Conference Preview: SWAC

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4 wins.  0 wins.  5 wins.  2 wins.  These are the win totals per season from the 2011-12 season through the 2014-15 season for the Grambling State Tigers.  During that time period, the program twice captured the HoopsHD “Centenary Award” (see the tab above for more information) as the worst team in Division I.  It was not a pretty stretch by any means.  Last season, the Tigers equaled their combined win total from the prior three by picking up 7 victories.  A 7-24 record might be devastating for some programs, but for Grambling it was a huge improvement.  More importantly, it is one that the Tigers can build on this season with four returning senior starters and four returning players that averaged double figures in scoring last season.  We may not quite be ready to predict Grambling as the SWAC champion, but after all the struggles this program has had, we absolutely love seeing them begin to build a team that can win games in this conference on a consistent basis.

Last year, three SWAC teams played in the postseason.  Southern University captured the automatic bid, losing in the First Four to Holy Cross.  Texas Southern, the regular season champions, qualified for the NIT.  Jackson State received an invite to the CIT, winning a game there.  This year, those three programs figure to be the battle for the league title again, with Jackson State being our preseason pick to win it.  One other team that could factor into the mix is Mississippi Valley State.  Head coach Andre Payne’s squad returns all five starters, and that level of experience could be a huge factor in a conference that is consistently among the lowest rated, yet most entertaining, in the nation.

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Jackson State – The Tigers are a veteran team that returns four starters led by guards Paris Collins and Chace Franklin.  All signs point to a team capable of winning the conference.

2. Southern – The Jaguars have a shot at returning to the Big Dance with Trelun Banks and Shawn Prudhomme leading the way.  They did, however, lose two of their top four scorers from last season and will need to find a way to make up for that lost offense.

3. Texas Southern – It could be a tougher season than normal in Houston, as head coach Mike Davis’ team only returns one starter.  That one player, however, is defending SWAC Player of the Year Derrick Griffin.  Griffin averaged a double-double last season and, if Davis can find the pieces to complement him, could be enough to lead the team back into the postseason.

4. Mississippi Valley State – All five starters return led by Marcus Romain’s 18.6 points per game.  Despite suffering 27 defeats last season, the Delta Devils could be a surprise contender this time around.

5. Alabama State – The Hornets should be competitive against SWAC competition again this season, but they will need to find a way to make up for the loss of Jamel Waters.  He averaged 15.9 points per game last season while hitting 41% of his three-point attempts.

6. Alcorn State* – The Braves went 13-5 in SWAC play last season, but then lost four starters from that team in the offseason.  They could still be competitive this season if the likes of DeAndre Davis and Reginald Johnson step up their games as they move into starting roles.

7. Grambling State – The Tigers went from 2 wins to 7 wins last year and have a great chance to improve on that with four double-digit scorers returning.  A serious lack of size is still, however, a major problem.

8. Prairie View A&M – The Panthers started the season 1-20 last year, leading to the resignation of head coach Byron Rimm II 19 games into the year.  However, they did win six of their last ten games, lending some hope as they head into this season.

9. Alabama A&M – The Bulldogs do not return any double-digit scorers from a team that went 6-12 in SWAC play.  Even matching that record would be a major feat this season.

10. Arkansas-Pine Bluff – The Golden Lions were one of the worst offensive teams in the nation last year.  If they cannot fix those problems, including all of the turnovers, this year, it will be another very long season.

* Alcorn State is ineligible for postseason play due to their APR score.  However, the Braves may be permitted to play in the SWAC conference tournament, with the automatic bid going to the team they defeat in the finals should they win it.

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