When asked about conferences that produce good basketball players and teams that also make things interesting come March time, the SWAC is one that seems to come to mind most of the time. Oftentimes you will see the SWAC winner playing in a first four game, with the winner often going on to take on the one seed. The play-in game is often very close when it involves the SWAC winner, and I expect it to be nothing less than that. There is some good competition among the teams in the conference. Here is my breakdown of every team and my predictions for the seeding come conference tournament time. Note: All stats and standings are as of 1/9.
1) Grambling State (10-6 Overall, 3-1 Conference)
Overview: The Tigers have potential to not only win the SWAC but also make a serious stunner come March Madness time this season. Grambling State has defeated Colorado on the road by nine and Vanderbilt on the road by two. They also very well could be undefeated in the conference had they not lost a heartbreaker to Prairie View. PV made a go-ahead jumper with 17 seconds left, and the Tigers missed a layup as time expired to lose the game by one. However, they have bounced back and won their last three conference game and are gaining momentum for the remainder of the year. Some teams have a two-headed monster when it comes to scoring buckets, but the Tigers are fortunate to have a three-headed monster with three starters in guard Cameron Christon, forward Carte’Are Gordon, and guard Shawndarius Cowart all averaging double digits in points per game with 13.8, 12.2, and 11.1 ppg respectively. Grambling State has so much talent offensively, and they are my pick to win the SWAC this season.
2) Southern University (8-9 Overall, 4-0 Conference)
Overview: After starting out the season on a three-game losing streak, the Jaguars found a way to bounce back and defeated California on the road as 4.5 point underdogs. They had been up and down for the remainder of the non-conference season. With conference play starting, the Jaguars have beaten Texas Southern and Prarie View as an underdog. The Jaguars then made statements as favorites, defeating Florida A&M and Arkansas Pine Bluff by 18 and 27 points respectively as favorites. They are fortunate to have two starters in Bryson Etienne and Brion Whitley to help lead them in scoring with 11.5 ppg and 10.9 ppg respectively. Southern also gets some immediate help off of the bench in guard Tyrone Lyons (10.0 ppg). If the Jaguars can find a way to keep winning games as efficiently as they are, they will be successful this season.
3) Alcorn State (5-10 Overall, 2-1 Conference)
Overview: Most of you are probably looking at this and are thinking “Kyle, how can a team that is 5-10 overall possibly be your projected #3 seed.” Well, I will say that their record does not show how good of a team they are. First, they defeated a talented Wichita State squad on the road by nine points. Also of their losses, four of them have come by single digits, including a one point loss to conference-foe, Jackson State. However, they have been rolling in conference play since the one point loss to Jackson State, winning their last two games by double digits. The Braves are led by a talented guard in sophomore Dominic Brewton (12.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg). The future is bright for this guard, and he is going to be making some noise in the SWAC for several years to come. If the Braves can let the beginning part of their season go and can continue to build off of this win streak they have now, they are going to be tough for any team to take this season.
4) Jackson State (4-12 Overall, 3-0 Conference)
Overview: The Tigers are 3-0 in the SWAC to start the season, and there is no reason to criticize them for that. However, they have narrowly won every game in conference thus far, winning by 1, 3, and 8 points. This is why I only have Jackson State as a projected four seed. However, they have shown some bright spots thus far this season. Their other win this season came on the road to SMU by one point. They were within ten points of both Michigan and Texas Tech and were close for a while with an extremely talented Alabama team before losing by 20. The thing that could also make the Tigers very dangerous this season (and could very well prove my four seed projection of them wrong) is that they spread the wealth out offensively. They have three starters and one bench player that are averaging over nine points per game, with their top scorer being guard Ken Evans Jr (11.2 ppg). Evans Jr. also leads the Tigers in assists (3.4) and steals (1.4). If this balanced attack continues to work, Jackson State may finish better than I predict.
5) Alabama A&M (6-11 Overall, 2-2 Conference)
Overview: The next three teams were difficult for me to determine where they are going to be seeded come conference tournament time. However, I do think Alabama A&M has the edge of the next two that I talk about. The reason being is that the Bulldogs have played some very tough competition that is going to make them very ready for the conference games. They had to face Ohio State, Vanderbilt, and Illinois all back-to-back-to-back road games before conference tournament play. They also have three starters averaging over double digits in scoring, with their top scorer, guard Garrett Hicks being their leader. Hicks is averaging 15.5 ppg (3rd most in the SWAC) and is shooting a very impressive 49% from 3 (44 of 90). Although the Bulldogs are on a two game losing stretch right now, they have a favorable schedule coming up that could get them more wins and be in an even better position come conference tournament time.
