Chris Thomas

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SWAC Preview: Can Texas Southern return to the dance?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Last season, Texas Southern reached the NCAA tournament for the second-straight season under head coach Mike Davis. The Tigers will be in position to three-peat, but Southern, which last reached the tournament in 2013, and Alabama State look to end the trend.

Texas Southern will begin a quest for a third straight conference title without 2014 SWAC Player of the Year Madarious Gibbs. But the Tigers return two all-SWAC caliber seniors in Chris Thomas and Malcolm Riley. Both finished the season strong, with Thomas averaging 14.8 points in postseason play and Riley posting 18 points and 10 boards in a 62-58 win over Southern in the SWAC Tournament championship game. David Blanks and Tonnie Collier are two key holdovers for the Tigers, but don’t forget about Jose Rodriguez, the 6-foot-7 forward who missed last season due to injury. He averaged 11.4 points and 5.7 rebounds in 2013-14.

Southern brings back one of conference’s best perimeters with Adrian Rodgers, the team’s leading scorer, and junior Trelun Banks and Christopher Hyder, who averaged 3.9 assists per game. The other returning starter for the Jaguars is 6-foot-9 sophomore Jarred Sam. Sam will have to hold down the inside for the Jaguars as the only returning big man who played significant minutes. Southern had one of the better defensive teams in the SWAC last season, and that could remain the same this year. But Southern will have to put an emphasis on rebounding with a thin frontline.

Wedged in the middle of Southern and Texas Southern the past two seasons has been Alabama State. In both campaigns, the Hornets have failed to make it past the SWAC semifinals. Jamel Waters is set to change that in 2015-16. Alabama State graduated two double-digit scorers, but look for Bobby Brown and Steve Rogers, two players capable of knocking down threes, should see benefit from playing alongside Waters.

Jackson State and Alabama A&M should round out the top-5 in the conference. Alabama A&M returns all five starters Ladarius Tabb, the first team snub from a season ago, and Nick West, the SWAC’s top rebounder. Jackson State also has its starting five back, including Raeford Worsham, who was limited last year after transferring in. Arkansas Pine Bluff, no longer facing an APR ban, can’t be overlooked either with three returning starters.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “I’d say Southern because they turn five of their top six guys. And they finished third in the league.”
  • Sleeper: “I think the team that’s the sleeper is Jackson State with eight of their top guys back.”
  • Star to watch: “It would probably be Adrian Rodgers from Southern or Chris Thomas from Texas Southern. They are natural perimeter guys. They can both put the ball on the floor. They both can get a basket.”

PRESEASON SWAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ladarius Tabb, Alabama A&M

A season after being named SWAC Newcomer of the Year, the 6-foot-5 guard should be the favorite for SWAC Player of the Year honors. Tabb led the conference in scoring and was second in rebounding (behind teammate Nick West), averaging 20 points in 19 games against SWAC opponents and recording 11 double-doubles during the course of the 2014-15 season.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON SWAC TEAM:

  • Adrian Rodgers, Southern: The 6-foot-4 senior averaged 13.1 points and 4.2 boards per game; one of four starters back for the Tigers.
  • Jamel Waters, Alabama State: With the loss of three starters, expect the 5-foot-9 guard to see a bump in scoring. Led the team last year at 14.0 points per game, dished out 5.2 assists, second-best in the league.
  • Nick West, Alabama A&M: The 6-foot-10 big man recorded seven double-doubles as a junior, finishing first in the league in rebounding at 7.9 boards per game.
  • Raeford Worsham, Jackson State: The Arkansas State transfer scored in double figures in 15 out of 20 games he appeared in, recording four double-doubles in conference play.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @theSWAC

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Southern
2. Texas Southern
3. Alabama State
4. Jackson State
5. Alabama A&M
6. Arkansas Pine Bluff
7. Alcorn State
8. Prairie View A&M
9. Mississippi Valley State
10. Grambling State

Chris Thomas, Malcolm Riley lead Texas Southern past No. 25 Michigan State

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Even with senior forward Branden Dawson out of the lineup with a non-displaced fracture of his left wrist, No. 25 Michigan State appeared to be a safe bet to take care of business in their final two non-conference games before they start Big Ten play December 30. Guards Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine were still available, as was Bryn Forbes, and the addition of freshman Javon Bess is a nice boost for the Spartans as well.

