Monday, October 15, 2007

SWAC Preview


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 was also 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. In the conference tournament, Jackson State showed why they were the preseason favorite by winning the title and then contending with eventual national champion Florida for some of its NCAA Tournament first-round game before falling in the second half. This season will likely be equally as competitive as last year, but this year’s winner might be headed to the play-in game.

Favorites: Grambling, after going 10-8 in conference play and 12-14 overall last season, might be the favorite to win the automatic bid. The Tigers return two of the best players in the conference in guard Andre Ratliff and forward Anthony Williams. Ratliff can do it all from the point guard position and is the key to this team, while Williams is one of the best scorers and rebounders in the conference. He was granted an extra year of eligibility in the off-season by the NCAA. Andrew Prestley is a returning starter on the wing and Jamal Breaux also is back down low. Emmanuel Calloway was a part-time starter last season, but freshmen Duran Diaz and Jordon Lemon will push for time in the backcourt. Thomas Funches will make an impact in the frontcourt.

Alabama A&M returns all five starters and could be a serious contender for the league title. One of the best inside-outside combos in the conference returns in shot-blocking machine Mickell Gladness and reigning SWAC Freshman of the Year, point guard Trant Simpson. Gladness led the country in blocked shots at over 6 per game, and should improve offensively this year. Simpson is arguably the league’s best pure point guard, and is only going to get better. Cornelius Hunter is a double-figure scorer on the wing, while Evan Hilton, LaNorris Smith, and newcomer James Lewis are expected to fight for starting jobs on the perimeter. Jonathan Belt and Jonathan Inman will compete for the starting power forward position. Arkansas Pine-Bluff is yet another contender that expects big things from their inside-outside combo. Big man William Byrd is one of the best players in the conference, and is a dominating rebounder and shot-blocker. Furthermore, he is a solid passer and a very good scorer. In the backcourt, Terrance Calvin is a solid point guard who should be healthy after missing 11 games last year. Larry Williams and Marcelle Goins will fight for starting spots on the wings. Up front with Byrd are returnees Tim Hamilton, who can play a variety of positions, and Tyree Glass, a part-time starter, as well as freshmen Jamarcus Williams and Tim Johnson. Jackson State will obviously take a step back this season with the loss of SWAC Player of the Year Trey Johnson, one of the best scorers in college basketball the past two seasons. Replacing Johnson will be a variety of players, led by returnees Kay Martinez and Darrion Griffin. Garrison Johnson will also push for time. Catraiva Givens returns as the starting point guard, providing stability for the Tigers. All-Conference candidate Grant Maxey leads a solid frontcourt. He is a solid scorer and rebounder, while the productive Jeremy Caldwell also returns down low. Freshman Jenirro Bush was a Top 100 recruit, and classmate Brandon Baker is a 7-footer with talent. Southern returns four starters from last season, but the lone loss was the team’s best player, Deforrest Riley-Smith. If they are to improve, they will have to replace him. The best of the returnees is sophomore point guard Chris Davis, a double-figure scorer that started 18 games. In the backcourt with him will be Steffon Wiley, a very solid all-around player, and Geri Guillory, a strong, versatile performer. Jazz Williams, Joe Holiday, and Brandon Byars will also contend for time. Up front, sophomores Douglas Scott and Chike Ekeweozor will fight for the starting power forward spot, and junior Joseph Jack is expected to become a go-to-guy down low.

Sleepers: Defending champion Mississippi Valley State will likely take a step back this season with the loss of three starters. However, All-Conference guard Stanford Speech is one of the top players in the SWAC, and will lead the way for the Delta Devils. Joining him on the wing will be Michael Clark, a returning starter. At the point guard position, Mike Davis returns as the back-up, while JC transfer Michael Harmason is a natural lead guard. Carl Lucas also returns on the wings. Up front, Larry Cox hopes to stay eligible for the entire season this year after missing the final eighteen contests a year ago. A variety of newcomers will fight for the other frontcourt starting spot. Alabama State is another team with a formidable duo leading the way. Andrew Hayles can do a variety of things on the floor, and is expected to become one of the best players in the SWAC this season. Richard Lott is a physical performer down low, and combines with Joel Bush, Chris Bush’s brother, to comprise a solid inside combo. The other two starting positions are up for grabs, but junior college transfer Brandon Brooks will be one of the best newcomers in the league in the backcourt. West Florida transfer Brandon Gordon and returnees Tremayne Moorer and Rashad Provitt will see extended playing time. Alcorn State loses three starters from a third-place team, but if they can improve their defense, the Braves will be in the mix. The perimeter group is deep and talented. Alex Owumi is the team’s top returning scorer and will become the go-to-guy this year. Jumane Reed returns at the point guard position, while Maryland Eastern Shore transfer Troy Jackson will contend for the league’s top newcomer honors. Richard Griffin and Anthony Ford also return on the wings. Up front, Almaad Jackson missed last season with an injury, but is one of the best big men in the conference. Adrian Oliver and Jarvis Williams will see time up front.

Rounding out the Pack: Prairie View A&M had another disappointing season last year, going only 8-22 overall—its fourth straight year with eight wins or less. However, the Panthers could surprise a few teams this year. Brian Ezeh was one of the league’s best newcomers last year, and is a double-figure scorer, while Derek Johnson was a solid point guard. Sophomore Ivory McGilvery and transfers Aaron Smith and Dorian McDaniel will compete for minutes on the perimeter. The frontcourt is where they will make a move, though. JC transfers Blake Thompson and Terrance Moore are expected to compete for starting jobs immediately, as will Jacoie Shivers and returnee Johnny Cobb. Texas Southern is going to be one of the worst teams in the league—if only because they did not have a head coach until the school hired Robert Moreland only one week ago, meaning they lost several newcomers that would have contributed. However, the Tigers do have some talent and will win some games this year. Jacques Jones is one of the best players in the conference, and will likely improve his numbers this year. Guard Sollie Norwood led the conference in three-point shooting, while St. Paul Latham and Brian Egwuatu will also contribute on the perimeter. Michael Drewy will likely join Jones up front.

Prediction: Although there are going to be several contenders for the league title due to the year-in, year-out parity in the SWAC, I think that the Grambling is going to take the championship. They played well a season ago, and return the best inside-outside duo in the league in Andre Ratliff and Anthony Williams. Furthermore, they have ample depth and will get a boost from a slew of freshmen. Although Alabama A&M finished last in the league last year, they have five returning starters and will compete.

Player of the Year: Andre Ratliff, PG, Grambling

All-Conference Team:
G- Andre Ratliff, Grambling
G- Stanford Speech, Mississippi Valley State
F- William Byrd, Arkansas Pine-Bluff
F- Anthony Williams, Grambling
C- Mickell Gladness, Alabama A&M

Second Team:
G- Trant Simpson, Alabama A&M
G- Andrew Hayles, Alabama State
G- Brain Ezeh, Prairie View A&M
F- Jacque Jones, Texas Southern
F- Grant Maxey, Jackson State

Photo Credit: Andre Ratliff; GSU Athletic Department

1 comment:

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