The Southland Conference is often disrespected in terms of KenPom rankings as well as projections in general year after year. However, they pulled off some big time upsets in March Madness, all as 14 seeds. Back in 2006, the #14 seed Northwestern State upset the #3 seed Iowa off a game winning three pointer with a second left. Ten years later, in 2016, the #14 seed Stephen F. Austin took down the #3 seed West Virginia. Finally, many will remember the Abilene Christian team from the Southland that came in as a #14 seed and took down the #3 seed Texas two years ago in 2021. Although the likelihood of the winner of the Southland getting a 14 seed is very unlikely (and that a play-in game for the winner is likely), this conference has proven to upset a team or two. The battle for the top of the conference is up for grabs, and it looks like it could go to almost anyone at the top. Here is my breakdown of the conference and my projections for seeding for the conference tournament. Note: All records and stats are as of 2/5.
1) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (15-9 Overall, 8-3 Conference)
Overview: In the second season under head coach, Will Lutz, the Islanders find themselves at the top of the Southland once again. The squad represented the conference in March Madness last year where they were bounced by Texas State in the first-four game. All five starters and nearly all of their key bench players return this season, and that chemistry has shown bounds. The Islanders are not only the best offense in the Southland but also one of the best in the country in terms of points per game. They are averaging 77.6 ppg, which is the 32nd best in college basketball. The Islanders have three starters and their sixth man averaging double digits in points with guard Trevion Tennyson leading the way with 14.9 ppg. Although their defense has struggled in games this season, this offense has been very dangerous in any game they have played in. This is why Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is my pick to win the Southland Conference.
2) Northwestern State (16-8 Overall, 8-3 Conference)
Overview: After 23 years of Mike McConathy coaching the Demons, McConathy retired and former assistant coach Corey Gipson was hired last offseason. In Gipson’s first year, the Demons have been very solid in the conference and non-conference. They are a school to bet on, as they are one of the best in the country at covering the spread this season with a 16-6-1 record. Their success has come due to the emergence of senior guard Demarcus Sharp, who is producing Conference Player of the Year numbers. Sharp is leading the conference with 17.1 ppg, is second in the conference in assists per game with 4.9, and third in the conference in steals per game with 1.9. However, he is not alone, as he has another solid backcourt mate to get the attention off of him in JaMonta’ Black. The senior is fourth in the conference with 16.5 ppg, while also shooting 37.7% from three. If the Demons stay consistent on offense and build off of the six game winning streak they currently have, they could give Texas A&M-Corpus Christi a run for their money come tournament time.
3) SE Louisiana (14-10 Overall, 8-3 Conference)
Overview: The Lions had a less difficult non-conference schedule than others did in the conference, but that has not slowed them down from being a force within the conference. The Lions have split games with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and have lost to Northwestern State and Nicholls State to round out their only conference losses. This means they have only had losses to teams that are in the top four of the conference. Otherwise, the Lions have dominated in their conference wins this season, with half of their wins coming by double digits. This is another team in the conference that dominates at covering overs. They are scoring 75.0 ppg, which is 71st in college basketball. The trio of guards Boogie Anderson (one of the best names in college basketball and you won’t convince me otherwise), Nick Caldwell, and Roger McFarlene are leading the charge for the Lions this season, averaging 13.0, 11.3, and 11.1 ppg respectively. The Lions will have no issue winning in the first round of the conference tournament, but they need to find a way to get wins against the top teams if they want to make a deep run.
4) Nicholls State (11-11 Overall, 6-4 Conference)
Overview: The Colonels had a very tough non-conference schedule this season, as four of their five wins out of conference came to schools that are Division II or lower. However, Nicholls State does have some very impressive wins in conference play this season, as they are the only team to defeat both Northwestern State and SE Louisiana. There is no doubt about the talent the Colonels have this season. The backcourt of Caleb Huffman and Latrell Jones have been a big part of the offensive identity for Nicholls State, averaging 15.2 and 14.7 ppg respectively. However, the one thing that is in doubt is if the Colonels defense will be able to hold their own in the conference the rest of the season. They are giving up 77.5 ppg, which is the 28th worst in college basketball. However, they have been solid defensively in conference play this season, as they are only giving up 66.7 ppg to conference foes. They have a tough road ahead for the remainder of the regular season, so we will see if non-conference defense or conference defense prevails for the Colonels.
