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Mid-Major Conference Top 10: Will the Tigers Lead the SWAC?

The SWAC rarely has continuity from one season to the next. So who will be the top 10 basketball players this coming year? We venture an educated guess.

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Ed Note: When I did this top 10 list, I even mentioned how hard it was to compile these lists for the SWAC. With so much turnover, and so little coverage, even Google searches are loathe to return what is needed to make sure that someone, anyone is returning for the teams listed here.

So I missed that Brent Arrington is no longer at Mississippi Valley State. And I missed that Quincy Roberts declared for the draft. That is one minor mistake and one big one (especially so since I listed Roberts as the best player in the conference).

I wanted to set the record straight here. I don't feel good about those mistakes, and therefore this note goes here to apologize. We hold ourselves to a higher standard than that. And now with the Texas Southern news, I figured more people would be looking at the SWAC list.

So take that for what it is. The missing players have been lined out in the list below.

As we prepare for the 2012-13 season to begin, Mid-Major Madness will be taking a look at each conference and trying to determine who the top 10 players in that league are. This will culminate in a list of the top 50 mid-major players for the upcoming season.

To begin our look at the mid-major players, we are tripping down South with a look at the SWAC.

Grading out players in the Southwest Athletic Conference isn't easy. Most teams are made up of transfers, both from other D-1 schools and junior colleges. Teams go through a lot of turnover from season to season, and there is a lack of continuity in programs.

If there is ever a wonder why the SWAC struggles from season to season, you need look no further than how the teams are constructed in the conference.

This isn't a bad thing. It is just a fact of basketball life among the historically black colleges.

As a conference, the SWAC had the lowest average score in the MRI rating system with a -42.10. The league plays its share of body bag games, and as a result end up with just two teams eking out a record of .500 or better against Division 1 opponents.

We can debate the merits of the conference still competing in Division 1 at another time, because this is about the players on the court.

With several conferences, we are probably sure to get these rankings incorrect at the end of the season. There are always going to be players that get injured, or transfers that come out of nowhere to dominate. In few conferences will that be more likely than in the SWAC. With a league made up of transfers, we are almost certain to miss on grading someone who will provide a major impact.

I have crawled through the rosters and stats of these players though and think that I have identified the most likely candidate for that breakout season. And so we begin with No. 10.

10. Wesley Afolayan, Prairie View - Afolayan is a junior college transfer originally from Houston. He will take over on a depleted Prairie View team that struggled to an 11-18 record last season, and then lost almost every player that made an impact for those 11 wins. Afolayan gets the nod over his now teammate Jourdan DeMuynck here because of the talent and upside that he brings. He was among the 100 best players in Texas as a high school star, and played on an undefeated state champion team. Stepping into the lineup in the SWAC almost seems like a gimme for him to succeed.

9. Brent Arrington, Mississippi Valley State - Here is what is gone from the Mississippi Valley State team that made the NCAA Tournament last year: almost everything. Here is what is left: a solid point guard, coming off a freshman season when he earned a lot of valuable minutes and experience. That player is Arrington, who enters this year as the leader of the rebuilding effort for the Delta Devils, who are not just rebuilding, but can't even play in the postseason thanks to lagging academics. Arrington should excel on the defensive side of the ball, improving on an already impressive 1.7 steals per game last year. If the shooting improves along with the point skills, this ranking is going to seem absurdly low by the end of the year.

8. Derick Beltran, Southern - Beltran made the third team all-conference last year, and despite a number of departures among players who graded out ahead of him last year, he is still this low on the top 10 list because of concerns over his shooting. He didn't crack 40 percent shooting for the year, and he barely was better than that mark in just conference games. Still, he is a good wing player for the SWAC, and he is the best thing coming back for Southern in 2012. Without Quinton Doggett to help out on the scoring side, he will likely have to do more this season than the 13.2 points he put up last year. It will be interesting to see how that added pressure affects his efficiency going forward.

7. Phillip Crawford, Alabama State - Crawford performed well is his first season stepping up from the junior college ranks. He was the third leading scorer for the Hornets and came in second in rebounding for the team. As a decent shooter inside, the concerns come from the fact that he couldn't break 50 percent shooting when he was mainly working near the basket. Still he has the potential to improve this season as he should be more comfortable for the tougher competition that the SWAC provides than his previous college stop. Expect more rebounding from him, and improved shooting as he should be considered heavily for a second team all-conference spot.

