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The Southland Conference did not have much of a league race all season, as Sam Houston State jumped out to an 11-0 start and never looked back. The Bears lost two league games, both in overtime, and finished three games ahead of East Division champion Stephen F. Austin. Southeastern Louisiana and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi both finished 10-6, while Texas-San Antonio and Texas State were the only other teams to finish above .500 in SLC play. Only eight of the 12 teams make the conference tourney.
Favorite: After Sam Houston State gave Kentucky all it could handle in mid-November and then beat Auburn in December, Southland foes knew what they were in for. The Bears are a highly-effective offensive group that likes to push the tempo and knock down threes at a high rate. Defensively, they pick up steals and limit second chances. Guard Corey Allmond and forward Gilberto Clavell are an excellent inside-outside tandem, while Ashton Mitchell is a dynamite playmaker at the point. Forward Josten Crow is a versatile and all-around producer.
Contenders: Stephen F. Austin, the defending champion, won its division by one game and has won three of its last four games heading into the conference tournament. The Lumberjacks play a slow-down game, but they force turnovers at a high rate and also dominate the glass at both ends. They rely primarily on two-pointers at the offensive end. Eddie Williams and Walt Harris form a nice backcourt, and Jereal Scott and Jordan Glynn lead the way in the paint. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi opened the season by beating Oregon State and also took Texas Tech, Houston, Kent State and Texas to the wire in non-league play. However, after opening up in the SLC, they lost six of their next nine to fall out of first-place contention. They rely heavily on their ability to control the glass and attack the rim on offense. Swingman Kevin Palmer is arguably the best all-around player in the conference, while Demond Watt provides great inside balance.
Sleeper: Texas-San Antonio received the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament, but the Roadrunners have won six of seven heading into the tourney and knocked off each of the top three teams in the league during that stretch. They take care of the ball and guard the three-point line very well. Devin Gibson leads a very good perimeter group that also includes gunner Morris Smith IV and playmaker Omar Johnson.
Prediction: This is Sam Houston State’s tournament to lose. The Bears are excellent offensively and they can run teams out of the building with their up-tempo system. They dominated the conference all season, losing only two games by a combined five points in a combined three overtimes. There are other threats, with SFA’s balance, Corpus Christi’s Kevin Palmer, UTSA’s perimeter, Texas State’s speed – but none of that compares to SHS’s experience and excellent on both sides of the ball. Sam Houston State will get to the Big Dance.