The last SWAC team to win a game in the NCAA Tournament was Arkansas Pine-Bluff in 2010, and no SWAC team has advanced to the Round of 32 since 1993 (ed. note: Ellie was like -30 in 1993).
Texas Southern is looking for its third tournament appearance in the last four years. The Tigers are the class of the SWAC, and few seem ready to challenge them.
The Tigers lead the SWAC with an 8-1 conference record, two games better than second-place Alcorn State. But the gap is really wider than that. Alcorn State is just 9-11 overall, and earlier this season lost by 23 to an Evansville team that is 1-9 in the Missouri Valley. Although Texas Southern has suffered some horrific losses against ranked opponents, the Tigers have beaten Rice and barely lost to UT Arlington.
Zach Lofton is averaging a conference-high 18 points per game and racking up a ton of steals. If the Tigers want to keep up their level of play, the former Illinois State Redbird will need to continue to score in bunches.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they are without former AP All-American Honorable Mention forward Derrick Griffin. The sophomore left the team despite averaging 11.3 points per game and 10.9 rebounds per game so he can focus on preparation for the NFL Draft. Griffin was last year’s SWAC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in basketball, and was all-SWAC in football, leading the league in touchdowns with 11 in 2015.
However, Texas Southern has another weapon in the form of Demontrae Jefferson. The 5’7 freshman is averaging 14.1 points per game. Do I smell another Isaiah Thomas comparison brewing? After missing the first eight games of the season, Jefferson came out on fire. He’s been the Tigers’ hope against powerhouses, most evident when he scored 27 against then-No. 11 Louisville and 13 against then-No. 25 Cincinnati. If he limits turnovers and improves his shooting efficiency from beyond the arc, Jefferson could be quite the player this year and in the future.
Another set of Tigers in the SWAC (Grambling State) have put together a nice winning streak, winning three of their last four games. The nice thing about Grambling is that its starting five is relatively balanced. Recently, seniors Ervin Mitchell and Remond Brown have been heroes for the Tigers and Avery Ugba is averaging nearly a double-double with 10.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. If Grambling is the SWAC dark horse, Alcorn State looks to be the most likely contender. The Braves have won four straight thanks to a balanced attack from Reginal Johnson, who has four double-doubles on the season, and Marquis Vance.
According to Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology, Texas Southern is currently set as No. 16 and would play Kansas in Tulsa. For the Tigers to shape up and even keep it within 20, two other players will need to let loose: Marvin Jones and Kevin Scott.
Jones is serving as Griffin’s key fill-in, and has done an admirable job. Last Monday, he recorded 11 rebounds and four blocks in a 45 point win over Alabama A&M. Scott will also be key in the tournament as he holds the highest 3-point percentage on the team (37.0%).
Should the Tigers get in, they could have what it takes to become household names in March.