- Ky McKeon
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Moses Greenwood, Sr., SE Louisiana
Coach of the Year: Jason Hooten, Sam Houston State
Newcomer of the Year: Kai Mitchell, Jr., Sam Houston State
Freshman of the Year: Gerrale Gates, Fr., New Orleans
1. The Bearkats were Beary Good
Jason Hooten is a freaking wizard. Coming into the year, the ONLY reason I ranked SHSU 7th was because Hooten constantly outperforms expectations and fields competitive teams. The Bearkats lost three starters from last year, including their two best players, and yet dominated the league this season, finishing conference play 16-2 - a full two games ahead of 2nd place. Talented backcourt brother duo Josh and Cameron Delaney paced the Kats this season, but it was JUCO transfer Kai Mitchell that vaulted this team to new heights. Eventually a bigger school is going to take notice of Hooten, who has won 20+ games and 10+ Southland games five of the last six years. If SHSU punches a ticket to the Dance, his days in Huntsville may be numbered.
2. SFA S.O.L.
In perhaps the most shocking result of any mid-major team this season, SFA - the preseason #1 Southland squad - took a nose dive and finished 9th (7-11) in conference play, disqualifying them from the postseason. Kyle Keller returned six key players from his 28-7 (14-4) NCAA Tournament squad, but was hit HARD by the injury bug in 2018-19. First, the Lumberjacks lost TJ Holyfield, arguably their best player, before the season even started. Then, starting PG Aaron Augustin went down four games into the season and backup scoring guard John Comeaux was plagued all year with injuries. Overall, it was a disappointing season for SFA to say the least, and it feels extremely weird not having the Jacks - who have made the Big Dance four of the past five years - in the Southland tourney.
3. Abilene Christian
ACU was very good this season after returning nearly everyone from a solid squad in 2017-18. The Wildcats, just a year removed from being eligible to make the NCAA Tournament following their move up to Division 1, have looked every bit a conference title contender throughout the season. While ACU still has a great shot at capturing the auto-bid - especially the way the tournament is formatted (see below) - the absence of center Jalone Friday, who was kicked off the team in February, will be tough to overcome. The Cats have a lot of talent on the roster with forward Jaren Lewis and guard Jaylen Franklin, but Friday was a crucial anchor on both ends of the floor. ACU is 6-2 this season without their big man.
The tourney is held in Katy, Texas at the Leonard E. Merrell Center. Only 8 teams make the postseason, a brutal drop-off for the 13-team league. The bracket is set up to heavily favor the top 2 seeds, who only need to win twice to go to the Big Dance.
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
This is a two team race. While Southeastern Louisiana and Lamar both have some pop, Abilene Christian and Sam Houston State are the superior squads and have an enormous advantage with how the bracket is configured. SHSU has arguably the best coach in the league and the Southland’s best offense. ACU might have the best individual all-around player in Lewis and ranks #1 in the league in defense. If either squad takes home the title, expect a 15 or 16 seed in March (slight possibility of a 14 depending on how things shake out).
Dark Horse Team
SE Louisiana has the best shot to upend the conference favorites. The Lions have two 1st Team All-Conference players in Marlain Veal and Moses Greenwood and have been a staple at the top of the league the past two seasons. Veal has the ability to put a team on his back and carry them to the title, but to earn the auto-bid his squad will have to pass through both top dogs.
Lamar is the hottest team coming into the tournament, winning its last 8 games including a victory agains SHSU. Three All-Conference caliber players in Jordan Hunter, Josh Nzeakor, and Nick Garth, suit up for the Cardinals on a nightly basis, so look for them to be a threat to SHSU’s championship game hopes in the top half of the bracket.
(5) Lamar over (8) Houston Baptist
(7) Central Arkansas over (6) Texas A&M Corpus Christi
(5) Lamar over (4) New Orleans
(3) SE Louisiana over (7) Central Arkansas
(1) Sam Houston State over (5) Lamar
(2) Abilene Christian over (3) SE Louisiana
(1) Sam Houston State over (2) Abilene Christian
SHSU wins the auto-bid and earns a 15-seed in the Dance. Head coach Jason Hooten is lured away by a bigger program in the offseason.