Thursday, March 13, 2008

Southland Conference Tournament Preview

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The Southland Conference was one of the most underrated conferences in the country this season. It finished as the No.19-ranked conference according to the RPI, and had two teams in the top-100 of the RPI. Furthermore, there was a great race for the conference title, with Stephen F. Austin and Lamar eventually tying for the championship. Lamar had a one-game lead heading into the final day, but it lost to Southeastern Louisiana and had to settle for a tie. Sam Houston State was the only other team to finish with double-digit wins in conference play.

Favorite: Even though Stephen F. Austin and Lamar tied for the regular-season title, I think that SFA is the favorite heading into the conference tournament. The Lumberjacks have a top-60 RPI and already own wins at Oklahoma and San Diego this season. They have a dynamite duo in the frontcourt with three-point gunner Josh Alexander at one forward spot and Matt Kingsley down low. Eric Bell is a very solid distributor at the point guard position. The Lumberjacks are also tremendous defensively.

Contenders: Lamar looked like it was going to win the regular-season title outright, but it lost two of its last three games. The Cardinals might have the most balance and weapons in the league, as six guys average at least eight points per game, including four in double-figures. Kenny Dawkins is a very good scorer and passer, while backcourt mate Darren Hopkins is also solid. Lamar Sanders and Justin Nabors form a good forward duo. Currye Todd is instant offense off the bench. Sam Houston State had a very solid season, knocking off Texas Tech and SFA en route to 22-win campaign. The Bearkats have an outstanding inside-outside duo in guard Shamir McDaniel, a very good all-around player and shooter, and Ryan Bright, an automatic double-double every night out. Ashton Mitchell and DeLuis Ramirez are two more god guards for SHS.

Sleeper: Since the Southland takes just eight of its 12 teams to the conference tournament, there is not that much room for a monumentally surprising run, but one team that could make some noise in the tourney is Texas-Arlington. The Mavericks came into the season as one of the main contenders for the league title, but losses in five of their last seven games ruined that. They are led by the frontcourt duo of Jermaine Griffin and Anthony Vereen, while Rog’er Guignard provides balance from the perimeter.

Prediction: For most of the season, everyone who followed the Southland kept expecting Stephen F. Austin to eventually overtake Lamar and for the Cardinals to collapse and fall back to the pack. It didn’t happen until the final day of the season – but SFA won’t give up the crown in the conference tournament. The Lumberjacks are just so good defensively, and they have the weapons at the other end of the floor to put points on the board. There are plenty of contenders, but SFA is simply better than them all. The Lumberjacks are going to be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.

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