Southland Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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(Stephen F. Austin’s Thomas Walkup/Getty Images)

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The Southland may be a one-bid league, but they have one of the best mid-major teams in the country in Stephen F. Austin and plenty of star power throughout the league. The Lumberjacks will look to make the Big Dance for the second consecutive season, as they’ve only dropped one Southland game in the last two seasons while they had a 19-game winning streak at one point during the year. But Brad Underwood’s team will be challenged by a balanced and talented Sam Houston State team and a No. 3 seed in Texas A&M Corpus-Christi that beat both the Lumberjacks and Bearkats this season. And you can’t forget about No. 4 seed Northwestern State, who has one of the nation’s best set-up guys in Jalan West (tied for national lead with 7.5 apg) and the nation’s second-leading scorer in sophomore Zeek Woodley (22.4 ppg)

The Bracket

source:

When: March 11-14

Where: Leonard E. Merrell Center, Katy, Texas

Final: Saturday, March 14, 9:30 p.m., ESPN2

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

Favorite: Stephen F. Austin

After going unbeaten in the Southland last season, Stephen F. Austin is once again a strong contender to take the auto bid for the conference. The Lumberjacks took home the Southland regular-season crown for the third consecutive season and they only have one conference loss in the last two years.

And if they lose?: Sam Houston State

The Bearkats went 15-3 in league play and only lost to Texas A&M Corpus-Christi outside of being swept by Stephen F. Austin. Southland Defensive Player of the Year Michael Holyfield is a force inside and he leads a balanced team that has a remarkable seven scorers averaging between 7.6 and 10.9 points per game this season.

Sleepers:

  • Texas A&M Corpus-Christi – Led by talented point guard John Jordan, the No. 3 seed in the Southland Tournament is the only team in the league to beat Stephen F. Austin in the last two years.
  • Northwestern State – The Demons have the league’s best one-two punch in point guard Jalan West, who is tied for first in the NCAA in assists per game, and sophomore guard Zeek Woodley, who was second in the nation in scoring at 22.4 points per game.

Player of the Year: Thomas Walkup, Stephen F. Austin

Assuming more of a leadership role in his junior season, Walkup became the leading scorer (15.5 ppg) and rebounder (6.5 rpg) at Stephen F. Austin while also leading the team in field-goal percentage (56 percent). Walkup has now been apart of three Southland regular-season titles in his three years with the program.

Coach of the Year: Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin

The second-year head coach of the Lumberjacks had another remarkable season, as he has Stephen F. Austin in position to potentially be in another NCAA Tournament. Underwood also has the most wins of any second-year coach in NCAA history, as his 59 wins in two seasons surpassed North Carolina’s Bill Guthridge.

All-Southland Team:

  • Walkup
  • Jalan West, Northwestern State – Tied for the national lead for assists per game (7.5 apg), the junior point guard was also third in the Southland in scoring (19.2 ppg) and steals (2.2 spg) and pulled down 4.1 rebounds per game.
  • Desharick Guidry, McNeese State -Sixth in the nation in rebounding at 11.2 boards per contest, the senior also averaged 17.4 points per game.
  • Denzel Livingston, Incarnate Word – The 6-foot-4 senior averaged 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.5 steals a game for the Cardinals. Livingston’s low point total in a game this season was 11.
  • Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin – Walkup’s main running mate had ridiculous shooting splits (53% FG, 47% 3PT, 82% FT) and the senior forward averaged 14.2 points, 5.7 rebounds per game.

CBT PREDICTION: Stephen F. Austin over Sam Houston State

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.