6. Omar Strong, Texas Southern - Strong was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season and basically carried the team to the conference tournament finals. His 30 points in the championship against Mississippi Valley State wasn't enough though. However, the growth that Strong showed in that tournament run is a major reason why he should be one of the top five players in the conference this coming season. His shooting could be more efficient (just 39 percent from the floor), especially considering he doesn't need to go it alone. But the 5-9 guard should improve in his final season for the Tigers.

5. DeMarquelle Tabb, Alabama A&M - Tabb was just a sophomore last season, and probably could make a case that he was snubbed from the all-conference teams. Tabb averaged 10.6 points and 7.6 boards, but his biggest contribution was definitely in the block category. He pushed away 50 shots last season. Oh, did we mention he is a 6-5 guard? That made him the second-best shot blocker in the back court last year, and the only other two players to crack the top 100 both play in major conferences. A strong shooter and wing player, Tabb is poised to move quickly up the list of top players in the conference.

4. Fred Sturdivant, Texas Southern - Sturdivant is the biggest piece in the puzzle for Texas Southern. As a junior, he added 3.6 wins for the Tigers and earned a spot on the All-SWAC Second Team. Much of his value comes on the defensive end, where he led the team in rebounds, blocks and steals last year. He shot over 50 percent from the floor and put up 9.1 points per game. With two of the best players in the conference back next year, the Tigers should be the favorite to make it back to that game. It remains to be seen though what the loss of coach Keith Harvey will mean for the Tigers though as he stepped down in early July.

3. Kelsey Howard, Jackson State - Howard was thrust into a prime role for the Tigers after they lost both Jenirro Bush and Christian Williams to injury. Bush still led the team in HOOPWAR during his 18 games, but Howard closed on the senior as the season wore on. He finished as the second leading scorer and a solid defender when you remember that Howard was only a red-shirt freshman in 2011. This season, he will be the main focus of the offense for Jackson State, and should be able to earn this high ranking. After all, despite being named Freshman of the Year in the conference, he was shut out of the all-conference teams. When you consider that the biggest improvement for players usually comes after that first season, it looks like Howard will have some extra incentive to reach the top.

2. Daniel Broughton, Arkansas-Pine Bluff - Going out on a limb here. Broughton was a strong contributor for Arkansas-Pine Bluff last season. Fairly efficient from the floor, Broughton was the third leading scorer for the Lions at just more than 10 points per game. He could rebound, and play defense. And he did most of his damage coming off the bench. Only one problem with Broughton: he also did damage to other players, as in he is a foul machine! The Lions committed 600 fouls last season and he had 125 of them. No one else on the team had more than 72. I am putting him here because if he just puts up a normal amount of fouls, he becomes a massive asset to the team (He would have doubled his HOOPWAR value had he just knocked 50 fouls off that insane total). Add in that they have to replace leading scorer and defensive player of the year Salavace Townsend, and the room is there for Broughton to not just make the first team All-Conference, but challenge the No. 1 guy on this list for player of the year. Too bad no one outside the South will see him play, because the Lions are banned from the postseason.

1. Quincy Roberts, Grambling* - Grambling was the worst team in college basketball last season, and probably will duplicate the feat this coming year. Go look at any computer ranking (including the MRI). The Tigers were really bad. They didn't even need to establish a 30-plus game losing streak like Towson to do it either. Grambling won four games, and Quincy Roberts, who was named to the first team all-conference, and named Newcomer of the year, was good enough to win all those by himself. When you run the Tiger season through HOOPWAR, Roberts scores a 9.24 per 30 games He played just 20 games last season, but in those 20 he still provided 6 wins with his talent. The rest of his team -- a team that had just four scholarship players last season -- just weighed the Tigers down too much. Only Peter Roberson provided positive minutes for the Tigers, so essentially Roberts had to do it alone, scoring almost 24 points per game. He has the inside track for the player of the year in the conference this coming season, despite how poor his team might be (they are still under some restrictions due to poor academic performance), and it isn't even close.

*Mid-Major Top 50 Nominee