Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Southland Conference Preview


The Southland featured one of the more competitive conference races in the country, and had 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. In the conference tournament, A&M demonstrated its superiority by winning the title and then giving Wisconsin all it could handle in the NCAA Tournament. Expect a wide-open race this year.

Favorites: Unlike last season, in which Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Sam Houston State were the clear favorites, this year’s title should be up for grabs. Lamar returns four starters from a team that tied for third in the conference. The returnees are led, ironically, by Lamar Sanders, one of the best forwards in the conference. He’s a great rebounder and a solid scorer. Starting next to him down low will be Lawrence Nwevo. On the perimeter, wings Darren Hopkins, the team’s leading scorer, and Matthew Barrow return as starters, while Currye Todd was a double-digit scorer. Kenny Dawkins will fight for a starting spot. Northwestern State, after finishing first in the East division last season, will look to get back to the NCAA Tournament this year. One of the best guards in the conference returns in Colby Bargeman, a solid scorer and all-around player. 6-9 Trey Gilder will likely start opposite him at the three. Up front will be returning starters Gerrell Thomas and Jerry Moody. Michael McConathy and Dominic Knight will fight for the point guard spot. Sam Houston State went 13-3 last season in league play, but lost in the first round of the conference tournament and loses three starters. Ryan Bright is one of the, um, bright spots returning for the Bearkats. He is one of the best players in the conference and will push for Player of the Year. John Gardiner and Barkley Falkner will fight for the center spot, while James Barrett will also start up front. The best returnee is the backcourt is Shamir McDaniel, a solid scorer and distributor.

Contenders: Texas-Arlington returns all five starters and will make a move in the standings. Center Jermaine Griffin is one of the best players in the conference and is a load to handle down low. Next to him up front are Anthony Vereen, a very efficient shooter, and Larry Posey, who is a wide-body. On the perimeter will be Rog’er Guignard and Rod Epps, both good scorers and distributors, and Tommy Moffitt, who will fight for a starting job. Cardell Hunter returns at the point. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi returns only one starter from its NCAA Tournament team, but that returnee is one of the centers in the country, Chris Daniels. He flirted with the NBA Draft but returned. He is a dominating performer down low. Carl Nelson and Filip Toncinic will fight for minutes inside, while a long list of newcomers will see time on the wings. Tim Green is the frontrunner for the point guard spot. McNeese State finished second in the East last year, and returns four starters. One of the best inside-outside tandems in the league is back in point guard John Ford and Jarvis Bradley, both all-conference candidates. Frontcourt starters Kleon Penn and John Pichon also return to their respective positions. Rorey Lawrence and Aldryan Wardell will provide depth. Stephen F. Austin, like several of the aforementioned teams, returns four starters and will look to improve in the standings. The Lumberjacks are led by a terrific inside-outside duo in shooter Josh Alexander, one of the best three-point shooters in the country, and big man Matt Kingsley, a go-to-guy down low. Gerald Fonzie, Scott Weaver, and Kyle Jacobs saw extended time last year, while Eric Bell could start at the point.

Sleepers: Nicholls State
also returns four starters from a team that went 7-9 in the league. The lone starter lost, though, is all-conference performer Stefan Blaszczynski. Adonis Gray, a solid swingman, will have to step up in order to make up for the lost production. On the other wing is Ryan Bathie, a very good shooter and scorer. Starting point guard Justin Payne and Gil Verner also return on the perimeter. Up front, Mitch Boyce is the main returnee. Texas-San Antonio finished last in the West last year, but returns four starters. A very good backcourt is back in Melvin Smith and Isaiah Allen, two double-figure scorers that can shoot. Up front, Andrew Francis and Keith Spencer, a solid rebounding duo, return as starters. Devin Gibson will get the first look at the point. Texas State is yet another Southland club returning four starters. One of the best forwards in the conference, Brandon Bush, leads the way. He can play a variety of positions and can do multiple things on the court. Joining him up front are returning starters Chris Agwumaro and Dylan Moseley. Guards Brent Holder, the best shooter on the team, and Brandon Thomas, saw plenty of minutes last year. Ryan White will fight for the point guard spot.

Rounding out the Pack: Southeastern Louisiana has been in the mix the past four seasons, winning at least 16 games each year, but it loses four starters this season. Kevyn Green is a solid starting point, and is joined by Patrick Sullivan and Tavaris Nance in a decent frontcourt. Dekyron Nicks will likely start at the point, while a host of newcomers, led by Warrell Spann and Antonio Pope, will fight for minutes. Central Arkansas is not eligible for postseason play this season, but returns several solid cogs from last year. Durrell Nevels is one of the best forwards in the conference, while Marcus Pillow and Nate Bowie are also double-figure scorers. Brian Marks will make an impact as a JC transfer.

Prediction: There are several teams capable of winning the conference this year. I think it will eventually come down to Lamar in the East Division and Texas-Arlington in the West. Sam Houston State will also be right there down the stretch. In the end, Arlington has the inside presence in Jermaine Griffin to give every team besides Texas A&M-Corpus Christi fits down low, and the inside-outside balance to beat anyone they face. Lamar, on the other hand, needs to figure out its point guard situation if it is planning on winning the league.

Player of the Year: Chris Daniels, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

All-Conference Team:
F- Ryan Bright, Sam Houston State
F- Lamar Sanders, Lamar
F- Jarvis Bradley, McNeese State
C- Jermaine Griffin, Texas-Arlington
C- Chris Daniels, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Second Team:
G- John Ford, McNeese State
G- Josh Alexander, Stephen F. Austin
G- Darren Hopkins, Lamar
F- Adonis Gray, Nicholls State
F- Brandon Bush, Texas State

Photo Credit: College Hoops Update

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