So a 1-8 Texas Southern team didn’t appear to pose much of a threat…on paper. In action Chris Thomas and Malcolm Riley proved tough to corral, and Jason Carter played well in his second game of the season as Mike Davis’ Tigers won 71-64 in overtime.

Thomas scored a game-high 22 points, Riley (20, seven rebounds) and Carter (13) combined to score 33 of Texas Southern’s 38 bench points on the night and Madarious Gibbs added nine points, nine rebounds and four assists to lead the way for the victors. Texas Southern shot 53.2% from the field, the second-best percentage a Michigan State opponent has shot from the field this season (No. 2 Duke shot 54 percent). Thomas made good use of ball screens for Texas Southern, and the Tigers’ offensive execution helped them make up for Michigan State rebounding nearly 44 percent of its missed shots.

As for Michigan State, doing a good job on the offensive glass doesn’t mean much when you struggle to convert those extra opportunities. Tom Izzo’s Spartans shot 39.3% from the field, with Forbes (six points) and Trice (six points) combining to shoot 4-for-22 from the field, and they were also 4-for-21 from beyond the arc. With Texas Southern as productive as it was offensively Michigan State couldn’t afford that kind of night from the field, especially with Dawson sidelined.

To be fair to Texas Southern their 1-8 record has come as a result of one of the tougher schedules in college basketball. For programs such as theirs non-conference play is seen as an opportunity to add some money to their athletic department’s coffers, with guarantee games being the norm. Prior to Saturday the Tigers had already played games against Indiana, SMU, Baylor, Florida and No. 8 Gonzaga with eight of their nine games being played on the road.

With that being the case Texas Southern wasn’t going to be intimidated, especially with the Spartans playing without Dawson. Michigan State, which entered the game as the nation’s best three-point shooting team, couldn’t find a groove from the perimeter and that combined with Texas Southern’s play on the other end of the floor cost the Spartans dearly.

Mike Davis re-loads Texas Southern with a Big Ten transfer and former five-star prospect

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Mike Davis has done a nice job competing in the SWAC at Texas Southern by taking on transfers that many other coaches wouldn’t think twice about.

The former Indiana coach might not be able to recruit high-level athletes and talented players out of high school to the low-major program, but he’s made a big mark taking risks on certain players.

After having recent success with SWAC Player of the Year Aaric Murray, a former La Salle and West Virginia transfer, Davis told Scott Gleeson of the USA Today that he’s added a few more risky transfers with checkered pasts for the 2014-15 season.

Davis has added former Nebraska guard Deverell Biggs and former Marshall guard and five-star prospect Chris Thomas to Texas Southern this season.

The 6-foot Biggs was the third leading scorer for Nebraska last season at 9.9 points per game before he was dismissed from the team after only 15 games for multiple offenses. Biggs missed multiple film sessions that led to benchings and also had some run-ins with the law thanks to a few driving issues.

Thomas, a 6-foot-5 native of Colorado and former highly-touted five-star prospect, will also get another chance at Texas Southern as well. At Marshall, Thomas averaged 12.7 points and 4 rebounds per game as a sophomore before being dismissed from the program in June for violating team rules.

Both Biggs and Thomas have had multiple issues but Davis has been a steady presence for players looking for a final opportunity to play college basketball. Thomas, in particular, is the interesting case to watch here. The talented wing can really get rolling as a scorer, but he’s had multiple issues at a lot of programs.

Thomas went through a handful of prep schools, ended up at Chipola Junior College and later decommited from Xavier. While Chipola was in the postseason in 2013, Thomas missed the run while he spent time in jail. Thomas then signed with Manhattan but the team pulled his scholarship before he played a game due to a positive test for marijuana.

If Davis gets these two guys to buy in with the rest of the team, he’ll have two of the most talented players in the SWAC at his disposal and Texas Southern could be the favorite in the league.

Well-traveled former five-star recruit Chris Thomas dismissed from Marshall

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The soap opera that is the career of Chris Thomas continued on Tuesday as Marshall announced that the former five-star recruit had been dismissed from the program.

