Introducing Cinderella: Prairie View A&M earns first NCAA trip since 1998

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In the six seasons prior to the 2018-19 campaign, either Texas Southern (four times) or Southern (two) represented the SWAC in the NCAA tournament. Prairie View A&M, the league’s best team this season, broke through Saturday night with its 92-86 win over Texas Southern to win the SWAC tournament title.

Of the eight players who scored in the win six reached double figures, led by senior guards Gary Blackston and Dennis Jones (17 points apiece). The Panthers shot 53% from the field and took advantage of Texas Southern’s mistakes, as TSU finished the game with 25 turnovers.

Prairie View will make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998, and that group entered the Big Dance with a 13-16 record. The 2018-19 edition lost just one game against conference competition (20-1), and the Panthers played just one home non-conference game (vs. Huston-Tillotson).

CONFERENCE: SWAC

COACH: Byron Smith

RECORD: 22-12, 17-1 SWAC

RATINGS:

  • KENPOM: 216
  • NET: 207

PROJECTED SEED: The Panthers may land on the 16 line, but there’s a good chance that they’ll be placed in the main bracket immediately as opposed to being sent to Dayton for the First Four.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: 6-foot-2 guard Gary Blackston leads the team in both scoring (15.2 ppg) and rebounding (7.1 rpg), with 6-foot-1 guard Dennis Jones leading the way in assists (4.4 apg). 6-foot-7 junior forward Devonte Patterson is the team’s best front court player, and he entered Saturday averaging 13.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: Prairie View picked up just one non-conference win over a Division I opponent, beating Santa Clara in its season opener. Among the quality non-conference opponents the Panthers faced, PVAMU managed to remain competitive in road losses to Baylor and UNCG and they also dropped an 83-67 decision at Murray State.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Two things that Bryon Smith’s team has done very well this season are win the turnover battle and get to the foul line. Prairie View is ranked 5th in the country in turnover margin (plus-5.3), fifth in free throw attempts (836) and seventh in free throws made (571). The Panthers are also ranked 11th nationally in total steals (286). This isn’t a particularly big team, which could be an issue against most teams they’ll see in a first round matchup, but the Panthers make up for it by using their speed and guards to make teams uncomfortable.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: This particular team you may not know very well, but the school does boast some recognizable former students. Included on that list are Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame members Cynthia Cooper-Dyke and Zelmo Beatty, DJ Premier (one half of Gangstarr) and Mr. T.