3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Martaveous McKnight, Sr., Arkansas Pine Bluff
Coach of the Year: Byron Smith, Prairie View A&M
Newcomer of the Year: Jeremy Combs, R Sr., Texas Southern
Freshman of the Year: Jayden Saddler, Southern
1. Panthers Pounce
Prairie View’s head honcho Byron Smith is all too familiar with the chasm between the non-conference and conference segments of the season. Just like the rest of their SWAC counterparts, Prairie View endured a brutal travel itinerary during November and December thanks to a non-conference schedule chock full of ‘buy games’ that delayed the Panthers’ home opener until January 12th (excluding the tune-up game at home against Huston Tillotson on January 2nd). The 1-11 start to the year didn’t faze Prairie View one bit and the battle-tested Panthers proceeded to obliterate the rest of the SWAC to the tune of a 17-1 league record. In the press-happy SWAC, no one instilled more fear in opposing ball handlers than the Panthers’ swarming perimeter pressure – PVA&M checked in with the SWAC’s top defensive turnover rate and steal rate, which paired nicely with the league’s second most efficient offense.
2. A Tiger-filled Training Room
Just how much talent did Johnny Jones compile this season? Just ask Oregon, Baylor and Texas A&M about the horses TXSO can throw at you, all three of whom took it on the chin when the Tigers came to visit. As dominant as Prairie View was all season, those three performances alone prove that when fully healthy, there’s no roster that stacks up to Texas Southern’s collection of high and mid-major talent. The SWAC was fortunate that the slew of injuries that ravaged the Tigers’ roster all hit during conference season. 3-point assassin Derrick Bruce missed multiple games on three different occasions over the past two months, 7-foot monster Trayvon Reed missed all but five conference games, LSU import and savvy floor general Jalyn Patterson was relegated to a reserve role after suffering an undisclosed injury midway through SWAC play and full-time starter Tyrik Armstong just missed the Tigers’ most recent tilt against Southern. Despite the bumps the bruises, Texas Southern was still flushed with enough firepower to take home the SWAC regular season silver medal, finishing three games back of Prairie View for the league title.
3. Transfer Takeover
This phenomenon is nothing new to the SWAC, but it’s worth reminding the masses how much newcomers move the needle in this league. Texas Southern is well known for its stickiness as a safe haven for top-flight transfer talent – especially now with Johnny Jones quickly mastering the blueprint laid out by his predecessor Mike Davis – but the transfer influx is not unique to TXSO. Of the 15 players listed on our All-Conference teams above, seven were first year SWAC members who arrived from a variety of high-major, mid-major and JUCO schools.
Other than Derrick Bruce and Devocio Butler, Texas Southern’s entire core rotation is comprised of new faces, thanks to Johnny Jones’ magnetic-like pull on the recruiting trail
Wayne Trent boosted Jackson State’s talent pool with a pair of acquisitions from the mid-major transfer wire – Chris Howell from South Dakota State and Venjie Wallis from New Orleans
Arguably three of Prairie View’s top-6 players were new additions this season, headlined by versatile swingman Devonte Patterson
Dallas Polk-Hillard asserted himself as a critical cog in Grambling’s established, veteran-laden rotation
After nearly a decade of Texas Southern enjoying the luxury of a semi-home court advantage, the SWAC championship heads back to its old stomping grounds of Birmingham after a 9-year stint in Houston. The opening round games will be played at the campus sites of the higher seeds, which gives Prairie View, Texas Southern, Jackson State and Grambling a critical advantage from the jump. The 10-team conference has been cut to a standard, three round 8-team field, which leaves Alabama A&M and Mississippi Valley State as the odd men out this week.
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
This is a toss-up between the healthy Prairie View A&M Panthers and the battered Texas Southern Tigers. While TXSO is starting to get back to full strength - Trayvon Reed started and played his full workload in the final regular season game - the Tigers’ lack of on-floor continuity and chemistry should give the Panthers a slight edge.
Regardless of who emerges victorious in Birmingham this weekend, the SWAC champion will undoubtedly be penciled in on the 16-seed line when the bracket is revealed next Sunday. Texas Southern’s impressive non-con wins over Oregon, Baylor and Texas A&M may help them avoid the Tuesday play-in game, and Prairie View’s opening day victory over Santa Clara could provide the same boost. Remember, Texas Southern bypassed Dayton just two years ago with a 16-2 conference record and a less robust non-conference resume than what either of these two squads have compiled.
Dark Horse Team
Going against Texas Southern and Prairie View feels like a stretch in this year’s field, but both Jackson State and Arkansas Pine Bluff have the chops to cut down the nets. If you’re one who puts a lot of stock in having the best player on the floor, look no further than the Golden Lions who are led by Martaveous McKnight, a high-major caliber talent and outlier amongst his SWAC peers. If you’re a believer in the edge cerebral coaching can provide in a ‘win or go home’ single elimination tournament format, Jackson State’s Wayne Brent has an endless array of tricks up his sleeve. While his nuanced defensive schemes are less effective to the other coaches around the league who know his playbook in and out, Brent is still a savvy game planner who also has some decent talent with Howell and Wallis leading the charge.
(1) Prairie View A&M over (8) Alcorn State
(5) Arkansas Pine Bluff over (4) Grambling State
(2) Texas Southern over (7) Southern
(3) Jackson State over (6) Alabama State
(1) Prairie View A&M over (5) Arkansas Pine Bluff
(2) Texas Southern over (3) Jackson State
(1) Prairie View A&M over (2) Texas Southern