Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Southland Conference Tournament Preview

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The Southland Conference was dominated from beginning to end by Northwestern State, who won the league by four games. However, the success of NW State gave the conference its highest RPI in more than six years. Sam Houston State finished in second, while Southeastern Louisiana was one game behind them. Three teams also finished at 9-7. Overall, it was a good season for the Southland, considering they pulled off wins over Mississippi State (twice), Oregon State, Oklahoma State, Missouri, and several Conference-USA teams, among others.

Favorite: Obviously, the team to beat is Northwestern State. The Demons came into the season as the favorite, and did not let anyone down. As was previously mentioned, they have wins over Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, and Oregon State. Moreover, their RPI is in the 70s--phenomenal for a team in the Southland. They have won 15 of 17, and nearly beat Utah State on the road. Clifton Lee is one of the best players in the conference, and he leads the very deep and balanced Demons. Luke Rogers and Jermaine Wallace are solid scorers on the perimeter, while Tyronn Mitchell is a terrific passing point guard. 7-1 Byron Allen helps anchor the interior.

Contenders: Sam Houston State came into the season with a win over Missouri, and was also the only team to knock off Northwestern State within the conference. They have won 11 of their last 14. Chris Jordan is a very good all-around guard for the Bearkats, while Ryan Bright is a solid scorer and rebounder up front. Jejuan Plair adds more perimeter production at the two-guard spot. Southeastern Louisiana won last season's automatic bid and gave Oklahoma State a scare before bowing out. They have won 8 of their final 9 games. The Lions have the most productive player in the conference in forward Ricky Davis, who averages a double-double. He had 28 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 steals in their season finale. Quennel Green combines with him to form the Southland's best forward tandem. Chris Lee is the main perimeter scorer.

Sleeper: Going into the season, I thought that Lamar had the talent and potential to make a run in the conference. Even though they only finished 9-7, I still think that. The Cardinals own the league's best offense and force the most turnovers in the Southland. They may have the best player in the conference in Alan Daniels, one of the best scorers in the country. He averaged 32 points in the final 3 games of the regular season. Thomas Fairley is a very good inside player who can rebound with anyone in the league. Matthew Barrow is a solid guard who can score and distribute well.

Prediction: While other teams may have better players that can carry their respective groups, Northwestern State should definitely win the conference tournament. They have several players that are productive, and are also the deepest team in the league. The Demons have the requisite inside-outside balance to get an automatic bid and cause some havoc in the NCAA Tournament. Moreover, their stingy defense will be enough to beat Lamar, who will make a Cinderella run to the final.

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