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SWAC Preview: Texas Southern is again the favorite

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Texas Southern was hit with losses to Marvin Jones (graduation), Zach Lofton (transfer) and Jalan McCloud (transfer), but Mike Davis’ team still has the look of a favorite in the SWAC. Five-foot-7 point guard Demontrae Jefferson is one of the keys. If he can build on a successful freshman season by increasing his efficiency, he’ll be an all-league guard.The Tigers will also have to find some shooting after shooting just 29.5 percent from 3-point range last year to reach a fourth NCAA tournament in five years.

Alcorn State looked poised to dethrone Texas State last year in the midst of an 11-game winning streak that stretched for more than five weeks last winter, but three losses by a combined 11 points to the Tigers ended up sinking the Braves’ NCAA tournament hopes. They do, however, appear ready to challenge again, thanks largely to the return of Reginal Johnson, the super-sub that averaged 15.6 points and 7.1 rebounds last season. Alcorn State’s postseason aspirations will hinge largely on improving its offense – the Braves struggled mightily on that end last year with poor shooting and turnover issues buoyed by strong offensive rebounding. Clean that up even just a bit, and Alcorn State could win its first conference title since 2002.

Paris Collins averaged 12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists last year and returns to Jackson State to help give the Tigers title hopes. The 6-foot-4 Collins is also a defensive dynamo who is among the country’s top steals producers. It’s the other end of the floor, though, that Jackson State will need to see improvement. The Tigers worse than 30 percent from 3-point range and a paltry 44 percent from 3-point range, one of the worst marks in the country. If the newcomers can help boost the offensive production, Jackson State could push toward the top of the league.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON SWAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Reginal Johnson, Alcorn State

He came off the bench for every single game last year, but Johnson still led the Braves in scoring at 15.6 points per game while also grabbing more than seven boards each night. The 6-foot-5 senior could improve his range, but he shot nearly 60 percent from 2-point range to keep his efficiency numbers high despite not having a deadeye 3-point shot, no small feat considering his high usage numbers, which only figure to increase this season.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON SWAC TEAM

  • Demontrae Jefferson, Texas Southern: He stands just 5-foot-7, but Jefferson looms large on the court, averaging nearly 15 points per game.
  • Paris Collins, Jackson State: Despite some low shooting percentages, Collins averaged 12.3 points last year for Jackson State.
  • Jared Sam, Southern: The 6-foot-10 center shot just under 60 percent from the floor last year, averaging 13.6 points while grabbing 7.4 rebounds per game.
  • Zachary Hamilton, Prairie View A&M: The senior was one of the most efficient players in the league last year, shooting 40.2 percent from 3-point range and 84.5 percent from the free-throw line.

PREDICTED FINISH

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

VIDEO: Texas Southern’s Derrick Griffin catches one-handed alley oop

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Texas Southern is once again viewed as one of the favorites in the SWAC, with returnees such as Malcolm Riley and Chris Thomas expected to lead the way for Mike Davis’ team. Another reason for that status is the addition of redshirt freshman forward Derrick Griffin, who as a high school athlete was considered to be one of the top two-sport athletes in the Class of 2014.

The Tigers fell 80-67 at Syracuse Sunday afternoon, but in his fifth game as a member of the program Griffin showed exactly why he’s expected to be an impact addition for Texas Southern.

Griffin scored 20 points, shooting 9-for-9 from the field, and grabbed nine rebounds in a losing effort. And two of those points came on an impressive one-handed alley-oop in which Griffin displayed the hands responsible for more than 700 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on the gridiron this past season.

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Griffin was originally a Miami signee expected to play both football and basketball at “The U,” but after failing to qualify academically he landed at Texas Southern.

Texas Southern is 1-10 on the season, but non-conference play for the Tigers (and many other programs in a similar position) is about helping the athletic department balance its budget through “buy games” and getting prepared for a run at their conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Adding Griffin to the rotation gives Texas Southern an athlete in the front court more than capable of giving the rest of the SWAC fits, which could result in another trip to the NCAA tournament come March.

Southern cleared by NCAA to return to postseason play

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In the last two seasons the Southern men’s basketball program has managed to go 28-8 in SWAC play, winning the regular season title outright in 2013-14 and finishing third last season. But the Jaguars were unable to make that productivity pay off in the form of an NCAA tournament berth, as Academic Progress Rate (APR) issues led to them being banned from postseason play.

In fact, that was the case for all of Southern’s athletic programs due to what the NCAA defined as “inadequate and inaccurate reporting of student-athletes’ Academic Progress Rates.”

On Friday the school received some much-needed good news, as the NCAA has lifted the ban according to the New Orleans Advocate. As a result, Southern will be eligible for postseason play during the 2015-16 academic year. This should help head coach Roman Banks, who is also the school’s interim athletic director, as he looks to not only keep Southern in the mix atop the SWAC but also earn the men’s basketball team’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2013.

