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Southland Tournament primer: Stephen F. Austin has the name, but Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has the firepower

The Southland is open for whoever can get hot this week.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M CC at St. Mary's Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Southland Tournament bracket is set as eight teams prepare to battle it out from March 8 to 11 in Katy, Texas for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

This season in the Southland was a changing of the guard of sorts with the New Orleans Privateers capturing the regular season title for the first time in school history, going 13-5 in conference and 18-11 overall. New Orleans’ last regular season conference title was back in 1997 while it was a member of the Sun Belt. The Privateers will look to break Stephen F. Austin’s streak of three consecutive berths in the NCAA Tournament as the Southland champions.

Senior forward Erik Thomas leads New Orleans and was named the Conference Player of the Year when the regular season ended. Thomas led the league in field goal percentage (.603), was second in scoring (19.7 per game), and fifth in rebounding (7.9 per game).

The Southland Tournament will tip off on March 8 at 5 p.m. CT with the No. 5 seed Sam Houston State facing No. 8 seed Central Arkansas. 7 seed Southeastern Louisiana faces 6 seed Lamar in the second game of the opening-night doubleheader.

Where to watch:

The entire tournament will stream on WatchESPN.com and the ESPN/WatchESPN apps, while the championship game will also air on ESPN2 on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

Three things to watch:

  1. The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks have been the kings of the Southland in recent memory but have struggled at times this season. They enter the tournament as the No. 3 seed. Can first-year head coach Kyle Keller work some magic and make it a fourth -straight NCAA tournament appearance for SFA?
  2. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi was the bridesmaid last season, losing in the final to SFA. Senior forward Rashawn Thomas is a first-team All-Conference player with pro potential, and he would like nothing more than to showcase his talent in front of millions and to bring the Islanders back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.
  3. So far, three top seeds — Belmont, Monmouth and Oakland — have already stumbled in their conference tournaments. New Orleans needs to stay focused and not let its impressive 2016-17 campaign go to waste.

Prediction:

In the preseason, you had to stick with Stephen F. Austin as the champs based on their impressive run over the past few years. However, it appears as though it’s going to take the Lumberjacks some time to re-tool following the graduation of key players like Thomas Walkup and Trey Pinkney. The 2017 Southland is wide open for whoever can get hot this week, but you have to like the chances of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to come out on top and claim the Southland. Rashawn Thomas will put the team on his back and will the Islanders to their first NCAA bid in a decade.