regular season team has won the tournament only once in the past five seasons and only three times in the past ten seasons. Giving the top two teams byes into the semi-finals should increase the chances that the top team wins the tournament.
The regular season should be more interesting as teams battle for the double bye that a first or second place finish will provide and the single bye that the third or fourth seed offers. At the bottom of the standings there will be a battle to avoid the 9th, 10th, and 11th places and elimination from the tournament.
Pressure will be greater on coaches to avoid missing the tournament and there will be greater focus on success. For fans the definition of a successful season will be clearer. That sort of focus will do more to strengthen Sun Belt basketball than any other initiative the league could create.
Sun Belt Makes the Right Moves in Basketball
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