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Southland Power Rankings: Demons on the Rise

Halfway through the Southland schedule, Stephen F. Austin remains undefeated. A natural rival, an old nemesis, and an upstart from the bayou are positioning themselves to attempt to make a run at the Lumberjacks.

PG Jalan West is averaging 19 points and 6 assists to lead the Demons
PG Jalan West is averaging 19 points and 6 assists to lead the Demons
Cooper Neill

1. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks 20-2, 9-0 (1st place in standings): The Lumberjacks kept rolling this week picking up a pair of home wins, but one of them was quite a challenge. SFA scored on a Jacob Parker tip-in with less than a second left to beat the incredibly game DII transitional Incarnate Word (more on them shortly.) SFA led by as many as 16, but trailed UIW by seven with just four minutes to play before rallying for the last-second win.

Coach Brad Underwood's Lumberjacks, #8 in the latest Mid-Major Madness Power 15, have now won 16 consecutive games. That streak is currently the fifth longest winning streak in the country. SFA has now won 28 straight home games at William R. Johnson Coliseum, which ties Duke for the nation's longest running home winning streak. They are now 20-2 to start the season for the second straight year.

Last week: W 64-48 vs Abilene Christian, W 76-74 vs Incarnate Word

This week: Thu vs Nicholls, Sat vs McNeese

2. Sam Houston State Bearkats 16-6, 8-2 (2nd): The Kats won a pair of home games, including a big matchup near the top of the standings with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. After trailing at the break, SHSU used a 51 point second half to beat the Islanders and hold onto second place for another week. In the two wins, center Michael Holyfield scored 21 points, grabbed 26 rebounds and blocked eight shots. Sam has now won three in a row and seven of their last eight.

Last week: W 78-74 vs Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, W 81-63 vs Houston Baptist

This week: Sat vs Lamar

3. Northwestern State Demons 9-11, 5-4 (T-5th): Mike McConathy's Demons have won four in a row since their loss to SFA. The obvious key to the recent turnaround is improved play on the defensive end of the floor. In their first 15 games, NSU didn't hold a single Division I opponent to less than 84 points in any game. In their last five, only one opponent (Incarnate Word) has eclipsed that mark and it was in a 100-86 Demon victory. Another recent key has been secondary players stepping up to help stars Jalan West and DeQuan Hicks. This week, senior Brison White broke his career scoring high twice in a row scoring 24 and 28 points in the two home victories.

Last week: W 100-86 vs Incarnate Word, W 84-66 vs Abilene Christian

This week: Thu vs McNeese (ESPN3), Sat vs Nicholls

4. Nicholls Colonels 10-8, 7-2 (3rd): Nicholls snagged another pair of home wins this week at Stopher Gym in Thibodaux. The first was a notable exciting overtime win over Oral Roberts that was televised on ESPN3 and ESPN in Australia and New Zealand. Nicholls overcame a six point deficit over the final three minutes to lead in the final seconds, but ORU split a pair of free throws to send the game to overtime. With 20 seconds left, Nicholls fell behind by a point when ORU made two free throws on a "Chris Webber technical." In the closing seconds, Nicholls star Dantrell Thomas was fouled driving to the rim. He made both giving him 28 points (25 after halftime) and the Colonels the one point lead. An ORU runner at the horn hit back rim for the Nicholls win. On the year Nicholls is now 7-1 at home, but this week they embark on their biggest road trip of the season. Games against SFA and NW State present the Colonels with a golden opportunity to shoot up the rankings in the SLC.

Last week: W 73-72 (OT) vs Oral Roberts, W 78-67 vs Central Arkansas

This week: Thu at Stephen F. Austin, Sat at Northwestern State

5. New Orleans Privateers 8-9, 5-4 (N/A): The Privateers have now won three consecutive conference games, all away from home. Not coincidentally, the three wins have come since the return of dynamic freshman Christavious Gill from his three game absence due to a concussion. In the past three wins, Gill has scored 58 points shooting exactly 50% from the floor and from behind the three point line. Senior Cory Dixon also continues to impress. He scored 18 points at Southeastern Louisiana (who has still yet to ever beat New Orleans) and continues to be the Southland's leading rebounder grabbing more than eight boards per game.

Last week: W 90-85 at Southeastern Louisiana

This week: Thu at Oral Roberts, Sat at Central Arkansas (ESPN3)

6. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders 10-13, 7-3 (4th): A&M-CC split a pair on the road this week, dropping an important contest to second place Sam Houston State. Leading by a point early in the second half, the Islanders allowed a critical 12-0 run to the Bearkats to trail by double figures. The deficit was as many as 16 before SHSU coasted to the win. The Islanders bounced back in a big way two nights later, holding Lamar to a school record low of 35 points. Jeff Beverly led the Islanders in scoring in both games this week.

