Sunday, October 16, 2005

Southland Conference Preview


The Southland Conference was wide-open a season ago. SE Louisiana and Northwestern State tied for the league title on the final day of the season, while Sam Houston State and Texas San-Antonio were both in it entering the final stretch. Those four teams were the ones with 10 wins or more, but three others finished .500 or better. In the conference tournament, Southeastern Louisiana defeated Northwestern State in a very low-scoring final. SE Louisiana went on to give Oklahoma State a tougher game than anticipated, but lost in the first round. Expect to see several of the same teams in the mix this season.

Favorite: Northwestern State returns all five starters and several key role players off the bench from the co-regular season champions. Jermaine Wallace is one of the best guards in the league, and was the lone double-digit scorer for the Demons. Tyronn Mitchell joins him in the backcourt; he is the Southland's leading returning assist man. Clifton Lee and Jermaine Spencer are two very solid forwards, while Byron Allen is a tough player to deal with in the low post. Keenan Jones is a good backup at the point, while wings Kerwin Forges and Colby Bargeman provide depth on the wings. Alfonse Dyer could start at center for most teams in the league.

Contenders: Lamar is home to the league's best offensive player in Alan Daniels. He could be the type of player that can carry them to an NCAA berth. Other than that, the extremely deep Cardinals have no definites in the starting lineup. One could probably pencil in point guard Jeremy Long, a very good passer. The rest of the backcourt includes Matthew Barrow, who sat out last season because of academics; Blake Whittle, a versatile 6-6 wing; and Brandon Chappell, who gives Long a breather at the point. Up front, 6-9 Nashid Beard and 6-10 Jason Grant return as starters, although the most productive frontcourt players came off the bench. 6-9 Thomas Fairley is a good scorer and an excellent rebounder, and 6-9 Josh Goodwin is both a solid scorer and rebounder. SE Louisiana lost three starters, but returns the Preseason Player of the Year, Ricky Woods. Woods is good in nearly every aspect of the game. Terry Bryant also returns as the point. Chris Lee will most likely join him in the backcourt, while newcomers Darien Green and Daryl Cohen will see time on the wing. Jonathan Walker will need to improve his production with his promotion to the starting lineup. Texas- Arlington has possibly the best inside-outside combo in the league in guard Jarrett Howell and Player of the Year candidate Steven Thomas. Thomas is the best post player in the league. Three other starters return in addition to the aforementioned two. Brady Dawkins and Stephen Floyd are nice complementary players in the backcourt, and Jermaine Griffin is solid in the frontcourt. Rodrick Epps is one of the league's best sixth men, and he could be ready for a breakout season, as could Larry Posey.

Sleepers: Sam Houston State returns two starters from a year ago, including Chris Jordan, one of the top guards in the SLC. His backcourt partner, Brandon Streeter, also returns. Ryan Bright will move into the starting lineup at forward, and he could become one of the best players in the conference by the end of the year. Returnees Ryan Griffin and Kelvin Williams, and newcomers John Gardiner, Jonathan Woods and Reggie Rawlins will fight for minutes in the frontcourt alongside Bright. Texas-San Antonio returns only one starter, but he is a good one: Andre Owens. The 6-3 guard is a good scorer, rebounder, and passer. Point guard Kurt Attaway and post player Ray Selvage started at times a year ago, and should be ready for full-time this season. Roderick Rodgers could be in for a big year at forward. Stephen F. Austin returns three double-digit scorers from last year's starting lineup. Leading the way is 5-10 guard Marcus Clark and 6-2 guard Josh Porter, who comprise one of the best backcourts in the league. Clark could be a star. Forward Anthony Paez is the go-to-guy up front. 6-6 JC transfer Antuane Miller is a beast down low, while 6-2 freshman Keith Hardaway (Penny's cousin) is expected to make an impact on the perimeter.

Rounding Out the Pack: Texas State has a decent guard in Brad Brickens, who has been hampered by injuries throughout his career. Lance Burroughs joins him in the backcourt, and Chris Langhorne and Markee White are going to hold down the forward positions up front. JC transfers Jushay Rockett and Charles Dotson will contribute right away. McNeese State returns three starters from last season, as well as two key reserves. Troy Aaron and 5-9 point guard John Ford are the backcourt returnees, although Colorado State transfer Dwight Boatner is expected to start immediately. 6-2 guard Ryan Price had a decent season off the bench. Forwards J.T. Williams and Aldrynn Wardell were a good frontcourt tandem, and should be better this season. Louisiana-Monroe doesn't return anybody that averaged double figure points a season ago. Daryl Mason, leading scorer Cecil Hood, and RoShon Jacobs are three decently-sized guards that provide scoring and rebounding. Up front, Adrain Harper and Gary Robinson should be successful at the forwards; center Olivier Haranga could start; and newcomer Dalky Melendez could see some meaningful minutes. Nicholls State returns one starter, 6-6 guard Stefan Blaszczynski, who could be one of the best players in the conference this season. Adonis Gray is a solid guard, as is Cyril Djoukeng. Several newcomers are ready to take on important roles. Forwards James Dixon and Dominic Friend could start right away, as will center Mitch Boyce.

Prediction: Northwestern State is loaded, returning every important player from last year's co-regular season champion team. They are a very deep team that has options at every position. The only team that can compare to the in terms of sheer numbers is Lamar, who could make some serious noise this season. If Alan Daniels can put them on his back, watch out for the Cardinals. However, NW St. has the best chance of winning the automatic bid thanks to their depth and the presence of a multitude of scorers. It should be an interesting year in the SLC, though.

Player of the Year: Ricky Woods, PF, SE Louisiana

All-Conference Team:
G- Jermaine Wallace, Northwestern State
G- Marcus Clark, Stephen F. Austin
F- Alan Daniels, Lamar
F- Ricky Woods, SE Louisiana

F- Steven Thomas, Texas-Arlington

Second Team:
G- Andre Carter, Texas- San Antonio
G- Jarrett Howell, Texas-Arlington
G- Stefan Blaszczynski, Nicholls State
G- Chris Jordan, Sam Houston State
G- Tyronn Mitchell, Northwestern State

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