6) Arkansas-Pine Bluff (6-11 Overall, 2-2 Conference)
Overview: The Golden Lions started off the season very impressive and turned a lot of heads. They lost by a mere point to a ranked and very talented TCU team on the road, and two games later, lost to Oklahoma on the road by eight. However, they gained some ground following the start of the regular season, but the Golden Lions had a tough start to conference play, losing their first two games. They have bounced back and won their last two with wins over Prairie View and Texas Southern. Arkansas Pine-Bluff is going to be dangerous offensively, as they have one of, if not the, best backcourts in the conference. Senior guard, Shaun Doss Jr. has had a very solid season thus far, averaging 16.7 ppg, which leads both the team and the conference in that category. He also has a solid backcourt mate in guard Kylen Milton (12.1 ppg, 4.7 apg). The inconsistencies throughout the season can be worrisome for the Golden Lions, but if they continue to build off the streak they got going now, SWAC teams better watch out!
7) Prairie View (6-11 Overall, 2-2 Conference)
Overview: There is absolutely a possibility that I could be completely wrong about the standings altogether, and Prairie View could be the team that messes everything up for me. Of their eleven losses on the season, seven of them have been by single digits. They also have a couple of very impressive wins this season, including Washington State on the road by eleven and Grambling State at home by one. Much like Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Prairie View has a very impressive backcourt that is going to turn some heads this season. Senior guard Will Douglas will be in a battle with Shaun Doss for the scoring title in the SWAC. Douglas is averaging 15.8 ppg and is hauling in 4.7 rebounds per game. He is fortunate to have a complimentary guard in senior Jeremiah Gambrell, who is averaging 12.7 ppg. They have shown that they can upset teams before and have been playing really good basketball. Only time will tell if this translates to wins for the remainder of the season.
8) Alabama State (4-13 Overall, 2-2 Conference)
Overview: Rounding out our teams that make the cut for the SWAC tournament, we have the Hornets of Alabama State. The record speaks for itself in the way that the Hornet’s season has gone thus far. They are looking to build momentum for the remainder of the season, as they have had a rough patch lately in conference play. They narrowly beat Jackson State with a three point loss and, most recently, lost to Alcorn State by 16 points. However, they have had some success in the conference this year, as they have wins over Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Mississippi Valley State. A big key to their success has been guard Isaiah Range who has been money from long range shooting 46% from behind the arc and averaging 14.8 ppg. Another key to the Hornets success has been forward Jordan O’Neal who is averaging 6.9 rpg (2nd in the SWAC) and 1.2 bpg (3rd in the SWAC). The Hornets need to get something going if they want to maintain and hold this spot and avoid missing the tournament altogether.
The Remainder of the Field:
9) Bethune-Cookman (5-11 Overall, 1-2 Conference): If there is any team in the remainder that has a chance to make the tournament, it’s the wildcats. They have three players averaging double digits in scoring. Inconsistencies and poor conference play will doom them and cause them to miss the tournament.
10) Texas Southern (4-13 Overall, 0-4 Conference): Things appeared to be so promising for the Tigers after upsetting Arizona State on the road in the third game of the season. Unfortunately, they have lost their first four conference games of the season, including their last one to Mississippi Valley State. They haven’t shown they can compete in the SWAC.
11) Florida A&M (2-12 Overall, 0-3 Conference): With both of their wins coming to two Division II teams, things are looking glum for the Rattlers. They have not shown they have the guys to compete in the conference, so it appears they will miss the conference tournament for the first time in a long time.
12) Mississippi Valley State (2-16 Overall, 1-3 Conference): Although they recently defeated Texas Southern, it doesn’t look like the Delta Devils will win more than one more game in the conference this season. A new coach in the offseason and losing nearly every contributor from last season is showing this season.
The SWAC is one of the few conferences where I can see that the winner is absolutely wide open. The conference games thus far this season have been incredibly close and very exciting. However, I mentioned it earlier in my article, and I will emphasize it again: The winner of this conference will play a very close March Madness game in the first round. Whether that first round game be a first four in game or a round of 64 game, I think the winner of the SWAC is going to keep it very close. It is going to be a photo finish for the end of the season winner, but it is going to be great and passionate basketball nevertheless.