The Charleston Daily Mail is reporting that the cause was — shockingly — a violation of team rules.

Thomas, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, averaged 12.7 points as a sophomore last season. New Thundering Herd head coach Dan D’antoni will now be without two of their three leading scorers from last season, as Kareem Canty transferred out of the program. They also lost Elijah Pittman, who was averaging 21.7 points when he was suspended from the team after nine games last season.

Thomas came to Marshall from Chipola Junior College in Florida, but the path that he took to get there was winding. A native of Denver, Thomas bounced between prep schools, making stops at Princeton Day Academy (MD), Westwind Prep (AZ) and South Kent (CT) before eventually enrolling at Chipola Junior College in January of 2012. Originally a member of the Class of 2013, when he was ranked in the top ten nationally early on in his prep career, Thomas went there to earn his GED, sitting out a semester before becoming a member of the team for the 2012-2013 season.

Thomas committed to Xavier in April of 2012 but reneged on that commitment that September. He was supposed to enroll at Manhattan for the 2013-2014 season, but that went out the window when he violated a conditional release stemming from an arrest for driving an unregistered vehicle without a driver’s license by testing positive for marijuana. He actually was forced to miss Chipola’s 2013 postseason run because he was in jail.

Who knows where he will end up next, but Thomas has done a pretty solid job of wasting what should have been a productive basketball career.

Report: Marshall parts with Tom Herrion

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To follow along with the 2014 Coaching Carousel, click here.

The beginning of Tom Herrion’s tenure at Marshall was so promising. Back-to-back 20-plus win seasons had Herd faithful dreaming of NCAA tournament appearances, but two straight sub-.500 records, including an 11-22 mark this season, must have compelled Marshall’s athletic administration to make a change: per ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, Herrion is no longer Marshall’s head coach.

There was never any doubt regarding Herrion’s ability to bring high-major talent to Huntington. But clashes with players — DeAndre Kane and Herrion frequently butted heads, and Kane left for Iowa State to use his final season of eligibility; Elijah Pittman was suspended indefinitely in early December — undermined Herrion’s recruiting success. Even though the squad won their initial 2014 Conference USA tournament game, a 63-59 win over Florida Atlantic, a double-digit loss to Old Dominion must have provided the justification needed to part ways with Herrion.

Whomever Marshall targets for its next coach will potentially have a talented team to work with (provided, of course, that the group, which doesn’t lose any seniors, all returns). Kareem Canty proved to be an outstanding point guard, posting an assist rate of 30 percent. The Harlem native was named to the conference’s all-freshman team, along with fellow Herd ‘mate Ryan Taylor, and the duo led the squad in points per game. Combined with Chris Thomas, the oft-committed guard who is prone for double-digit scoring outbursts, and the new coach could have a strong offensive core to build upon.

Xavier scores verbal commitment from 5-star Chipola guard Chris Thomas

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It may have been a winding road, but it looks like that road has come to its final destination.

According to Evan Daniels of Scout.com, Chipola Junior College (Fl.) guard Chris Thomas has committed to play for Chris Mack at Xavier.

Thomas, originally from Colorado, has at one point or another showcased his talents in Arizona, Maryland, and Connecticut, before his most recent stop in Florida.

Thomas is formerly a five-star recruit and has been heralded as a high-major scorer. At 6-5, 190 pounds, he is a good size for a college shooting guard. The word on Thomas has always centered around “potential” and whether he can bring all the pieces of his game together and become a complete and motivated college player.

He had been drawing interest from schools that include Arizona, Kansas, Memphis, and Colorado, before committing to Xavier.

Questions had been raised about his eligibility in the past, and he will have to work with new NCAA legislation that requires players transferring in from junior college to maintain a GPA of at least 2.5.

Many pieces have been written recently about the increase in prep players transferring, sometimes making as many stops as a player like Thomas. In other cases, there has been a correlation between multiple high schools and an increased decommitment and transfer rate in college.

Thomas was a member of the Class of 2012, before reclassifying to the Class of 2013.

As of now, Xavier is adding four player from the Class of 2012 and Thomas is the first for Mack from 2013.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_