Wednesday, March 12, 2008

SWAC Tournament Preview

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The Southwestern Athletic Conference was the worst conference in the country, by a large margin. Only one team had an RPI higher than 249, Alabama State, which was ranked just No. 193. Furthermore, the conference had just eight non-conference wins – as a whole. The Hornets were the only team to finish above .500 overall, despite going just 1-6 in the non-conference. In terms of the conference race, there wasn’t much of one, since ASU won it by three games over Mississippi Valley State, who finished 12-6. The winner is headed for the play-in game of the NCAA Tournament.

Favorite: Considering Alabama State was the only team to finish higher than .500 overall, as well as the only team to avoid double-digit losses, the Hornets are certainly the favorite to get the automatic bid. The strength is in the backcourt, where big-time scorer Andrew Hayles and playmaker Brandon Brooks do their work. Brandon Gordon leads the way in the frontcourt, which is deep and has plenty of options.

Contenders: Mississippi Valley State won six in a row heading into the conference tournament, and has bounced back in a major way since starting the season 0-11. Stanford Speech is a prolific shooter on the perimeter, while Larry Cox is a double-double threat every night and might be the best big man in the conference. Carl Lucas is a very solid scorer and rebounder. Alabama A&M is another team entering the conference tournament with plenty of momentum – the Bulldogs have won six in a row and 10 of their last 12. They have one of the best backcourts in the league in Trant Simpson and Evan Hilton. Furthermore, A&M is home to center Mickell Gladness, a dominant big man at both ends of the floor. He is a consistent 10-10-5 threat.

Sleepers: With no teams finishing with less than six wins in conference play, there’s certainly room for someone to make a run and win a couple of games. Alcorn State has played well lately, and has several solid scorers despite the fact that it finished tied for last-place. However, I’d keep an eye on the defending champs, Jackson State. Grant Maxey is a dominant force in the frontcourt, while Jeremy Caldwell is another very solid player down low. Those two make the Tigers tough to defend. Darrion Griffin can fill it up on the perimeter.

Prediction: Whoever wins the SWAC will likely have to win another game to officially make the NCAA Tournament, the play-in game on Tuesday against another poorly-ranked team. That team is going to be Alabama State. The Hornets are clearly the best team in the conference with its outstanding backcourt and multitude of options in the frontcourt. MVSU and Alabama A&M are hot, but neither has the inside-outside balance or overall talent to take down State.

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