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SWAC Preseason rankings: It’s Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s time to shine

Arkansas-Pine Bluff is ready to end the reign of Texas Southern.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Trae Jefferson was a major talking point in the world of college hoops. He slashed defenses and was just that guy, as he led Texas Southern to the NCAA Tournament.

But if you rewind, the SWAC was more than just the Tigers. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Prairie View A&M, and Grambling State played well in the conference slate. Arkansas-Pine Bluff took the top seed in the SWAC tournament due to Grambling’s postseason ban, only to fall in the title game to Texas Southern.

But Jefferson is gone and so is coach Mike Davis. With TSU in limbo, it might be time for the SWAC to have a new top team. Here are the SWAC power rankings:

1. Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions (14-21, 12-6 SWAC)

The last time we saw UAPB, it was in a 15-point loss to the Tigers in the conference title game. Martaveous McKnight is back with the Golden Lions and he’s ready to strike. The SWAC Newcomer and Player of the Year scored in double figures 22 times and led the team to a six-win improvement in conference play.

This year, he’s going to be the talk of the town.

2. Grambling State Tigers (17-14, 13-5 SWAC)

Grambling won its first outright regular season title last year after a 30-year wait. But, NCAA APR violations stopped them from participating in the postseason. With the postseason available this year, reigning SWAC Coach of the Year Donte’ Jackson and the Tigers are a team to watch.

Guard Ivy Smith Jr was the heartbeat of the Tigers last year. He averaged 16.7 points, shot 81 percent from the free throw line, and led the team in steals and assists. He was everywhere, and expect the same this year.

3. Prairie View A&M Panthers (16-18, 12-6 SWAC)

Gary Blackston averaged 19.2 points last season, helping to lead Prairie View to the 2 seed in the SWAC Tournament. Just like UAPB, they also fell victim to Texas Southern. The Panthers has a good chance to dominate in conference play this year. With their core returning and grad transfer Taishaun Johnson joining the fray, the Panthers have the tools to take the SWAC title.

4. Texas Southern Tigers (16-20, 12-6 SWAC)

Brian Carey, Damontrae Jefferson, Divonte Lumpkin, Jerry Perry, and K.J. Scott are all gone for Texas Southern. So is former coach Mike Davis.

Johnny Jones is taking over in Houston. Prior to arriving at TSU, Jones served as the Nevada Wolf Pack’s associate head coach. Jones came to Nevada after five seasons as the head coach at LSU where he won 90 games in five seasons — a school record for that span. He has Jalyn Patterson from LSU and Jeremy Combs from North Texas transferring into the program as well who are immediately eligible to play.

What’s going to be cool to watch is how the rest of the SWAC gets excited about a potential new top team. Ending TSU’s dominance is a storyline this season. But Jones has the pieces to keep Texas Southern at the top.

5. Jackson State Tigers (12-20, 9-9 SWAC)

After a 17-1 conference record in 2009-10, the JSU basketball program has fallen off the radar. Current coach Wayne Brent has only had one winning season so far in his tenure.

It will be interesting to see how Jackson State is this season. If Texas Southern falls, then the Tigers can have some say so in the SWAC title race. They aren’t a favorite but can turn into a trap game for some teams.

6. Southern Jaguars (15-18, 10-8 SWACl)

Southern is in a transitional phase with new coach Sean Woods taking over in April after a year-long search. The Jags picked up Alex Ennis from Morgan State. Ennis didn’t get as much play time in Baltimore so a change of scenery will help. The 6’10 forward has a lot left in the tank.

7. Alcorn State Braves (11-21, 7-11 SWAC)

Maurice Howard is that man for the Braves this season. Last season, he broke the Alcorn State single-season record in three-pointers with 74 (ranked third in the SWAC). He only started eight games last season, but that will change. With a few departures and a smaller roster, Howard will be the man to call on.

8. Alabama State Hornets (8-23, 8-10 SWAC)

Alabama State can make some progress if things fall its way. Reginald Gee, the Hornets’ leading scorer from last year, is back. He averaged 15.5 per game last season. The Hornets have the SWAC Freshman of the Year returning to the team as well. Jacoby Ross added some flare to the team, even as a freshman. His sophomore campaign could be an epic one to say the least.

9. Alabama A&M Bulldogs (3-28, 3-15 SWAC)

The Bulldogs’ leading scorer is back. Arthur Johnson averaged 11.2 points per game and started 29 of A&M’s 31 games last season. The A&M program ranked low in most team categories last season, so hope for much-needed improvements this season.

10. Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils (4-28, 4-14 SWAC)

In 2017-18, the Delta Devils had their second-worst season since 1978. The team was rather young and inexperienced. The program will have another rough season as four players transferred out the program.