The Southland Conference for four consecutive seasons was dominated by Stephen F. Austin. When Brad Underwood left for Oklahoma State (and now Illinois) prior to last season, there was a chance the Lumberjacks would take a step back, and they did so last year losing six times in conference play. It was the University of New Orleans, a school that almost dropped completely out of Division I not that long ago, which stepped up and stole both the regular season and tournament crowns.
This year, the big dog may return to its place on top, as SFA appears ready to re-establish themselves as the top team in the league. However, it will by no means be a runaway performance. Although New Orleans will likely fall back, both Lamar and Southeastern Louisiana appear ready to mount serious challenges. Also, keep eyes on Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word. Both teams completed their transition to full Division I membership last season and are eligible for the Southland and NCAA Tournaments for the first time ever this year.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Stephen F. Austin – During the four seasons from 2013-2016, the Lumberjacks lost a combined total of 3 regular season Southland games. While 12-6 and a second place finish would sound great to most teams, it was a huge step back in Nacogdoches. The Lumberjacks look to bounce back to the top of the standings this season with five returning players (assuming Leon Gilmore returns from suspension) that averaged more than 8 points a game, led by forward T.J. Holyfield.
- Lamar – The Cardinals return the majority of last year’s team that went 19-15 and qualified for the CIT. They will be led by Colton Weisbrod, a senior forward with a real chance to average a double-double this season and contend for conference Player of the Year honors.
- Southeastern Louisiana – The Lions have a real chance to step up this season after they went a solid 16-16 last season despite having three regulars miss almost the entire year with injuries. Keith Charleston, Joshua Filmore and Jordan Capps should all be back healthy, joining a pair of double-digit scoring returning starters to give this team the tools to contend for the league crown.
- Central Arkansas – Despite losing 24 games last season, the Bears did pick up 7 conference wins and slid into the conference tournament in 8th place. Expect them to be back in the 8 team field this year behind seniors Jordan Howard and Mathieu Kamba, who combined to average over 33 points per game. Also, keep an eye on freshman big man S.K. Shittu and his 86-inch wingspan.
- Abilene Christian – The Wildcats have completed their four year transition and are eligible for the Southland and NCAA Tournaments this season. They have a chance to make it to both with all five starters back led by sophomore Jalone Friday — a big man who can step out and hit the long ball as well.
- Incarnate Word – The Cardinals are now eligible for the Southland and NCAA Tournaments, and return three players that averaged more than 14 points per game apiece in Jalin Hart, Simi Socks, and Shawn Johnson. If they can improve defensively, they will be a factor in the conference race.
- Texas A&M-Corpus Christi – The Islanders had a huge 1-2 scoring punch last season with Rashawn Thomas (22.6 points per game) and Ehab Amin (17.2). Thomas is gone now, but Amin is still here and will be asked to score even more to go along with his defense — he led the nation in steals. A repeat of 24 wins seems unlikely, but the Islanders will still be tough to beat.
- New Orleans – New Orleans at one point began transitioning its athletic programs down to a lower division. They not only changed course and chose to stay in D1, but quickly rebuilt to win the conference regular season and tournament titles last year. With three starters gone, including their top two scorers, a repeat is unlikely. However, there are still four key seniors on this roster, so the Privateers should not be counted out either. If they can answer some questions at the point, they could finish higher than this.
- Northwestern State – The Demons will need to find more offense this season with three starters gone, including Zeek Woodley who averaged almost 20 points per game. The returning inside-outside pairing of Devonte Hall and Ishmael Lane will help ease the losses.
- Sam Houston State – The Bearkats are likely to take a step back this season as only one starter returns, though Chris Galbreath is also back, and was second on the team in scoring as their sixth man last season. However, unless some newcomers step up, this team may be fighting just to qualify for the conference tournament.
- Houston Baptist – The Huskies may take a big step back after a second place tie last season and a berth in the CIT. Seven players from last year’s roster are gone, but center Josh Ibarra, a nightly double-double threat, is back and freshman David Caraher is a three-star recruit at small forward.
- McNeese State – Returning four of their top six players is a good sign for the Cowboys; however, this team lost 22 games last year and needs to get a lot better on the boards if they want to move up in the standings A handful of bigger Juco transfers and freshmen recruits will be counted on to solve that problem.
- Nicholls State – The Colonels were a bit of a surprise last season, finding a way to win 14 games in head coach Richie Riley’s first season. Seven seniors, including three starters, are gone from that team and they are likely going to take a step back. However, keep an eye on UNC-Greensboro transfer Tevon Saddler, who led his former team in scoring during his freshman year.