Appalachian State men’s basketball will make their Sun Belt Conference tournament debut on March 8 at 7 p.m. in New Orleans against Troy, who is the sixth seed in the tournament.
“For our young team, it’s exciting to participate in the Sun Belt Tournament.” head coach Jim Fox said in a coaches teleconference on March 6. “I know our guys have had a lot of energy these last couple days in practice. It’ll be learning experience for us, and hopefully a learning experience we can build on.”
This season, the Mountaineers finished 11th in the conference standings with a 4-14 record in conference, and benefited from the Sun Belt Conference’s addition of Coastal Carolina, which led to the reformatting and inclusion of all 12 Sun Belt teams in the conference tournament.
Despite finishing with a poor conference record, the Mountaineers competed in almost every game they played in, and all four of their conference wins came against some of the top teams in the Sun Belt.
This year marks the first year Appalachian State has made the Sun Belt conference tournament, and the first time App State has played in a conference tournament since their final Southern Conference tournament appearance in 2014.
It is also Fox’s conference tournament debut as a head coach. Before becoming a head coach, Fox was an assistant under coach Bob McKillop at Davidson, where he won six conference tournaments, which resulted in six NCAA tournament appearances.
The 2017 Sun Belt conference is one of many storylines. Number one seed UT-Arlington will look to win their first ever Sun Belt Tournament, and return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. South Alabama, the current conference member with the most Sun Belt conference tournament championships with five, goes in as the ninth seed, and last season’s tournament champion, Arkansas-Little Rock, comes in with a first-year head coach and the tenth seed.
Over the past two seasons, the winner of the Sun Belt has advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament with first round upsets.
The Mountaineers first round matchup against the Troy Trojans will be the second meeting between the two teams. In their first meeting this season, the Trojans defeated the Mountaineers 77-67 in Alabama.
Junior forward Griffin Kinney played a big role by leading the Mountaineers in points and rebounds, and Fox believes Kinney will again play a large role for the Mountaineers.
“We always lean on Griff, because he’s a steady guy in the post. He can body people, and he really takes this team to the next level with his ability to score,” Fox said. “He gets on the glass, and rebounds well on the offensive and defensive end.”
However, Fox was quick to add that his team was not built around just one player, and there’s more to stopping the Mountaineers than just stopping Kinney.
“The thing I like about our team is our versatility, and hopefully we’ll have a lot of guys that step up,” Fox said.
Appalachian also finished their regular season by defeating conference foe Coastal Carolina, and the Mountaineer’s will look to capitalize on that momentum and make a run in their first Sun Belt conference tournament.
“Hopefully we can build off that Costal game, because we played very well in the first half. Then we didn’t play well in the second half until the very end,” Fox said. “At the end, that’s when we executed, made stops and free throws that we had needed to give ourselves a win. Hopefully our guys will take some confidence from that heading into a great matchup with Troy.”
Story By: Colt Jensen, Sports Reporter