1. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks 27-2, 16-0: Stephen F. Austin won two more road games to clinch the Southland Championship and number one seed this week. What more is there to say about this team? 24 consecutive wins, second in the country. 14 total road wins, 12 in a row, both most in the country. The 27 regular season wins is the most in Southland Conference history. It's been a historic year for the Jacks. They are now two home games at William R. Johnson Coliseum, where they have won 31 consecutive games, away from an unbeaten Southland schedule.
On a personal note, I was able to see SFA live and in person for the first time this season this past Thursday. In last week's Southland Conference piece, I theorized that the toughest remaining game might be against New Orleans. Uhhhh, about that. Wow. With the opportunity to clinch a share of the league title, the Lumberjacks came out and completely overwhelmed the young Privateers. An injury to Cory Dixon five minutes in eliminated all hope for New Orleans, but it was crystal clear right from the opening tip that SFA was just way too much on that night. Thomas Walkup scored 28, but it was a product of as good an example of team basketball as I've seen in years. Great discipline. Great passing. Great screen-setting. Incredible effort on defense. I was high on SFA's chances in March anyway. Witnessing a 40 point shellacking personally certainly won't do anything to change that opinion.
Last week: W 103-63 at UNO, W 75-62 at SLU
This week: Thu vs ORU, Sat vs UCA (ESPN3)
2. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders 15-14, 12-4: What a week for the Islanders. Corpus Christi dispatched Houston Baptist for the second week in a row, which they should have done, but a pair of SHSU losses has vaulted A&M-CC into the coveted two seed. If Corpus can win their home games this week, they will get the second double bye into the conference tournament semifinals. Obviously, that means they would need just two wins in Katy to reach the NCAA Tournament. It also means they would avoid SFA until the championship game. This is a huge pair of games this week for Head Coach Willis Wilson and his Islanders.
Last week: W 65-45 vs HBU
This week: Thu vs McNeese, Sat vs Nicholls
3. Sam Houston State Bearkats 19-9, 11-5: I mentioned it above, the Bearkats lost two road games this week including a fairly stunning loss at Central Arkansas. They have dropped out of double bye position, but still have the inside track at the number three seed. Even if AMCC wins out and holds on to the two, a pair of home wins this week would lock up the three seed for Sam Houston State. They would have to win three games instead of two, but the three seed also avoids SFA until the championship games. If SHSU holds this spot, they are still a contender to make a run in Katy.
Last week: L 80-71 at UCA, L 80-73 at ORU
This week: Thu vs SLU, Sat vs UNO
4. Northwestern State Demons 14-13, 10-6
Last week: W 88-83 at SLU, W 84-71 at UNO
This week: Thu vs UCA, Sat vs ORU
5. Oral Roberts Golden Eagles 16-13, 10-6
Last week: W 75-67 vs Lamar, W 80-73 vs SHSU
This week: Thu at SFA, Sat at NWST
You could see this race brewing for the last couple weeks between Northwestern State and Oral Roberts. The Demons and Golden Eagles enter the final week of the regular season tied for the fourth seed, which would mean a bye into the second round of the conference tournament. The two teams close out the regular season against each other on Saturday and regardless of what either team does on Thursday, the game on Saturday is to remain among the top four seeds. If either team falls a game behind, they would have the opportunity to win the head-to-head tiebreaker with a win on Saturday. Unexpected home losses by A&M-Corpus Christi and/or Sam Houston State could muddy the waters a bit and make an even higher seed possible, but the winner of this game is pretty much assured of at least the four seed and a first round bye. If they end up fourth and fifth, they'd likely be on course for another meeting in the second round in Katy.
6. Nicholls Colonels 12-13, 9-7: Nicholls would have been in the mix above as well, but they dropped a heartbreaker to Incarnate Word in their final home game of the season. The Colonels erased a 15 point deficit in the second half, only to lose in the final seconds. Nicholls hits the road this week looking to get prepared for Katy, and possibly playing spoiler for Corpus Christi's visions of the two seed.
Last week: W 79-60 vs ACU, L 69-67 vs UIW
This week: Thu at HBU, Sat at AMCC
7. McNeese State Cowboys 10-18, 8-8: McNeese had a good week as they prepare for tournament play in Katy. The Cowboys overwhelmed Incarnate Word, then rallied from a late deficit to force overtime and defeat Abilene Christian. Ledrick Eackles broke his personal scoring record twice in a row, scoring 31 and 35 points in the two wins. It's the first time this year a player in the Southland Conference scored 30+ in consecutive games.