5) Incarnate Word (11-13 Overall, 5-6 Conference)
Overview: Following a season where the Cardinals were at the bottom of the conference and had only won three games in the Southland, Incarnate Word finds themselves in the middle of the pack. Although their wins have come against the bottom teams of the conference, they have kept games close in the ones that they have lost, losing four of their six losses by single digits. It does not take long to look into why the Cardinals have the record that they do. They are averaging only 67.5 ppg and giving up 74.4 ppg, meaning they are getting outscored by an average of seven points per game. The player that is keeping them afloat this season is junior guard Jonathan Cisse. The third year player is leading the team with 15.6 ppg, which is also sixth in the conference. It is easy to beat teams that are lower than you, but beating the best teams of the conference is what is going to get that coveted automatic bid to the big dance. That is exactly what the Cardinals are going to have to do in order to succeed.
6) Houston Christian (7-17 Overall, 4-7 Conference)
Overview: Before I get into the Huskies season thus far, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up who the Huskies are playing for this season. Star guard Darius Lee was an absolute star for them last season and was voted the preseason player of the year in the summer. He was tragically killed this last summer, and I know that the Huskies are playing this season for him. Continued thoughts and prayers are given for Lee’s family and friends. The Huskies have had to rebuild from this loss, and have tried to find a new identity offensively. They currently have three starters in guard Brycen Long, center Bonke Maring, and guard Maks Klansjscek scoring in double figures with 15.7, 14.6, and 12.0 ppg respectively. However, their defense is, to say bluntly, terrible this season. The Huskies are giving up 86.4 ppg, the second worst (behind South Carolina State) in college basketball. This defense is going to cost them a ton of games, and if it is not cleared up by conference tournament time, a first round exit is likely.
7) Lamar (7-17 Overall, 3-8 Conference)
Overview: This has become a repeating trend within this preview article, but it is very telling of the season that the Cardinals are having thus far. They are scoring 65.1 ppg (313th in CBB) and giving up 76.5 ppg (321st in CBB). This means they are getting outscored by an average of eleven points per game. This may have you thinking how I have Lamar as a projected seven seed in the conference tournament. I have this because they have beaten really good teams this year in Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Nicholls State. They also have yet to play Houston Christian, who they get to play twice, as well as a much anticipated rematch with New Orleans. The potential to win a few more games is very much there for the Cardinals. Freshman guard Nate Calmese is doing everything in his power to get wins for Lamar, as he is averaging 16.6 ppg (3rd in conference) and 2.2 apg, making a big campaign for Freshman Player of the Year for himself. If Lamar can rattle off a couple of more wins down the stretch to end the regular season, they should find themselves comfortably sitting as the seven seed.
8) New Orleans (6-16 Overall, 3-8 Conference)
Overview: Getting the last spot in the conference tournament is the Privateers of New Orleans. They have a few conference wins this season against Incarnate Word, Houston Christian, and Lamar. The Privateers have shown that they can keep up with all teams in the conference this season. However, New Orleans is not much better than Houston Christian in terms of defense. They are giving up an average of 81.7 ppg, which is the 7th worst in college basketball. Although they are scoring a respectable 71.0 ppg this season, that will not lead to wins if their defense does not improve. Junior guard Jordan Johnson would be in the running for conference player of the year if he was on another team in the conference. The third year player is having a very solid season averaging 17.0 ppg (2nd in conference) and 4.3 apg (4th in conference). He is going to need some help if the Privateers want any shot at making the conference tournament. They still have yet to play both games against McNeese State this year. If they split or if New Orleans wins, they will make the conference tournament without an issue. If they lose both, they very well could be on the outside looking in.
The remainder of the field:
9) McNeese State (5-19 Overall, 2-9 Conference): As I stated above, if the Cowboys can sweep New Orleans, they will find themselves in the tournament. However, if they continue this losing streak in conference play that they have going, they will be on the outside looking in for the conference tournament. This is sad considering they are the host site for the conference tournament this year.
10) Texas A&M-Commerce (11-13 Overall, 7-3 Conference): The Lions are ineligible for the postseason tournament, as they are in the NCAA transition process going from Division II to Division I. However, they have shown that they belong in Division I with an incredible 7-3 record in the conference this season. A bright future is ahead for the Lions if they continue to grow and improve during the transition process.
The battle for the top of the conference is for the taking, and the regular season has proven that there are a number of teams that could take it. With each team having at least three losses in conference games, this is about as even of a conference as any conferences that I have covered thus far. This conference tournament will be under the radar, but big time upsets have come out of schools in the Southland. If a team plays exceptional in the conference tournament and gets the automatic bid, they may bust some brackets like they have done in years past.