Southern officials responded to a series of requests by the NCAA to supply usable data for the years in question. The Jaguars also revamped their record-gathering and record-keeping system to avoid future issues.

Banks said the university is still under “the APR microscope,” but the hardest work has been completed.

“I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all roses,” Banks said. “We’ve got to continue to work hard. Each individual sport still has to reach the APR standards. But it’s a more level playing field now.”

As Banks noted the programs still have work to do in order to ensure that they don’t run into this kind of trouble in the future. But at the very least, Friday’s ruling removes a negative that other programs going after the same athletes can use on the recruiting trail. Southern returns three of its top four scorers from last season’s team, including guards Adrian Lynch and Tre’lun Banks.

The APR initiatives hav had the greatest impact on the SWAC, which in each of the last two years has had multiple basketball programs banned from postseason play. Alabama State, like Southern, was ineligible for the NCAA tournament in 2014-15 but both were allowed to play in the SWAC tournament.

Former Alcorn State head coach Davey L. Whitney Sr. dies at 85

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Before Coppin State in 1997 and Hampton in 2001, there was the 1980 Alcorn State Braves. That team became the first from an HBCU to win a game in the Division I NCAA tournament. Sunday it was announced by the school that the man who led that team, Davey “The Wiz” Whitney, passed away at 85 at his home in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Whitney led the Braves from 1969-89 and from 1996-2003, winning 566 games and 12 SWAC title during those years. Prior to taking over at Alcorn State, he was the head coach at Texas Southern from 1964-69. In that 1980 NCAA tournament appearance, Alcorn State beat South Alabama in the first round before falling to one-seed LSU in the second round.

Whitney was at the helm for all six of the program’s NCAA tournament appearances, the last of which coming in 2002. Whitney’s best player during his time at Alcorn State was forward Larry Smith, the leading scorer on that 1980 team, and he played 13 seasons in the NBA from 1981-93.

Elected into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, Whitney received the school’s Athletic Heritage Award in 2013 and the school’s basketball arena is named in his honor as well.

Alcorn State announces hiring of Montez Robinson as head coach

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The final vacancy on the college basketball head coaching carousel has been filled.

Sunday evening Alcorn State announced the hiring of Montez Robinson as head coach according to News Channel 12 in Jackson, Mississippi. Robinson replaces Luther Riley, whose contract was not renewed at the end of the 2014-15 season, and he spent the last four seasons on the coaching staff at Bethune-Cookman.

Prior to that spent six seasons at Kennesaw State as the Owls made their transition from Division II to Division I.

“It’s extremely exciting to become the head men’s basketball coach at Alcorn State University where knowledge and character is the emphasis both on the court and in the classroom,” Robinson said in a release. “Alcorn has an impressive vision for the basketball program and I am looking forward to building a foundation of success. I cannot wait to start working with current players and incoming freshmen.”

Alcorn State’s top four scorers from last season have eligibility remaining, including guard LeAntwan Luckett who would be a senior next season. Of course with coaching changes the roster can be a bit of a fluid situation, so Robinson will have some work to do in that regard.

Alcorn State finished the 2014-15 season with a 6-26 record, going 4-14 in SWAC play.

Wild game-ending sequence pushes Texas Southern past Kansas State (VIDEO)

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Faced with a four-point deficit with 15 seconds remaining, most college basketball teams would have a hard time forcing overtime much less finding a way to win the game. However in Manhattan, Kansas, Mike Davis’ Texas Southern Tigers pulled off a comeback that will go down as one of the most stunning in college basketball this season, with some help from the Kansas State Wildcats.

Texas Southern, the preseason favorites to win the SWAC, scored six points in the final 3.8 seconds to knock off Kansas State by the final score of 58-56 with Jason Carter’s shot as time expired being the difference.

Texas Southern found itself in position to win the game thanks in part to some poor foul shooting by Kansas State, which made just two of its final eight free throws. During that period Chris Thomas and Maradarious Gibbs both made baskets, with Gibbs’ layup pulling the Tigers to within three with just over 18 seconds remaining (55-52). A Nino Williams free throw increased Kansas State’s lead to four, but then Jevon Thomas made the mistake of fouling Tonnie Collier on a three-point shot with 3.8 seconds to go.

Collier made the first two and intentionally missed the third, with Thomas collecting the rebound and scoring with nine tenths of a second remaining to tie the game at 56. Overtime looked to be likely…until Kansas State rifled the inbounds pass out of bounds without anyone touching it. That gave Texas Southern one final possession under their basket and Gibbs found Carter, who scored over Williams as time expired.

The clock operator didn’t do Kansas State any favors when it comes to starting the clock on time, but after review (and the use of a stopwatch) the officials ruled that the shot counted. Texas Southern has won two of its last three games against power conference opposition, as they won at then-No. 25 Michigan State December 20 and lost by a point at Auburn December 23.

Vine credit: Brian Goodman