Last week: W 87-72 vs UIW, W 95-91 (OT) vs ACU
This week: Thu at AMCC, Sat at HBU
8. Southeastern Louisiana Lions 11-16, 6-10: Southeastern dropped a pair of home games to two of the league's best, but still sits in a pretty good position to sneak into the conference tournament as the number eight seed thanks to the ineligibility of New Orleans. The Lions hit the road this week, including a game against 2-14 Lamar. Even if they lose both games, UCA would have to steal a road win over SFA or Northwestern St. to knock SLU out.
Last week: L 88-83 vs NWST, L 75-62 vs SFA
This week: Thu at SHSU, Sat at Lamar
9. Central Arkansas Bears 8-19, 5-11: It was a good week for Central Arkansas as they kept their slim hopes of advancing to Katy alive. The Bears pulled off a pretty massive upset knocking off Sam Houston State, knocking the Bearkats out of the number two seed. As mentioned above UCA needs Southeastern Louisiana to lose to both Sam Houston State and Lamar, AND the Bears have to find a way to steal a game at either Stephen F. Austin or Northwestern State.
Last week: W 80-71 vs SHSU, W 76-69 vs Lamar
This week: Thu at NWST, Sat at SFA (ESPN3)
10. Lamar Cardinals 3-25, 2-14: Lamar has been a bit feisty since Tic Price took over for the fired Pat Knight, but they have still yet to win. The Cards will look to snap their seven game losing streak on Thursday when New Orleans, Price's first head coaching job, comes to Beaumont.
Last week: L75-67 at ORU, L 76-69 at UCA
This week: Thu vs UNO, Sat vs SLU
11. Houston Baptist Huskies 6-23, 2-14: A long debut year in the Southland with a lot of near misses wraps up for Houston Baptist with a pair of home games this week. I'd be surprised if the Huskies didn't give McNeese, Nicholls, or both all they can handle in Sharp Gym this week.
Last week: L 65-45 at AMCC
This week: Thu vs Nicholls, Sat vs McNeese
New Orleans Privateers 11-13, 8-8: While it's been an impressive season for New Orleans, less than two years removed from dropping from Division I, the Privateers got an up close and personal look at how far they still have to go to contend at the very top of the Southland. SFA dismantled the Privateers in locking up the regular season title, then Northwestern State controlled them pretty much start to finish two days later. That said, a team predicted no higher than 10th by anyone (12-14th by most) would almost certainly be headed to Katy for the conference tournament if they were eligible. It's been a fine Southland debut for Mark Slessinger and his team.
Last week: L 103-63 vs SFA, L 84-71 vs NWST
This week: Thu at Lamar, Sat at SHSU
Incarnate Word Cardinals 20-6, 8-5: Incarnate Word had a two week playoff between games and it showed as they were whacked by McNeese. The Cardinals responded, though, winning at Nicholls locking up a 20 win season. Twelve of those wins were against sub-DI foes, but an 8-5 Southland record far surpasses anything anyone could have imagined before the season. UIW has to replace some size but many of their key contributors, including Denzel Livingston, figure to return next year.
Last week: L 87-72 at McNeese, W 69-67 at Nicholls
This week: Sat at ACU
Abilene Christian Wildcats 11-19, 2-11: ACU dropped a heartbreaker in overtime at McNeese this week. The Wildcats made just one-of-four free throws in the closing seconds, opening the door for McNeese to tie the game at the end of regulation. Abilene Christian will fittingly host Incarnate Word to close out the regular season.
Last weeks L 79-60 at Nicholls, L 95-91 (OT) at McNeese
This week: Sat vs UIW
If the Southland Tournament started today…
#5 Oral Roberts (10-6) vs #8 Southeastern Louisiana (6-10)
#6 Nicholls (9-7) vs #7 McNeese (8-8)
#4 Northwestern State (10-6) vs ORU/SLU
#3 Sam Houston State (11-5) vs Nicholls/McNeese
#1 Stephen F. Austin (16-0) vs NWST/ORU/SLU
#2 A&M-Corpus Christi (12-4) vs SHSU/Nicholls/McNeese
The top eight finishers qualify for the Southland Conference tournament. New Orleans, Incarnate Word, and Abilene Christian are ineligible this season.