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The Southwestern Athletic Conference got off to its typical horrendous start, as many of the teams in the conference played a brutal non-conference schedule and had unattractive records. However, it did eventually feature a decent league race, as it was not officially decided until Jackson State knocked off second-place Arkansas Pine Bluff on March 1. Jackson State won the league by three games over Pine Bluff, while Alabama State followed them. Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M finished 11-7. The winner will likely head to the play-in game.
Favorite: Jackson State got off to a 0-10 start in non-league play before running roughshod over the SWAC en route to a 17-1 record and a regular-season title. This was all without the preseason Player of the Year, forward Grant Maxey, who was lost for the year in only the second game of the season. The Tigers are not an efficient offensive group, but they get to the free-throw line and are a very solid defensive group. Guard Garrison Johnson can fill it up, while Tyrone Hanson is a good three-point shooter. De’Suan Dixon is a tough match-up at guard.
Contenders: Arkansas-Pine Bluff went winless in non-conference play, but the Golden Lions were fairly competitive in many of those losses. UAPB has won eight of its last nine heading into the conference tournament. The Golden Lions attack the offensive glass and love driving to the basket. Defensively, they control the boards and guard teams effectively. The backcourt of Terrance Calvin and Sevalance Townsend is solid, while Lebaron Weathers is a decent big man down low. Alabama State did not beat a Division-I team in non-conference play, but the Hornets did win six of their final seven games to end the season. Alabama State likes to turn teams over and control the defensive glass, while they are also effective at getting to the charity stripe. Guard Menji Mundadi can really shoot the ball, while Tramayne Moorer and Tramaine Butler are two more scorers.
Sleeper: Texas Southern lost seven conference games this season, but six of them were by single-digits. Furthermore, the Tigers were the only club to beat Jackson State in SWAC play. They force plenty of turnovers on defense, and they are very efficient from two-point range. Texas Southern is led by one of the most productive trios in the conference, with guards DeAndre Hall and Junior Treasure, and forward Travele Jones.
Prediction: The top eight teams in the conference will head to Louisiana for what will be an interesting tournament. Jackson State went 17-1, but 10 of the Tigers’ wins were by 10 points or fewer. Arkansas-Pine Bluff will be a threat, and Texas Southern also has the personnel. However, it’s tough to bet against Jackson State in this one. Despite the close games, the Tigers proved they could pull out wins late and they also are a very difficult team to match up with, given their perimeter-oriented personnel. They will defeat Pine Bluff in the title game and get the automatic bid.