Monday, October 2, 2006

SWAC Preview


The Southwestern Athletic Conference finished the year as the lowest-ranked conference in the RPI for the fourth season in a row. 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 conference tournament was not much different, as Southern won the automatic bid with three wins by almost 14 points per game. Arkansas Pine-Bluff did make a nice run to the title game with upset wins over Grambling and Alabama A&M. Southern actually was able to play in the NCAA Tournament instead of the play-in game and gave Duke all they could handle before the Blue Devils pulled away for a 16-point win. This season will be more competitive than last season, although the winner might have to head to the play-in game as no team is overly impressive on paper.

Favorites: The regular season race in the SWAC is likely to be a two-team race between Jackson State and Alcorn State. Jackson State was in contention for the league title last season early on in conference play before folding late. They will go as far as Trey Johnson can take them. Johnson is a phenomenal scorer who is capable of getting hot from long-range and having big games for the Tigers. He is a threat to lead the nation in scoring this season. He is not the only strength for Jackson State, though. Julius Young and Jeremy Caldwell are very solid players in the frontcourt, while point guard Charles White is an all-conference candidate. Alcorn State are hoping to improve greatly on their 8-20 mark of last season. They have the talent and balance to win the conference. Delvin Thompson leads the way. He is one of the best all-around players in the conference, putting up big numbers across the board. Carl Landry and Clifton Douglass join him in the backcourt. Douglass is a good scorer on the wing. Up front, Juan Wyatt is one of the better post players in the SWAC. He and James Kendrick provide solid frontcourt play for the Braves.

Contenders: Outside of the top two, the only team with a legit shot at winning the league--on paper, at least--is Texas Southern. The Tigers need a big-time turnaround after posting a disappointing 8-22 record last season. This year, they have the ability to make a serious run at the league title. The main reason for that is the fact that Texas Southern has the best frontcourt in the league. Christopher Moore leads the way up front. The all-conference pick is a dominating forward. Leonta Matthews and Jacques Jones are poised for breakout seasons. Both are expected to become stars. Courtenay Brown returns as a starter in the backcourt, while JC transfer Dominique White will make an immediate impact at the point. One team you can never count out is Alabama A&M. They lose two of the best players in the conference in Obie Trotter and Joe Martin, but all-conference forward Michael Ford returns. He is versatile and athletic and will carry the Bulldogs. Guard Evan Hilton returns as a starter in the backcourt. Big man Mickell Gladness led the conference in blocks last season, but needs to improve his offensive game in order for the A&M to reach their potential.

Sleepers: The league's defending champion, Southern, could take a step back this season, but will still be in the mix in the middle of the conference. They were the most efficient and best-shooting team in the conference last year. Only one starter returns from that team, though. That one player is all-conference pick DeForrest Riley-Smith. He is a versatile forward that can score and rebound very well. He could average a double-double this year. Ralph Hishaw is a solid complementary player next to him up front. Steffon Wiley is ready for an expanded role this season as he is now one of the main scorers on offense. Grambling was the only other team to finish above .500 overall last season besides Southern, but will be hard-pressed to repeat that. However, they have one of the best duos in the league in guard Andre Ratliff and forward Anthony Williams. Ratliff is one of the best guards in the SWAC due to his scoring and distributing abilities, while Williams is a solid scorer and rebounder. John Dorsey and Richard Thomas need to step up in the frontcourt if the Tigers want to compete for a title. Mississippi Valley State could be a big-time tea to watch if they figure out how to score more efficiently. They were the league's worst offensive team a season ago, but should improve on that number with the return of several quality players. The backcourt of Stanford Speech and Tychicus Snow could become a very good duo by the end of the season. Up front, Jeffrey Price is one of the best centers in the SWAC, while Kadrian Bryant is a versatile forward who is a good contributor.

Rounding Out the Pack: Another potential sleeper could be Arkansas Pine-Bluff, who will be going into the season with very low expectations. However, they return a solid forward combo in William Byrd and Jarvis Gunter. They are both very good rebounders who could be all-conference players by the end of the season. V'Angelo Smith and Larry Williams provide the scoring from the perimeter. Moreover, the Golden Lions have the best defensive team in the conference. Alabama State will rely heavily on newcomers in an attempt to move to the upper half of the league. Brandon Hubbard and T.J. Jackson are guards of the future for the Hornets, while Tremayne Moorer is going to be a load up front. As for the returnees, guards Andrew Hayles and Dustin Richmond form one of the best backcourts in the league. Richmond is a solid combo guard, while Hayles is a potential all-conference player. Richard Lott Jr. is a serviceable inside player. Prairie View A&M needs a lot of help if they are going to get out of the cellar this season. They simply don't have a lot of talent after losing four starters from last year's last-place team. Chris Gaines and Clifford Franks are a decent forward duo who will each need to improve their numbers. Jared Ellison could become the go-to-guy in the backcourt.

Prediction: The SWAC will be a two-team race between Jackson State and Alcorn State, with Texas Southern on the outside looking in. The conference title will come down to the top teams' stars--JSU's Trey Johnson and ASU's Delvin Thompson. Johnson is one of the top ten players at his position in the country, and has the ability to put Jackson State on his shoulders and carry them to victory. I'm not sure if Thompson can do that. Moreover, Johnson has a solid supporting cast to help him out. I think it will be an excellent conference race, but the nation will finally get a chance to see Johnson on a national stage--in the NCAA Tournament.

Player of the Year: Trey Johnson, SG, Jackson State

All-Conference Team:
G- Trey Johnson, Jackson State
G- Delvin Thompson, Alcorn State
F- Michael Ford, Alabama A&M
F- Christopher Moore, Texas Southern
F- DeForrest Riley-Smith, Southern

Second Team:
G- Andre Ratliff, Grambling State
G- Clifton Douglass, Alcorn State
F- Jarvis Gunter, Arkansas Pine-Bluff
F- William Byrd, Arkansas Pine-Bluff
C- Juan Wyatt, Alcorn State

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