Dates: March 9, 10, 12
Site: Leonard E. Merrell Center, Katy, Texas
Championship game: Saturday, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Outlook: For just the second time in seven years, the Southland won’t have a conference tournament champ win at least 24 games. That’s my way of saying the conference usually has one or two dominant teams who give their future NCAA tournament a tough out. Last year, it was Baylor that struggled against Sam Houston State. In ’09, Syracuse struggled against Stephen F. Austin. You get the idea.
This year, McNeese State (19-10) enters as the tournament’s top seed, though Sam Houston State (17-12) and Stephen F. Austin (18-10) get the nod as more beloved teams in computer rankings. Northwestern State (18-13) and Texas State (15-15) both notched 10 league wins, making the tournament conceivably a race between five teams, mostly because Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State play each other in the first round. After that, it’s anyone’s game.
Player to watch: Devin Gibson, Texas-San Antonio
After a heartbreaking loss to Texas State on Feb. 26, the senior guard avoided an early end to his career by helping the Roadrunners to two wins to close out the season. Now he’ll have a chance to showcase his stuff against Northwestern State. The last time they played, Gibson was three assists shy of a triple-double. That’s about what you’d expect from the conference’s third-leading scorer, and leader in assists and steals.
Also, watch for Nicholls State’s Anatoly Bose and Stephen F. Austin’s Jereal Scott. If their teams meet in the final, those two could take 70 percent of the shots.
Champion: Sam Houston State
Provided the Bearkats get by Stephen F. Austin in their opener – no guarantee – this should be their tournament to lose. They closed their conference slate by winning eight of their last 10 games. That’s a promising sign for a team filled with upperclassmen and who beat Colorado State earlier this season, which happens to be the most impressive non-conference win by any Southland team this season.
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.