ARLINGTON, Texas - With five programs sitting within two games of first place UTA in the Sun Belt Conference standings, this weekend's results will be extremely critical to the Mavericks' league title chances.
Head coach Scott Cross' side travels to Georgia this weekend for a pair of games against teams that are just one-half game behind the Mavericks in the league table.
UTA takes its 19-6 overall record and league-leading 9-3 mark to Atlanta to face Georgia State (16-9, 9-4) Saturday in the second game of an 11 a.m. (CST) doubleheader with the Lady Mavs. Tipoff is scheduled for approximately 1:30 p.m. in GSU's Sports Arena (capacity 3,854).
Saturday's game will streamed live on ESPN3. In addition, a live radio broadcast of the men's game will be available throughout the DFW Metroplex on KEXB 620 AM and via the popular TuneIn app on smartphones and tablets. Links to complete game coverage, including video, audio and live statistics, are available on UTAMavs.com.
Following a few seemingly improbable results last weekend, the race for the Sun Belt regular season title is, arguably, the most competitive in NCAA Division men's basketball. Six programs are either tied for or within one game of the lead in the win column. Seven teams have a .500 or better record in league play.
"With so many teams being so close together in the standings right now, every game is like a conference tournament game," said Cross, in his 11th season at UTA. "You have to break it down to some of the smallest details that can mean winning or losing. For me, we need to play each possession the right way. We can't look at the scoreboard or league standings. Otherwise, we could get tight and not play the way we need to in order to have success."
Behind the 9-3 Mavs, Arkansas State, Georgia Southern and Georgia State each own identical 9-4 records in league play. Texas State is just one game behind UTA in the standings with an 8-4 mark.
Headed into last weekend's games, it appeared that Arkansas State, Georgia Southern and Georgia State enjoyed a slight advantage headed into the final stretch of league games.
However, all three teams lost both of its games over the weekend - all on the road. Arkansas State fell at UTA and Texas State, while the two Georgia programs lost at Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina.
"Last weekend's results were a little crazy, but considering the top to bottom quality of the Sun Belt this season it didn't surprise me that much," said Cross. "We had a tough game at App State then lost two days later at Coastal Carolina. That is a tough road trip. Both of those teams are capable of beating anybody and they did just that.
"Every game on the road is difficult in this league. You can't take any game for granted. You have to bring you're A-game every night. Whichever team is able to do that over the next couple of weeks will be the league champion."
Saturday's matchup features two of the winningest teams in the Sun Belt over the last three seasons. Georgia State has won a pair of regular season titles and owns 50 league victories during that period. UTA's 41 conference wins equals the second-most during that time.
The Panthers saw their eight-game win streak snapped last weekend with a 77-72 loss at Appalachian State then fell by a 65-64 margin at CCU.
GSU went 7-5 in non-league play with noteworthy wins over NJIT, Wright State and at Middle Tennessee. The Panthers dropped road games at Auburn, then-No. 15 Purdue, Mississippi State and Old Dominion.
"Georgia State has a very talented basketball team," said Cross. "They have a guy who will probably be the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year in D'Marcus Simonds. He was a highly recruited player who chose to stay close to home and play at Georgia State. He is 6-5, extremely explosive and can score.
"Jeremy Hollowell is a senior who originally transferred from Indiana. He is similar to Kevin Hervey. He can shoot, drive, post-up, hit the 15-footer and score in different ways.
"They are one of the best driving teams in the league, but they are also shooting a pretty good percentage from the 3-point line as well. So, we'll need to be locked-in and prepared to put forth our best effort."
Following Monday's game at Georgia Southern (16-10, 9-4), UTA returns to College Park Center next weekend for its final two home games of the regular season. The Mavs host South Alabama on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 4:30 p.m., then welcome a rematch against Troy on Monday at 7 p.m.
Tickets are available online at UTATickets.com or during weekday business hours by calling the UTA Box Office at (817) 272-9595. Specially priced group and youth team ticket packages are available.
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