Thursday, March 8, 2007

Southland Conference Tournament Preview

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The Southland featured one of the more competitive conference races in the country, and has been an underrated league throughout the season. The regular-season title came down to the final day of the season, when Texas A&M-Corpus Christi went to Sam Houston State and knocked off the Bearkats. A&M finished 14-2; Sam Houston finished 13-3. Northwestern State won the East division with a 10-6 record.

Favorites: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi was an Independent a year ago, and has made an immediate impact in its first season in the Southland. They are the best shooting team in the conference, from both inside the arc and outside. They also share the ball and are efficient offensively. 7-foot center Chris Daniels leads the way. He has the ability to dominate the paint. Cedric Smith and Scooby Johnson are also key up front. Josh Washington is an outstanding shooter from the perimeter. Josh Ervin and Taurean Mitchell form a two-headed point guard. Sam Houston State finished just a hair behind the Islanders. They play very good defense, and are very efficient offensively. They have one of the best forward tandems in the conference in Ryan Bright and Aaron Wade. Bright does everything well, and is an excellent rebounder, while Wade is a nice inside-outside option who can shoot. C.J. Hadley is another good shooter from the frontcourt. Jejuan Plair is one of the most underrated point guards in the country.

Contenders: Northwestern State struggled down the stretch, losing five of their eight. They get up and down the floor quickly, and lead the league in possessions per game. The Demons reached the NCAA Tournament last year, and return several players from that team. Luke Rogers can do it all from the guard spot, while Keenan Jones is a terrific distributor. Trey Gilder and Colby Bargeman form a nice forward tandem up front. McNeese State won five of their last six, and is playing well lately. They are one of the worst offensive teams in the conference, but they are excellent on the defensive end and dominate the glass at both ends of the floor. Jarvis Bradley is a go-to-player down low, and can score and rebound. Quentin Gonzales is another big body in the post. John Ford and Troy Aaron lead the way in the backcourt.

Sleeper: Lamar has won five of seven, and could be a threat to the top seeds. They have arguably the best post duo in the conference in 7-1 James Davis, who dominates the post, and forward Lamar Sanders, who averages a double-double. Guards Darren Hopkins and Currye Todd form a nice scoring backcourt. Nicholls State, led by one of the best players in the league in Stefan Blaszczynski, can make noise. Adonis Gray is a tough match-up as well. Texas-Arlington has won seven of their last nine. They are deep and have several options offensively, led by Jermaine Griffin.

Prediction: Like the regular-season title, the Southland automatic bid will come down to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Sam Houston State. They split the regular season meetings, with both teams winning on the other’s home court. Corpus Christi is deep and balanced, and has an excellent production from both inside and outside. Sam Houston State has good inside-outside balance, but they don’t have the depth and scoring options to keep up with Corpus Christi. Moreover, Daniels should be able to take over in the paint.

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