Wednesday, March 7, 2007

SWAC Tournament Preview

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The Southwestern Athletic Conference was the worst conference in the country—let’s just get that out of the way off the bat. They had, by far, the worst winning percentage in America, and also was the league’s worst conference in the RPI rankings. However, the SWAC had a very exciting race for the league title. Jackson State had the early lead, but Mississippi Valley State came on strong down the stretch to claim the title by one game over JSU, at 13-5. Two other teams finished above .500, and three were 9-9.

Favorites: Mississippi Valley State went 3-9 in the non-conference season, but played a very tough schedule—like most of the SWAC. In league play, MVSU started out only 3-2 and 5-3, but won eight of their last ten to win the regular-season title. They play outstanding defense, but aren’t that impressive offensively. Standford Speech is the team’s only double-figure scorer—but he can get to the basket very effectively. Forwards Richard Cannon and Jefferey Price are solid up front. Jackson State was the preseason favorite to win the league, mainly because of one reason—Trey Johnson. The country’s second-leading scorer, Johnson is capable of putting the Tigers on his back and leading them to victory. He scored in double-figures in every game this year, and scored at least 30 points eleven times. He did struggle—relatively—during the latter part of the season, averaging “only” 22.1 points per game over the last 11 contests. Grant Maxey leads the way in the frontcourt.

Contenders: Alcorn State and Grambling both finished 10-8, and could pose a threat. ASU won six in a row earlier this season, and owns arguably the league’s best inside-outside combo in the league. Guard Delvin Thompson is a very good all-around player, while big man Juan Wyatt is a dominant big man in the SWAC. Grambling only played 23 D-1 games this year, which is an awfully low number. Andre Ratliff is one of the best guards in the conference, and can do a variety of things. Anthony Williams might be the SWAC’s best frontcourt player. He can score and rebound with the best of them in this league.

Sleeper: Southern has won four in a row entering the conference tournament, but is only the #7 seed. They have defeated both Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State on the road this season. Deforrest Riley-Smith is a versatile forward who can score and rebound well, while Chris Davis is a double-figure scorer in the backcourt.

Prediction: The SWAC could be a wide-open conference tournament. There is no clear-cut favorite, as the league’s regular-season champ, MVSU, has one of the worst offenses in the league. Jackson State is the worst defensive team in the league. In other words, every team has a weakness. In situations like that though, the team with the best player usually wins. In this case, it’s obviously Trey Johnson and Jackson State. His scoring ability will carry the Tigers to the automatic bid.

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