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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


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.

Trae Jefferson commits to Texas Southern

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Trae Jefferson, one of the more entertaining players to watch in the Class of 2015, announced that he had committed to Texas Southern on Tuesday afternoon via his personal Twitter account.

There’s no shortage of YouTube videos of the diminutive 5-foot-7 point guard. There’s this one from BallisLife that was uploaded last August and this one from last month of him torching defenders while wearing sweatpants.

Jefferson was once listed in the Rivals 150 and is still listed as a four-star recruit, according to the same recruiting service. Despite the ranking, he could only land offers from Atlantic 10, Conference USA, Horizon League and Big West programs, according to Rivals and ESPN, which rated him as a three-star prospect.

It’ll be interesting to track how Jefferson translates to the next level, but he should form an entertaining backcourt alongside rising junior guard Chris Thomas.

Texas Southern is coming off a 22-win season and reaching the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season.

Chris Thomas, Malcolm Riley lead Texas Southern past No. 25 Michigan State

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Even with senior forward Branden Dawson out of the lineup with a non-displaced fracture of his left wrist, No. 25 Michigan State appeared to be a safe bet to take care of business in their final two non-conference games before they start Big Ten play December 30. Guards Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine were still available, as was Bryn Forbes, and the addition of freshman Javon Bess is a nice boost for the Spartans as well.

So a 1-8 Texas Southern team didn’t appear to pose much of a threat…on paper. In action Chris Thomas and Malcolm Riley proved tough to corral, and Jason Carter played well in his second game of the season as Mike Davis’ Tigers won 71-64 in overtime.

Thomas scored a game-high 22 points, Riley (20, seven rebounds) and Carter (13) combined to score 33 of Texas Southern’s 38 bench points on the night and Madarious Gibbs added nine points, nine rebounds and four assists to lead the way for the victors. Texas Southern shot 53.2% from the field, the second-best percentage a Michigan State opponent has shot from the field this season (No. 2 Duke shot 54 percent). Thomas made good use of ball screens for Texas Southern, and the Tigers’ offensive execution helped them make up for Michigan State rebounding nearly 44 percent of its missed shots.

As for Michigan State, doing a good job on the offensive glass doesn’t mean much when you struggle to convert those extra opportunities. Tom Izzo’s Spartans shot 39.3% from the field, with Forbes (six points) and Trice (six points) combining to shoot 4-for-22 from the field, and they were also 4-for-21 from beyond the arc. With Texas Southern as productive as it was offensively Michigan State couldn’t afford that kind of night from the field, especially with Dawson sidelined.

To be fair to Texas Southern their 1-8 record has come as a result of one of the tougher schedules in college basketball. For programs such as theirs non-conference play is seen as an opportunity to add some money to their athletic department’s coffers, with guarantee games being the norm. Prior to Saturday the Tigers had already played games against Indiana, SMU, Baylor, Florida and No. 8 Gonzaga with eight of their nine games being played on the road.

With that being the case Texas Southern wasn’t going to be intimidated, especially with the Spartans playing without Dawson. Michigan State, which entered the game as the nation’s best three-point shooting team, couldn’t find a groove from the perimeter and that combined with Texas Southern’s play on the other end of the floor cost the Spartans dearly.

Mike Davis receives warm ovation in return to Indiana (VIDEO)

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Texas Southern head coach Mike Davis returned to his former stomping grounds on Monday night as his Tigers faced his old program, Indiana. The return of Davis marked the first time a former head coach faced the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall and one of the big questions surrounding the evening was how Indiana fans would react to the return of their former coach?

The Indiana faithful gave Davis a warm ovation, with many of the fans in attendance standing, even though Davis left the program after six years and a lot of scrutiny. Indiana ended up beating Texas Southern, 83-64, on Monday night as freshman guard Robert Johnson scored 21 points for the Hoosiers to lead four starters in double-figures.

Davis compiled a 115-79 record over six seasons at Indiana, and made the national championship game in 2002, but he had the nearly impossible task of following Bob Knight and his Hall of Fame legacy. Indiana fans also took issue with Davis because in his final three seasons he only made one NCAA Tournament appearance and he lost at least 12 games in each of his six seasons in Bloomington.

At some programs that might cut it, but not at Indiana. One of the final straws might have been when Davis missed on Indiana natives and prized recruits Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr., who both went on to Big Ten-rival Ohio State and helped lead the Buckeyes to the national championship game in 2007.

By that time, Davis had already moved on to UAB, where he spent six additional seasons as a head coach before taking the Texas Southern job that he currently holds before the 2012-13 season.

During his time in Bloomington, Davis and Indiana’s fan base didn’t always seem on the same page, but at least there was a nice moment and some shared memories on Monday night as the former head coach stood standing and waving in appreciation.

(H/T: Jeff Eisenberg at Yahoo. Video shot by Alden Woods.)

Mike Davis re-loads Texas Southern with a Big Ten transfer and former five-star prospect

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Mike Davis has done a nice job competing in the SWAC at Texas Southern by taking on transfers that many other coaches wouldn’t think twice about.

The former Indiana coach might not be able to recruit high-level athletes and talented players out of high school to the low-major program, but he’s made a big mark taking risks on certain players.

After having recent success with SWAC Player of the Year Aaric Murray, a former La Salle and West Virginia transfer, Davis told Scott Gleeson of the USA Today that he’s added a few more risky transfers with checkered pasts for the 2014-15 season.

Davis has added former Nebraska guard Deverell Biggs and former Marshall guard and five-star prospect Chris Thomas to Texas Southern this season.

The 6-foot Biggs was the third leading scorer for Nebraska last season at 9.9 points per game before he was dismissed from the team after only 15 games for multiple offenses. Biggs missed multiple film sessions that led to benchings and also had some run-ins with the law thanks to a few driving issues.

Thomas, a 6-foot-5 native of Colorado and former highly-touted five-star prospect, will also get another chance at Texas Southern as well. At Marshall, Thomas averaged 12.7 points and 4 rebounds per game as a sophomore before being dismissed from the program in June for violating team rules.

Both Biggs and Thomas have had multiple issues but Davis has been a steady presence for players looking for a final opportunity to play college basketball. Thomas, in particular, is the interesting case to watch here. The talented wing can really get rolling as a scorer, but he’s had multiple issues at a lot of programs.

Thomas went through a handful of prep schools, ended up at Chipola Junior College and later decommited from Xavier. While Chipola was in the postseason in 2013, Thomas missed the run while he spent time in jail. Thomas then signed with Manhattan but the team pulled his scholarship before he played a game due to a positive test for marijuana.

If Davis gets these two guys to buy in with the rest of the team, he’ll have two of the most talented players in the SWAC at his disposal and Texas Southern could be the favorite in the league.

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.