FACTS & STATS: Site: Campus Sites (First Round); Cajundome (12,068) -- Lafayette, Louisiana (Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Championship) Dates: Wednesday, February 28th through Tuesday, March 6th, Television: ESPN Plus (Semifinals); ESPN2 (Championship). Annual: 31st. Defending Champion: South Alabama.

OUTLOOK: The 31st Annual Sun Belt Conference Tournament begins on February 28th, with all 13 teams receiving a chance at capturing the league title and more importantly, an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. First round action will take place at the campus sites of the higher seeded squads, but after the opening round the rest of the action will take place at the Cajundome, in Lafayette. Last season's champion, the South Alabama Jaguars, are primed for a repeat and head into this tournament with the number one seed after going 13-5 in league play. As for the second seed, that honor goes to Arkansas State, which earned a share of the West Division with UL-Monroe. Both USA and ASU will enjoy a first round bye along with the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky, who finished 12-6 in SBC play, one game behind the Jags. Although just a number three seed the Hilltoppers always perform well in this event and should be a dangerous threat for any opponent. The remaining teams will have to duke it out in opening round contests, and the best of those squads is easily the UL-Monroe Warhawks, who finished with an 11-7 mark in the SBC, while capturing the fourth seed. Directly behind ULM, are the Mean Green, who head into the postseason as an intimidating fifth seed, mainly because the team finished 19-10 overall on the season. Also at 10-8 in-conference, Florida Atlantic will sit as the sixth seed, while New Orleans takes the seventh seed with its 9-9 ledger. Claiming the eighth, ninth and 10th seeds are Troy, Middle Tennessee and Arkansas-Little Rock, respectively, as each team finished with an 8-10 mark in league play. All three teams were placed in their respected seeds due to tie-breaker scenarios. Florida International, and the host team, UL- Lafayette have stakes to the 11th and 12th seeds, respectively, while the lowly 3-15 Denver Pioneers round out the tournament with the unlucky 13th seed.

The Jaguars will try to become the third consecutive team to win at least two straight titles, and will also try to become the first team ever in the Sun Belt to win two consecutive league titles twice. South Alabama also achieved the feat when the team claimed the 1997 and 98 championships. Overall in this event the Jaguars have a mediocre 26-25 record, but along with that ordinary ledger comes five championships. Unfortunately for South Alabama the team stumbles into this year's tournament, losing its final three games after winning 13 consecutive matchups. Obviously no team wants to enter postseason play on a losing skid, but luckily for the Jags they have a luxury of a first round bye, giving them a chance to regroup and make a run at Sun Belt history.

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The Sports Network
By John Agovino
Associate College Basketball Editor