The expectation before the season began was that Mike Davis’ Texas Southern Tigers would win another SWAC regular season title, and that’s exactly how things played out as TSU won the conference by three games. Balanced offensively, with five players averaging at least 9.8 points per game in SWAC competition, the Tigers were the best team in the SWAC on both ends of the floor from an efficiency standpoint. But even with that dominance they aren’t invincible, as there are a couple teams in the field capable of knocking Texas Southern off its perch atop the SWAC.
When: March 8-12
Where: Toyota Center, Houston
Final: March 12, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Favorite: Texas Southern
The Tigers are the clear favorites in Houston. They ranked at or near the top of the SWAC in many of the major statistical categories, and as mentioned above they have multiple players capable of hurting opponents offensively. At the top of the list is guard Chris Thomas, who averaged 15.6 points and 4.4 assists per game in conference games. And then there’s forward Derrick Griffin, who can make a case for being the best athlete in college basketball. A one-time five-star football recruit, the 6-foot-7 Griffin led the SWAC in rebounding (12.4 rpg) and field goal percentage (67.2 percent). Whatever an opponent throws at Mike Davis’ team, there’s a good chance that they’ll find an answer.
And if they lose?: Alcorn State
The Braves can’t represent the SWAC in the NCAA tournament due to low APR scores, but they can win the league’s conference tournament. That should serve as motivation for a team that’s already exceeded expectations in the big way, with guard Tamarcio Wilson and forward Octavius Brown combining to average 29.3 points per game in SWAC competition. Defensively the Braves don’t force a lot of turnovers but they’re solid inside the arc thanks to the presence of Brown and Patrick Onwenu (2.7 blocks per game combined). If they take better care of the basketball than they did during the regular season (ninth in the SWAC in turnover percentage), they’ll have a shot.
- Jackson State: The Tigers are led by one of the SWAC’s best front court players in forward Raeford Worsham, and defensively only Texas Southern was better from an efficiency standpoint. JSU led the SWAC in steals (7.7 spg) and two-point field goal percentage defense (42.5 percent).
- Alabama State: Taking the Hornets over four-seed Southern (one of two SWAC teams to beat Texas Southern this season) because of the way in which the teams finished the regular season. Southern lost four of its last five, and Alabama State won six of their last seven.
SWAC Player of the Year: Chris Thomas, Texas Southern
Thomas ranked in the top ten in the SWAC in three major statistical categories: scoring (15.6 ppg- sixth), assists (4.4 apg- fourth) and field goal percentage (52.7 percent- sixth). While just one of the reasons why the Tigers have been the class of the SWAC, Thomas is a very important one. Thomas is shooting nearly 54 percent inside of the arc, as his ability to break teams down off the bounce results in quality shots for himself (and others) more often than not.
SWAC Coach of the Year: Montez Robinson, Alcorn State
Picked to finish ninth in the ten-team SWAC before the season began, Robinson’s Braves won 13 league games to earn a second-place finish in his first season at the helm. Alcorn State finished the season ranked third in the SWAC in both offensive and defensive field goal percentage and second in offensive rebounding percentage (conference games only), areas which helped them finish second despite having the SWAC’s worst turnover margin.
- Chris Thomas, Texas Southern (POY)
- Jamel Waters, Alabama State: Averaging 16.1 points and 3.8 assists per game, Waters ranks fifth in the SWAC in both categories.
- Adrian Rodgers, Southern: Rodgers averaged 17.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for the Jaguars in conference play.
- Raeford Worsham, Jackson State: The senior forward averaged 15.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest in SWAC games, shooting 59.6 percent from the field.
- Derrick Griffin, Texas Southern: Griffin averaged 12.9 points and 12.1 rebounds per game in SWAC play, shooting 67.2 percent from the field. Clearly the league’s best newcomer, and one of its best players overall.
Prediction: Texas Southern takes care of business, beating Jackson State to earn a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.