The SWAC is back.
According to KenPom, the SWAC finished dead last in adjusted efficiency margin last season. In fact, Alcorn State and Texas Southern were the only two teams in the conference to post overall records above .500.
With tough non-conference schedules testing teams early (and generating some revenue), the SWAC could be in a similar situation this year.
Don’t let that fool you.
When league play starts, plenty of games will go down the wire. The middle of the league is sure to be the most competitive, with four teams finishing knotted at 10-8 in the conference a season ago.
Take a look at the league breakdown for 2017-18:
Mike Davis and his unit have been the gold standard in the SWAC recently, taking three out of four conference tournament titles and four in a row in the regular season. Sophomore point guard Demontrae Jefferson (14.8 ppg, 3.3 apg) will command a platoon full of new arrivals with the help of 6’4 guard Kevin Scott (10.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg). Even with all the roster turnover, rest assured that the Tigers will be polished and ready to defend their crown.
With Texas Southern’s hold on the league a little shaky, coach Wayne Brent and Jackson State are the Tigers’ toughest challenge. Just two seasons ago, the Tigers were a 20-win team before being decimated by injuries last year. That misfortune has given them depth and experience this year. The return of four key players — Chace Franklin, Treshawn Bolden, Charles Taylor Jr., and Paris Collins — gives them a strong nucleus. Bolden sets the tone on defense while Franklin and Collins look to return to their offensive form before their injuries. To spread the floor, JuCo transfer Julian Daughtry from Southwest Tennessee Junior College will need to bring his 42 percent three-point shot to Jackson State.
If you’re looking for the best guard play in the SWAC, look no further than Southern. LaQuentin Collins is coming off knee surgery, but underclassmen guards Brendon Ganaway and Jamar Sandifer are athletic and are expected to generate more production. The key to the Jaguars is second-team All-SWAC center Jared Sam. Sam is the leading returning scorer and rebounder at 13.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. The Jaguars led the SWAC in field goal percentage and were second in field goal percentage defense last year. Keeping a tough defense in the midst of finding offense by committee gives Southern the time to mold into a complete unit.
Don’t sleep on Alcorn State and potential SWAC Player of the Year Reginal Johnson. As the sixth-man last season, Johnson gave the Braves 15.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the field. The Braves return eight players that played a vital role in their run to the SWAC title game. Their veteran backcourt of seniors A.J. Mosby and Avery Patterson provide a poised leadership for a team that should be confident that it can compete with the best in the league.
Prairie View losing its starting backcourt of Tevin Bellinger and Ja’Donta Blakley to graduation leaves a void that will be hard to fill, but senior Zachary Hamilton and his 15 points returns on the perimeter. There are still plenty of opportunities for newcomers and reserves to step up and grasp the opportunity to leave their staple on the SWAC. One such player is transfer Gary Blackston, a 6’3 guard who can score and run the show at point. The Panthers should have a nice balance in style with senior Shay’rone Jett down low, team three-point specialist Troy Thompson, and JuCo transfer Devin Campbell.
Alabama State will rely on Rodney Simeon to take control of an offense that was one of the worst in Division I last season. Simeon is a 6’5 skilled forward whose 12.2 points per game don’t display his full capability. Another wing, Reginald Gee, can spark the Hornets coming off a freshmen year where he shot 36 percent from beyond the arc, good for 10th in the SWAC. Depth will be a challenge for the Hornets and we will see how the front court shapes up. Getting Demetruis Houston back is a start, and Mikel Tyson will bang in the paint.
No matter where you go, losing four seniors and having a one returning starter is tough. Throw in the loss of senior Averyl Ugba to transfer, and now you have a real problem. Junior Nigel Ribeiro is a former SWAC Freshman of the Year, and he will need to be a force for the Tigers to stay afloat.
8. Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils
Andre Payne has a tall order after graduating seven seniors and his four top scorers. In addition, fifth-leading scorer Darrell Riley transferred. Inexperience and youth for the Delta Devils will be a problem, but this gives four freshmen the opportunity to gain game experience. Junior Kylan Phillips is a lockdown defender that ignites the team.
9. Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions
Arkansas-Pine Bluff will need its upperclassmen to have a big season. The Golden Lions’ three returning starters seniors — Trent Steen, Travon Harper, and Joe’Randle Toliver — have to carry the load. Steen is coming off a season where he tried to play through an injury and led the team in rebounding with 4.5 per game. Toliver was second on the team in assists and was one of two players to have a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. The 6’8 forward Harper gives coach George Ivory another guy in the post to run an offense through. While the upperclassmen are expected to play their part, contributions from the entire roster are essential to success.
Developing a culture that embraces the attitude that every possession counts is what new head coach Donnie Marsh is hoping to establish. He is familiar with the SWAC as a former assistant to Mike Davis at Texas Southern, so he understands what is necessary to be successful in this league. Increasing tempo may pay dividends as De’Ederick Petty has the game to help change the style of play. Petty averaged 13.3 points per game last season in an offense that sputtered its way to scoring 61.7 points per game. Junior Mohamed Sherif has to take the next step in his development to begin building on this new foundation.