Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Last season, Texas Southern reached the NCAA tournament for the second-straight season under head coach Mike Davis. The Tigers will be in position to three-peat, but Southern, which last reached the tournament in 2013, and Alabama State look to end the trend.
Texas Southern will begin a quest for a third straight conference title without 2014 SWAC Player of the Year Madarious Gibbs. But the Tigers return two all-SWAC caliber seniors in Chris Thomas and Malcolm Riley. Both finished the season strong, with Thomas averaging 14.8 points in postseason play and Riley posting 18 points and 10 boards in a 62-58 win over Southern in the SWAC Tournament championship game. David Blanks and Tonnie Collier are two key holdovers for the Tigers, but don’t forget about Jose Rodriguez, the 6-foot-7 forward who missed last season due to injury. He averaged 11.4 points and 5.7 rebounds in 2013-14.
Southern brings back one of conference’s best perimeters with Adrian Rodgers, the team’s leading scorer, and junior Trelun Banks and Christopher Hyder, who averaged 3.9 assists per game. The other returning starter for the Jaguars is 6-foot-9 sophomore Jarred Sam. Sam will have to hold down the inside for the Jaguars as the only returning big man who played significant minutes. Southern had one of the better defensive teams in the SWAC last season, and that could remain the same this year. But Southern will have to put an emphasis on rebounding with a thin frontline.
Wedged in the middle of Southern and Texas Southern the past two seasons has been Alabama State. In both campaigns, the Hornets have failed to make it past the SWAC semifinals. Jamel Waters is set to change that in 2015-16. Alabama State graduated two double-digit scorers, but look for Bobby Brown and Steve Rogers, two players capable of knocking down threes, should see benefit from playing alongside Waters.
Jackson State and Alabama A&M should round out the top-5 in the conference. Alabama A&M returns all five starters Ladarius Tabb, the first team snub from a season ago, and Nick West, the SWAC’s top rebounder. Jackson State also has its starting five back, including Raeford Worsham, who was limited last year after transferring in. Arkansas Pine Bluff, no longer facing an APR ban, can’t be overlooked either with three returning starters.
- Favorite: “I’d say Southern because they turn five of their top six guys. And they finished third in the league.”
- Sleeper: “I think the team that’s the sleeper is Jackson State with eight of their top guys back.”
- Star to watch: “It would probably be Adrian Rodgers from Southern or Chris Thomas from Texas Southern. They are natural perimeter guys. They can both put the ball on the floor. They both can get a basket.”
PRESEASON SWAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ladarius Tabb, Alabama A&M
A season after being named SWAC Newcomer of the Year, the 6-foot-5 guard should be the favorite for SWAC Player of the Year honors. Tabb led the conference in scoring and was second in rebounding (behind teammate Nick West), averaging 20 points in 19 games against SWAC opponents and recording 11 double-doubles during the course of the 2014-15 season.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON SWAC TEAM:
- Adrian Rodgers, Southern: The 6-foot-4 senior averaged 13.1 points and 4.2 boards per game; one of four starters back for the Tigers.
- Jamel Waters, Alabama State: With the loss of three starters, expect the 5-foot-9 guard to see a bump in scoring. Led the team last year at 14.0 points per game, dished out 5.2 assists, second-best in the league.
- Nick West, Alabama A&M: The 6-foot-10 big man recorded seven double-doubles as a junior, finishing first in the league in rebounding at 7.9 boards per game.
- Raeford Worsham, Jackson State: The Arkansas State transfer scored in double figures in 15 out of 20 games he appeared in, recording four double-doubles in conference play.
ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @theSWAC
2. Texas Southern
3. Alabama State
4. Jackson State
5. Alabama A&M
6. Arkansas Pine Bluff
7. Alcorn State
8. Prairie View A&M
9. Mississippi Valley State
10. Grambling State