(Compare to our preseason preview here)
Notable Storylines from the season:
1. Texas Southern Dominates, Again – Since Mike Davis arrived in Houston, the Tigers are 76-14 in league play, including four outright titles at 16-2 – including this year. A disappointing tournament loss in the semifinals cut their NCAA bid short last year, but despite star sophomore Derrick Griffin getting kicked off a second athletic squad (the football team booted him too), the Tigers are the heavy favorite to win the tournament. They’re led by POY Zach Lofton, formerly of Illinois State and Minnesota, who is just way to effing good to be playing in this league.
2. Alcorn Ineligible – The league’s second-place finisher, Alcorn St., is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament this year due to APR penalties, seemingly opening the path even wider for TSU to get to the dance. TSU went 16-2, Alcorn went 13-5; no one else had a better record than 10-8 in the league – so yeah, the path is there (TSU gets the auto-bid if Alcorn wins the tournament).
3. Grambling Gains Steam – Grambling State’s win totals in the SWAC over the last five years, starting in 2013 and ending with this year: 0, 3, 0, 4, 10 (!!). Coach Shawn Walker should be given some kind of special achievement award for this; the Tigers went 2-27 in 2015, his first year, and are now one of the top challengers to Texas Southern’s reign. Kudos, Mr. Walker.
Yes, it's weird that this reads right to left, but the women's bracket got the other side on the official bracket (playing for the right to lose to UConn by 250 points). Shrug. Higher-seeded teams host the quarterfinals, and then the semis and finals will be played in Houston in the Toyota Center (where the Rockets play) – I’m sure the whole place will be packed to the gills. Alabama A&M doesn’t qualify by virtue of being the 351st-ranked KenPom team, a.k.a. dead last (it’s actually because only the top 8 teams make it – Arkansas-Pine Bluff is out too).
Best Team(s) and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed(s): Texas Southern is the only team with a chance of not heading to Dayton for a Tuesday/Wednesday evening play-in battle. They don’t have any size outside of Kent State transfer Marvin Jones (they play four guys 5’10 or shorter), but they are quick and attack the rim relentlessly (get to the free throw line at a nationally-elite rate). They could potentially sneak a 15-seed if enough other conference tourney upsets happen, but they won’t beat a 2-seed unless Lofton and diminutive Trae Jefferson go completely bonkers.
Dark Horse(s): Any of the four 10-8 teams could probably make a claim here, but my pick of the litter is Jackson State. They beat Texas Southern once, and they probably would have finished far higher in the standings if Paris Collins hadn’t missed 7 games in conference play (they went 3-4 without him, 7-4 with him including the TSU win). Senior floor general Yettra Specks headlines a three-guard attack along with Collins and Edric Dennis, and the Tigers (yes, they’re really the Tigers too – there’s FOUR of them in this league!) are probably the conference’s best rebounding team overall.
(1) Texas Southern defeats (8) Alabama State
(5) Grambling State defeats (4) Prairie View A&M
(2) Alcorn State defeats (7) Mississippi Valley State
(6) Jackson State defeats (3) Southern
(1) Texas Southern defeats (5) Grambling State
(6) Jackson State defeats (2) Alcorn State
(1) Texas Southern defeats (6) Jackson State
I would love to see a Texas Southern vs Alcorn State final that means absolutely nothing (TSU dances either way), if only to satisfy the fever dream of my colleague Matt, who thinks conference tournaments are a scourge and should be launched into the sun. Don't be such a curmudgeon, Matt. I’ll ride with my dark horse making a mini run instead, though, with TSU winning and then losing to UNC or Kansas in Round 1.