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Sun Belt slate set for A-State men’s basketball


Red Wolves open up conference play Dec.

30 against Georgia State

Sun Media Relations JONESBORO — Arkansas State will open Sun Belt Conference play in men’s basketball against the last two teams the Red Wolves faced in the 2020-21 season.

The Sun Belt announced 2021-22 league schedules for its 12 member institutions on Tuesday. After playing a division-only schedule with games on back-to-back nights last season, the league is returning to a more traditional schedule with games on Thursdays and Saturdays.

ASU will open the 18game conference schedule at home Dec. 30 with Georgia State, followed by Georgia Southern on Jan. 1 at First National Bank Arena. The Red Wolves defeated Georgia Southern in the first round of last season’s conference tournament before bowing out with a loss to Georgia State, the East Division champion.

“They’re going to be very, very good, so it will be a great challenge for us early, but I like the fact that we get to start at home to begin the conference season and getting the conference season back to normal,” ASU head coach Mike Balado said. “As you can see we’re playing different opponents, back to Thursday-Saturday, and that’s always good. It gives you an opportunity to get a true champion when you play a schedule like that.

I’m excited about our team and I’m excited about the challenge ahead.”

Last season ASU was scheduled to play Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas State and Texas-Arlington four times each, although the Red Wolves only played West Division champion Texas State once for reasons related to weather and COVID-19.

ASU also played Arkansas-Little Rock twice in a West Division-only schedule.

In the 2021-22 season, while the league will not use a divisional format, ASU will play ULM, UL Lafayette, Texas State, UTA and UALR home and away. The Red Wolves will also play Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State, last year’s Sun Belt tournament winner, twice each.

The conference-opening games will be the only time the Red Wolves play Georgia State and Georgia Southern. ASU will only face South Alabama and Troy once each, both on the road.

Georgia State and Georgia Southern were the only East Division teams ASU played last season, and Balado expects both to be improved next season.

“Georgia Southern had a new coach, he’ll have a year under his belt and they’re getting some guys, and then Georgia State brings everybody back just like we do. I think it will be a good test for both teams, being able to play on that first weekend, and December 30th is still fairly early in the season,” Balado said. “You just finished your non-conference schedule, so you’re still trying to figure out rotations, guys who are playing well and guys who aren’t.

I’m sure they’re going to be going through the same thing. It’s a little bit of motivation on our side to try to beat a team that’s going to be very good, that beat us to end our season the year before.”

Balado said the league’s coaches wanted to get back to a normal scheduling format this year.

“There were some talks about doing it like we did the year before, but I think that was only for COVID19 protocols. I think now that things are getting back to semi-normal, we want to get back to a regular conference schedule,” Balado said. “That was the push from the coaches, and being able to play opponents on the other side. Our first two opponents that we played in the conference tournament, we hadn’t seen them all year. It gives more of an opportunity for teams to be more on the familiar side when they go into March playing teams in the tournament.”

In addition to the games against Georgia State and Georgia Southern, ASU will also have home games with UALR (Jan. 13), UTA

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Photo courtesy of A-State A-STATE (cont.)

(Jan. 20), Texas State (Jan.

22), ULM (Feb. 3), UL Lafayette (Feb. 5), Coastal Carolina (Feb. 24) and App State (Feb. 26).

The conference road schedule includes UL Lafayette (Jan. 6), ULM (Jan. 8), UALR (Jan. 15), App State (Jan. 27), Coastal Carolina (Jan. 29), Troy (Feb. 10), South Alabama (Feb. 12), Texas State (Feb. 17) and UTA (Feb. 19). The Sun Belt tournament is scheduled March 3-7 in Pensacola, Fla.

Balado voiced frustration that both ASU and UALR will play four road games in a row in February. The Red Wolves will not play more than two consecutive conference games at home, although they get five of their first eight league games at First National Bank Arena and also have the last two at home.

“Little Rock and Arkansas State are the only teams in the entire league that have four games on the road (consecutively). I can’t understand why a conference can’t schedule where everybody has an even schedule,” Balado said. “It makes no sense to me.”

Rivalry games in the Sun Belt will be played Jan. 1315. ASU hosts UALR on Thursday that week, with the Trojans hosting the Red Wolves on Saturday. ASU returns nearly 98 percent of its scoring from last season’s 11-13 team, including Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Norchad Omier and second-team All-Sun Belt guard Marquis Eaton. The Red Wolves also add Arkansas transfer Desi Sills to their roster.

“We added a very important piece in Desi Sills.

He’s been phenomenal for us in the summer. He’s fitting in like he was here for the past three years; the guys love him,” Balado said. “I think our team and Georgia State will be the ones that are most familiar to everybody in the league, but then again, other teams are getting good players too. It’s going to be a battle every Thursday and Saturday.”

Balado acknowledged that ASU is working on a multi-team event that would bring three teams to Jonesboro, but declined to get into further detail about the Red Wolves’ non-conference slate. He hopes the remainder of the schedule will be finalized in August.

“We’re going to have a great non-conference slate,” Balado said. “The opponents that we’re looking at and talking to are teams that have made the NCAA tournament multiple times, a couple that have made it in the past year, and teams that we’ve played before.”

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