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2014 SWAC Tournament Preview: Texas Southern looks to win automatic bid

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The SWAC tournament will include all ten teams, a somewhat surprising occurrence given the fact that four programs are ineligible for postseason play. While Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi Valley State and Grambling State may not be favorites to win the event, the same can’t be said of regular season champion Southern. The Jaguars won the regular season title by three games, and that will have to suffice as the reigning tournament champs can’t play in the NCAA tournament. Last season it was Texas Southern that won the league but couldn’t participate in postseason play, and now that they’re eligible Mike Davis’ team may be the favorite to win the auto bid.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 11 – 15

Where: Houston, Texas (Toyota Center)

Final: March 15, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Southern (to win the event; ineligible for the NCAA tournament)

The Jaguars have been the SWAC’s best team all season long, and defense is a big reason why. In addition to leading the conference in defensive efficiency by a wide margin, Southern led the SWAC in field goal percentage defense (36.1%), three-point percentage defense (27.8%) and blocked shots (5.6 per game). Godfrey and Miller are the offensive leaders for a team that also finished second in field goal and three-point percentage. Solid offensively, it’s the spectacular defense that makes Southern the favorite in Houston.

And if they lose?: Texas Southern

Simply put, the Tigers have the SWAC’s best player in Aaric Murray. Murray’s averaging 19.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game against SWAC opponents, and you likely remember the 48 points he dropped on Temple in a non-conference game back in December. Senior wing D’Aris Scarver (14.5 ppg) and junior forward Jose Rodriguez (11.5 ppg) are solid supplementary pieces for the SWAC’s highest-scoring offense, and the Tigers are also the conference’s most efficient offense.


  • Alabama State: The Hornets have the SWAC’s best distributor in Jamel Waters (6.2 apg), and the Hornets lead the SWAC in turnover margin.
  • Arkansas-Pine Bluff: The Golden Lions have won nine of their last 11 games, with one of the victories being a 64-58 win at Southern on February 15.

Studs: (three or four best players)

  • Aaric Murray, Texas Southern: Leads the SWAC in scoring and ranks third in rebounding, which has been quite the turnaround for the much-traveled big man.
  • Calvin Godfrey, Southern: Godfrey ranks in the top ten in scoring (10th), rebounding (2nd), field goal percentage (1st) and blocked shots (3rd).
  • Jamel Waters, Alabama State: Not only does Waters lead the SWAC in assists, he also leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio and is third in steals.

CBT Prediction: Texas Southern gets the automatic bid.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.