Last week: L 78-74 at Sam Houston State, W 58-35 at Lamar

This week: Thu at Incarnate Word, Sat at Abilene Christian

7. Incarnate Word Cardinals 16-5, 4-4 (N/A): There were lots of questions heading into Southland play about how good Incarnate Word actually was. The Cardinals ran up a 12-1 pre-conference record, but all 12 wins were against sub-Division I competition. Could they possibly be any good? One month later I can say with absolute certainty, these guys can play. If a 23 point road win over New Orleans or a home win over second place Sam Houston State didn't convince you, maybe their most recent loss did. UIW gave unbeaten SFA their biggest challenge this season, nearly ending the Jacks' NCAA-best 28-game home winning streak. UIW trailed by 15 in the first half but went on a massive run, leading the game by seven with four minutes to play. SFA did eventually win with a tip-in in the final second, but UIW proved they belonged with the best the Southland has to offer. Denzel Livingston is a big reason why. The junior is averaging 19.5 points per game this season, but in league games only (which obviously excludes the sub-DI's) his average jumps to 22.8 a night. He's been as good as anyone in the league to this point.

Last week: L 100-86 at Northwestern State, L 76-74 at Stephen F. Austin

This week: Thu vs Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Sat vs Houston Baptist

8. McNeese State Cowboys 7-14, 5-4 (T-5th): McNeese split a pair of home games this week to remain firmly planted in the middle of the rankings this week. On Thursday, the Cowboys lost a wild game at home against Central Arkansas. UCA led by as many as 22 points in the first half, but McNeese stormed back to lead by as many as eight late in the game. UCA then took control down the stretch, winning the game by one on a traditional three point play with less than a second remaining. McNeese rebounded nicely, though, rallying from another early double digit deficit to win going away over visiting Oral Roberts.

Last week: L 76-75 vs Central Arkansas, W 79-68 vs Oral Roberts

This week: Thu at Northwestern State (ESPN3), Sat at Stephen F. Austin

9. Oral Roberts Golden Eagles 10-12, 4-5 (T-7th): First of all, I don't think Oral Roberts is truly the 9th best team in the Southland this year. However four consecutive losses, starting with the final minute defeat at the hands of SFA in what was a battle for first place at the time, and including the heartbreaker at Nicholls detailed above, have brought Scott Sutton's Golden Eagles to a crossroads. Oral Roberts returns home for a pair of games this week, beginning a stretch of winnable games. If ORU will get back into contention for a top four position in the conference tournament, they have to make their move real soon.

Last week: L 73-72 (OT) at Nicholls, L 79-68 at McNeese

This week: Thu vs New Orleans, Sat vs Southeastern Louisiana

10. Southeastern Louisiana Lions 9-11, 4-5 (T-7th): Southeastern lost their only game this week, falling at home to New Orleans. The Lions shoot a lot of threes, usually pretty well, but made just six-of-20 in the loss. After starting 2-2 in league play, the Lions have alternated losses and wins the last five games.

Last week: L 90-85 vs New Orleans

This week: Thu at Central Arkansas, Sat at Oral Roberts

11. Central Arkansas Bears 5-15, 2-7 (9th): Central Arkansas snapped a five game losing streak with a dramatic 76-75 win at McNeese State this week. UCA stormed out to a 22 point lead in the first half, but had to rally from eight down in the final minutes. LaQuentin Miles drove the ball the length of the floor and scored while being fouled as the buzzer sounded to tie the game. After review a half of a second was put on the clock and Miles sank the free throw for the thrilling road win. Miles, one of the best players in the Southland, ended the game with 17 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Aubrey Ball made 7-of-9 three point attempts in the game on his way to a career-high 23 points.

Last week: W 76-75 at McNeese, L 78-67 at Nicholls

This week: Thu vs Southeastern Louisiana, Sat vs New Orleans

12. Abilene Christian Wildcats 7-15, 1-7 (N/A): The other DII transitional this year continues to earn respect around the league, but the shorthanded Wildcats just don't have enough to win on most nights. For the past five games ACU has been without leading scorers LaDarrien Williams and Harrison Hawkins. Sharpshooting sophomore Parker Wentz is doing all he can, playing nearly 40 minutes every night. In the most recent loss to Northwestern State, Wentz made 5-of-7 first half three pointers to keep the game close for awhile.

Last week: L 64-48 at Stephen F. Austin, L 84-66 at Northwestern State

This week: Thu vs Houston Baptist, Sat vs Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

13. Lamar Cardinals 3-19, 2-8 (10th): Lamar's recent wins over Abilene Christian and Houston Baptist had them in line to move up the rankings a little, but on Saturday Pat Knight's Cardinals scored just 35 points in a home loss to A&M-CC. LU shot a dismal 14% in the first half. Only five Cardinals scored in the game, led by 11 points from Donovan Ross.

Last week: W 59-57 vs Houston Baptist, L 58-35 vs Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

This week: Sat at Sam Houston State

14. Houston Baptist Huskies 4-18, 1-9 (11th): The Huskies have now lost six games in a row and 13 of their last 14. Cody Joyce has played well lately, scoring 18 and 11 in the past two games. He and Rob Lewis are the only Huskies averaging double figures in scoring this year, both at just under 11 points a night.

Last week: L 59-57 at Lamar, L 81-63 at Sam Houston State

This week: Thu at Abilene Christian, Sat at Incarnate Word

The top eight finishers qualify for the Southland Conference tournament. New Orleans, Incarnate Word, and Abilene Christian are ineligible this season.