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Jeff Eisenberg

Sun Belt tournament: Troy out to avenge last year's early exit

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Conference tournament play began Tuesday, kicking off a 12-day mad scramble for NCAA tournament berths. Up next in our previews is the Sun Belt Conference, which lacks a dominant team this season, meaning a wide-open tournament but not much chance at an NCAA tournament first-round upset.

Sun Belt Conference

Date: March 6-9

Site: Hotsprings, Arkansas

No. 8 Florida Atlantic vs. No. 9 South Alabama
No. 4 WKU vs. No. 13 New Orleans
No. 5 Arkansas State vs. No. 12 UALR
No. 6 Denver vs. No. 11 FIU
No. 7 Louisiana-Lafayette vs. No. 10 Louisiana-Monroe

No. 1 Troy vs. Florida Atlantic/South Alabama
No. 2 North Texas vs. Louisiana-Lafayette/Louisiana-Monroe
No. 3 Middle Tennessee vs. Denver/FIU

Favorite: North Texas (21-8, 13-5)

Contenders: Troy (18-11, 13-5), Middle Tenessee State (19-12, 13-5), Western Kentucky (19-12, 12-6)

Did you know: The opening round and the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt tournament both take place in Hotsprings, Ark., but are split between two venues, Summit Arena and the Convention Center.

Outlook: Top-seeded Troy is out to avenge an upset loss to South Alabama in the quarterfinals last year, but this is a wide-open field with four evenly matched teams and a couple others capable of pulling an upset. North Texas closed the season with eight straight victories, Middle Tennessee has won six of seven and Western Kentucky lost five in a row in January before rebounding to finish strong against some of the weaker teams in the league. Look for two of these four teams to meet in the final with North Texas perhaps a slight favorite to win.

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