AP Photo/Rod Aydelotte

SWAC Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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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.

The Bracket

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.

Other Contenders:

  • 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.

First-Team All-SWAC:

  • 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.

Southern and head coach Roman Banks agree to new deal

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After three seasons on the Southern sidelines, head coach Roman Banks will receive a new contract, the school announced on Monday. The extension is pending, but the two sides have agreed in principle to a new deal.

“Today, Southern University has expressed its commitment to the future of the men’s basketball program by investing in me to remain as head coach,” Banks said in a statement. “With a new agreement in place, I am eager to move the men’s basketball program forward while elevating the standard of excellence that we set as a coaching staff when I first arrived in 2011. But none of this would be possible without the relentless efforts of our university administration, athletics director, coaches and, most importantly, our student-athletes.”

Banks is 59-37 in three seasons with the Jaguars, leading them to the 2013 NCAA Tournament where they nearly became the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed, losing to Gonzaga, 64-58.

He followed up that near upset with the top spot in the SWAC in 2013-2014, but hopes for a return trip to the tournament were dashed in the conference tournament quarterfinals, falling to Prairie View A&M. Since the season came to a close, Banks had been in talks with Texas A&M about becoming Billy Kennedy’s top assistant coach.

Southern returns leading scorer and rebounder Calvin Godfrey and point guard Christopher Hyder, a sophomore point guard who had a 4.3 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Can a Cinderella emerge from the SWAC?

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

On March 21st of this year, Gonzaga – the team that arguably popularized the term “Cinderella” as a signifier for mid-major success against the odds – nearly found the glass slipper on the other foot. The Bulldogs were the No. 1 seed, and the pesky, vastly outgunned Southern Jaguars were hanging around, threatening to become the first No. 16 seed to ever pull the first-round upset. The Zags pulled out the win, but the 64-58 final score sent shock waves around the college basketball world.

That it was Southern putting the irons to a top seed was even more shocking than the final score. The Jaguars earned their auto-bid out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the league that came in dead last in the kenpom.com rankings last season, below the Great West and DI Independents.

(MORE: Click here to read NBCSports.com’s SWAC preview)

SWAC teams don’t win much, because SWAC teams have no money. The Jaguars, who nearly made NCAA history a few months ago, ranked 341st out of 344 schools in basketball expenditures in 2012. According to the NCAA, each team that appeared in a tourney game last season earned roughly $242,200 for each March Madness showdown. The Southern basketball budget a year ago was roughly $535,000 total.

What could a SWAC team do with two NCAA units? More?

source: AP
Seasoned Texas Southern coach Mike Davis is adding horses to a dangerous team.

Winning a game or two in the NCAA tournament isn’t a crazy thought for a low-budget program any more. Remember Norfolk State and Lehigh celebrating 15 over 2 upsets on the same day two years ago? Both schools fall well below the median in basketball budget year-in and year-out. Norfolk State, like Southern is one of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and a member of the MEAC, which has sent Hampton and Coppin State to legendary upsets in the past.

SWAC teams have won five NCAA tournament games since 1980, but three of those came in preliminary round games against other double-digit seeds. Another was an 8 vs. 9 matchup between Alcorn State and South Alabama in 1980. The only true upset came at the hands of the legendary Ben Jobe, who took a 13-seeded SWAC team – the Jaguars, handily enough – to a 93-78 win over Georgia Tech in 1993.

So, with the SWAC auto-bid firmly planted in the sixteen-seed range every year, can the big upset happen? Absolutely.

The Jaguars weren’t even the best team in the SWAC last year. Texas Southern, under former Indiana and UAB head coach Mike Davis, was 16-2 in the SWAC but ineligible for postseason play. This year, Davis and company add two-time transfer Aaric Murray to a team that loves to run and gun. A skilled big man who can run the court may be all the Tigers need to eke out a program-defining win in March. If they miss out, Southern is the counterpuncher, using defensive intensity to disrupt bigger, faster opponents.

The SWAC showed us that it’s possible for a 16 seed to beat a 1 last season. There’s no reason the cash-poor league can’t pull a true Cinderella routine in the near future. Possibly as soon as this year.