Thursday, March 9, 2006

SWAC Tournament Preview

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The Southwestern Athletic Conference, for the fourth season in a row, finished the year as the lowest-ranked conference in the RPI. In an interesting sidenote, the conference had the #1 average non-conference RPI, which led the SWAC to a cumulative non-league record of 8-75. As for the standings, Southern essentially ran away with the league title. They were the only team in the conference to finish above .500 overall and went 15-3 in the league. Two teams followed at 11-7, and another two were 10-8. The winner of the conference tournament is likely to get invited to take part in the play-in game.

Favorite: When only one team in a league finished above .500 overall, it is likely they are going to be the favorite heading into the conference tournament. Southern has won 15 of their last 18 games after going 1-9 in non-conference play. The Jaguars are the most efficient offensive team in the league and also are the best-shooting team from the field. Guard Christopher Alexander is one of the best players in the league and has been very consistent throughout the season. Peter Cipriano is a very good inside player, while Deforrest Riley-Smith is a versatile wing that can score and rebound. Jerrid Campbell is another solid inside performer.

Contenders: Alabama A&M went to the NCAA Tournament last season, and is a candidate to do it again this season. The Bulldogs have won five in a row and are also the highest-scoring team in the league. Moreover, they lead the league in rebounds, assists, and steals. Obie Trotter is one of the best all-around point guards in the country, and is also one of the most underrated. He is arguably the best player in the league. Joe Martin is a tremendous rebounder, and averages nearly a double-double per game. Michael Ford is a very good scorer on the wing. He has missed three of the last four games, though. Jackson State has lost five of eight after contending for the league title early. However, they have one of the best pure scorers in the country in Trey Johnson. He is a very good long-range shooter and is capable of huge games. Ernest Hassell and Julius Young are solid complentary players in the frontcourt. Jeremy Caldwell is a good rebounder, while Charlie White is a decent all-around player.

Sleeper: Arkansas Pine-Bluff is the best defensive team in the league and have also won four of their last six. They are much better than their record would indicate. The Golden Lions are led by William Byrd and Jarvis Gunter, a good frontcourt combo that excels in the rebounding department. Martese Coleman is the main perimeter scorer. Larry Williams and V'Angelo Smith are two other solid point producers in the backcourt.

Prediction: The grand prize for the winner is likely a shot in the play-in game. I disagree with the way it works, but that is how the NCAA Tournament is and we all have to go along with it. With that said, expect Southern to be involved in that game. They have excellent inside-outside balance and have a go-to-guy in Alexander. Moreover, their balance between offense and defense is going to play a big role if they go against Alabama A&M in the title game. A&M is a high-scoring team but they don't have the defense needed to win the SWAC. Therefore, Southern is going to get the automatic bid from this conference and will advance to the NCAA Tournament.

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