The conference with the best bands and some amazing basketball is gearing up for postseason play. Texas Southern has dominated the landscape of the conference as of late, winning four out of the last five tournaments and three out of the last regular season titles. But Prairie View A&M has shaken things up and proved its worth. The Panthers went 17-1 and won the regular season title by three games, and are the clear favorite heading into the tournament. Texas Southern is still dangerous, but Jackson State and Grambling could shake things up.
The first round of games will be held on campus sites, which means competitive and festive atmospheres. In a 10-team conference, there will only be eight seeds in the SWAC tournament (sorry Alabama A&M and Mississippi Valley State, you’ll be missed).
Let’s talk about this #SWACtion and see who could clinch the conference’s automatic bid to the Big Dance.
Tuesday, March 12th - Quarterfinals
Times will be set by respective schools, games Quarterfinal games will be held on campuses of top four seeds.
Watch: Sites of Hosting Schools
Game 1: Prairie View A&M (#1 Seed) vs Alcorn State (#8 Seed)
Game 2 Grambling State (#4 Seed) vs Arkansas Pine-Bluff (#5 Seed)
Game 4 Texas Southern (#2 Seed) vs Southern (#7 Seed)
Game 4 Jackson State (#3 Seed) vs Alabama State (#6 Seed)
Friday, March 15, Semifinals
Watch: ESPN 3
Prairie View A&M (#1 Seed) or Alcorn State (#8 Seed) vs Grambling State (#4 Seed) vs Arkansas Pine-Bluff (#5 Seed), 2:30pm
Texas Southern (#2 Seed) or Southern (#7 Seed) vs Jackson State (#3 Seed) or Alabama State (#6 Seed), 8:30pm
Saturday, March 16, Championship
Watch: ESPN U
Winner of Semifinal 1 vs Winner of Semifinal 2, 5pm
Prairie View A&M (17-1 SWAC)
There are only four teams in the nation to have less than two losses in conference play. Gonzaga, Wofford, UC Irvine, and Prairie View A&M are those schools. And what’s impressive about the Panthers run, is that they did that on an 18-game conference schedule. Their only SWAC loss came against Texas Southern. The loss seemed to push the Panthers even more as they finished a few close games and lit up the scoreboards in others as they are on an eight-game winning streak.
The Panthers are second in the league in scoring and rank first in turnover margin. The team is not the best in the league defensively but they know how to clamp down when needed; their record in close games proves this. Gary Blackston is a key component of this team, being ranked third in scoring within the SWAC. He’s scored in double figures in 15 out of the 17 conference games he’s played in this season. Although scoring less than last season, Blackston has decreased his turnovers and fouls. Devonte Patterson and Gerard Andrus are players of note as well. In the final game of the regular season, Patterson lit up Alcorn State for 32 points in a game that the Braves could not control. Andrus consistent scores in double figures as well.
PVAMU is just on a streak right now. Coach Byron Smith led the Panthers to their best overall and conference record since they joined Division I. The Panthers clutch gene and their current historical run is hard to beat right now. Teams may be able to keep up but the Panthers hold their destiny in their hands.
Texas Southern (14-4 SWAC)
After beating Texas A&M, the Tigers started 2-3 in SWAC play. They went 12-1 for the rest of the season. In his first season, Johnny Jones did his best to maintain TSU’s nationally-known momentum and also fend off some tougher play within the conference. It’s true pressure. Their 14-4 conference record is only the sixth best conference record since 2010. Jones proved that he can keep the momentum was made easier having Jeremy Combs scoring 17 points a game, and ranked second in the conference for scoring. The LSU transfer has been on a tear this season. He scores a lot and is efficient while doing so. Jayln Patterson also transferred from LSU like Combs. He’s doubled his scoring output from last season and is always in the mix for the Tigers.
The Tigers are ready for another run but on the last night of the season, they ran into some furious Jaguars. Their opponents for the opening round of the SWAC tournament delivered a blow to the Tigers. Southern is the seven seed and the Jags got a nice 10-point victory over the Tigers on Saturday night. They will have to go back to the drawing board as both teams will face off on Tuesday. But if all goes well, TSU is on a good path for another tournament berth.
Teams to Watch Out For
Jackson State (10-8)
A late push after a four-game losing streak helped the Tigers secure the third seed in the SWAC tournament. Their 4-1 finish to the season has JSU on a good pace. Venjie Wells and Chris Howell are players to watch.
Grambling State (10-8)
Which side of the Tigers will we see? Grambling has won and lost all of its SWAC games in consecutive order. Their up and down season as filled with close losses and some good victories along the way. Ivy Smith Jr and Dallas Polk-Hillard will be looking to settle things down.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (10-8)
Martaveous McKnight can take over this tournament. If he does, watch out. Only one game is promised — the opening round — and to get to the NCAA Tournament, it will take some work. Getting through Grambling in the first round will lead to a well-needed rematch against PVAMU. He scored no points in 31 minutes of play in a 48-44 loss; one of the lowest scoring games for both teams during conference play. UAPB can flip everything, even before the finals.
From those who watched the SWAC this season, they understand Prairie View A&M can win it all. But for college basketball fans who are familiar with March Madness, Texas Southern is a consistent and reliable pick. It’s kind of like what’s going on in the MEAC, the SWAC’s common counterpart. Norfolk State had a record-breaking season but most fans can’t rule our NC Central; the class of the conference on the hardwood.
Same situation here, PVAMU lost only one game in league play, while Texas Southern had a rough season to its standards. Key word here is its standards. Overall, TSU had another good season and can return back to the Big Dance.
Overall, if these teams can avoid trip-ups; expect one of these teams to win the whole thing.