Conference Preview: SWAC

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For the past six seasons, the SWAC has been all about Texas Southern.  During that time period, head coach Mike Davis led the Tigers to four SWAC regular season championships and four NCAA Tournaments, including last season’s berth (and win) in the First Four.  Davis has moved on to Detroit and the school has hired Johnny Jones as his replacement.  With the team likely needing to rebuild this year, the conference race is wide open.  Last year’s regular season champions, who were ineligible due to an APR ban, are our pick to make their first ever trip to the Big Dance this season.  Grambling was long looked at as one of the worst programs in Division I, but now they are poised to win the conference title.  It will not be easy with at least three other programs set to contend, including Alabama State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Prairie View.  At the end of the day, expect SWAC teams to take a lot of lumps in non-conference guarantee buy-games, and then battle each other tight once conference play starts in January.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Grambling State – The Tigers, who spent years batting to avoid being the worst team in Division I, captured the SWAC regular season title last year. Unfortunately, an APR ban kept them out of postseason play.  The ban is now lifted, and the school’s first ever NCAA tournament bid is within reach.  Ivy Smith, a contender for SWAC Player of the Year, will lead the way.  He averaged 16.7 points per game last year.
  2. Alabama State – The Hornets may have only been 8-23 last season, but all 8 wins came against SWAC opponents including a stretch where they won 4 out of 7 shortly before SWAC Freshman of the Year Jacoby Ross went down with a hand injury. Ross is now healthy and the entire starting lineup, including leading scorer Reginald Gee and double-double threat Branden Johnson, is back.  This team could end up a serious contender by the time the dust settles.
  3. Arkansas-Pine Bluff – The Golden Lions tied for second place in the regular season and lost the conference tournament title game to Texas Southern last season. This year, they will look to take the next step led by SWAC Player (and Newcomer) of the Year Martaveous McKnight.  McKnight averaged over 18 points per game for UAPB last season and has two other starters plus a handful of key reserves returning to help try to take this team into the postseason.
  4. Prairie View A&M – The Panthers only return two starters from last season, but those two both averaged over 12 points per game in helping the team go 12-6 in SWAC play. Keep an eye on Gary Blackston who has a chance to average over 20 points per game this year.  If he does, do not be surprised to see him leading his team into the Big Dance.
  5. Alcorn State – Reginal Johnson got a medical redshirt after suffering an injury last season, and with that injury went the Braves’ chances for contending for the SWAC title. Johnson is back, as is double-digit scorer Maurice Howard, so there is a chance this team could make some noise.  They will, however, have to find a way to make up for the 27 points per game that A.J. Mosby and Dante Sterling combined to score last year.
  6. Texas Southern – The Tigers begin the post-Mike Davis era after he led them to four NCAA Tournaments in six seasons as head coach. They did bring in another big name, however, in former Memphis/North Texas/LSU head man Johnny Jones.  With Demontrae Jefferson’s 23.4 points per game gone, and only one double-digit scorer (Derrick Bruce) returning, it may take Jones a year or two to get TSU back to its customary spot atop the league standings.  If they have a slow start then have no fear; last year the Tigers became the first team since 1985 to start a season 0-13 and still end up making the NCAA Tournament.
  7. Mississippi Valley State – The good news for the Delta Devils is that four starters, including their top two scorers (Dante Scott and Jordan Evans), are back from last year. The bad news is that this same team only won four games all of last season.  MVSU should be better, but probably not enough to make any serious noise in the SWAC.
  8. Southern – Sean Woods returns to the SWAC where he had previously led Mississippi Valley State to the NCAA Tournament before he coached at Morehead State, which ended controversially. With only one starter returning from last year’s team, Woods will have his work cut out for him this season.
  9. Jackson State – The Tigers lost 20 games last season and do not return a single starter from that squad. This could be a long season in Jackson, as the team will need to go to a faster guard-oriented offense to try to make up for a serious lack of size, even by SWAC standards.
  10. Alabama A&M* – Donnie Marsh his job as head coach of the Bulldogs to become an assistant coach at Florida Gulf Coast. That should tell you all you need to know about how abnormal things are in Normal!  Former assistant Dylan Howard is now in charge (as interim head coach) and does have four starters back.  However, coming off of a 3-win season, and with only one returning double-digit scorer, this is likely going to be another long season for a team that is not even postseason eligible due to an APR ban.

*Alabama A&M is ineligible for postseason play due to an APR ban.

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