The 2019 Prairie View A&M Panthers season taught us two things.
- Never give up.
- Non-conference play is often meaningless.
A difficult schedule of road games to generate cash left the Panthers at 1-11 to start the year. Meanwhile, Texas Southern won road games at Oregon and Baylor (both in the NCAA Tournament now!), leaving little doubt to prognosticators about who would win the SWAC. But Prairie View A&M got a lot better, winning 21 of its remaining 22 games and making its first NCAA Tournament since 1998 with a win over Texas Southern (hopefully this will go better than its last appearance, which ended in a 110-52 loss to Kansas). From a preseason Kenpom ranking of No. 299, the Panthers now lead the SWAC at 209th.
Prairie View’s win over Texas Southern was one of the most entertaining mid-major games of the year, a seesawing contest that ended 96-92 for the Panthers. Head coach Byron Smith has really turned this program around from the bottom of the SWAC over the past three years. His win totals have steadily increased from 13 to 16 to 22. The reward for his work is a Dayton matchup against Fairleigh Dickinson of the NEC. Prairie View plays at a fast tempo and likes to get to the line as much as possible. Defensively, Prairie View ranks second in the country in forcing turnovers. No matter what, the game in Dayton should be entertaining.
In other standout stats, Panthers are fourth in the country in free throws attempted per game. Senior Gary Blackston has taken 193 free throws this season, more than some guy named Zion Williamson on Duke. Blackston is really representative of Prairie View as a team: he gets a ton of steals, gets to the line (74th of all players in fouls drawn per 40 minutes), and isn’t very good at shooting (47/32/65, yikes). He does average 15.7/7/1.8 per game, which is not too shabby, but Prairie View will need to be as efficient on offense as it was in the SWAC Tournament (86, 81 and 92 points in its three games).
Another interesting player is senior center Devonte Patterson, who had three games with 32, 25 and 24 points before the Texas Southern win. Patterson’s battle against veteran Fairleigh Dickinson center Mike Holloway could decide the game.