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SWAC Tournament Preview: Will Texas Southern find another way to the big dance?

The Tigers have got 6 of the last 7 automatic bids in the league.

LSU v Texas Tech Photo by John Weast/Getty Images

There’s not a more competitive league in the country, ask stat GOAT Ken Pomeroy. The SWAC ranks first in close games, having 31.1% of conference play end with overtime or a result with a difference of four or fewer points.

This season, the league added two new members but only one will make the conference tournament. While Florida A&M had a strong start at 11-7, Bethune-Cookman struggled after taking last season off due to COVID-19.

Outside of that, it’s mostly the same usual suspects in the league’s tournament — the Texas Southerns, Jackson States, and the Prairie View A&Ms. There’s just a new team at the top, Alcorn State. The Braves won their first conference regular-season title in 20 seasons as they look to clinch their first trip to the big dance in the same amount of time.

Wacky things seem to happen at Bartow in March, so we’ll see what happens.

Bracket

Schedule

Quarterfinals (Wednesday, March 9th and Thursday, March 10th), ESPN+

Game 1: No. 7 Jackson State vs No. 2 Texas Southern, 3 p.m. EST (Wednesday)

Game 2: No. 8 Prairie View A&M vs No. 1 Alcorn State, 9:30 p.m. EST (Wednesday)

Game 3: No. 6 Grambling State vs No. 3 Southern, 3 p.m. EST (Thursday)

Game 4: No. 5 Alabama A&M vs No. 4 Florida A&M, 9:30 p.m. EST (Thursday)

Semifinals (Friday, March 11th), ESPN+

Game 5: Game 1 Winner vs Game 3 Winner, 3 p.m. EST

Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs Game 4 Winner, 9:30 p.m. EST

Finals (Saturday, March 12th), ESPNU

Game 7: Game 5 Winner vs Game 6 Winner, 6 p.m. EST

The Favorite

Texas Southern (15-12, 13-5): You can give them the damn No. 8-seed and I would still pick Texas Southern as the favorite. They always find a way to make the tournament.

Looking for their sixth bid in the last seven NCAA Tournaments, the Tigers will look to make it to the tournament as the No. 2-seed in the SWAC Tournament.

Led by their stout defense, TSU pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season when they beat Florida in Gainesville on a random Monday night in December. No single player averages double-digit scoring on this team, so they share the wealth.

Big man and transfer from Houston, Brison Gresham has been big for the Tigers down low of late, ranking 12thin block percentage, 13th in offensive rating, 49th in two-point percentage, and 71st in defensive rating. Along with him, the Tigers have five significant contributors or better.

The Darkhorses

Alcorn State (15-15, 14-4): The Braves have been excellent and that’s resulted in their first conference regular-season title since 2002. Winners of six straight, they’re one of those teams who just find ways late. Yeah, they battled some good teams in the non-conference, but eight of their 13 conference wins were by two possessions or less. It’s a testament to the SWAC coach of the year Landon Bussie to keep pulling out these victories for the Braves.

Southern (17-13, 12-6): Southern has struggled of late, losing three of its last five, but when they can make you commit silly turnovers, they’re dirty. Ranking third in the country in turnover percentage, the Jags force a turnover every four plays. They’re led by their three-headed scoring monster of Tyrone Lyons, Brion Whitley, and Jayden Saddler.

Florida A&M (13-16, 11-7): Welcome to the SWAC, Florida A&M. They took no time to get acclimated into the league as MJ Randolph won player of the year, averaging 18.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He is also the most used player in the country. You give him the ball and he runs with it over this week and the Rattlers might make their first big dance since 2007.

The Longshots

Jackson State (11-18, 9-9): Jayveous McKinnis is still at Jackson and he’s racked up another award. This season’s defensive player of the year, McKinnis ranked 29th in the country in defensive rating along with 32ndin steal percentage. It’s Wayne Brent’s last go-around before he retires, and the Tigers bring in NBA legend Mo Williams as its head coach. Can he finally get over the hump and take them to the big dance? They’ve won three straight.

Prairie View A&M (8-18, 8-10): They may have snuck their way in but never count out a Byron Smith-coached team. I mean, he did coach the Globetrotters for what it’s worth. Another good turnover team, the Panthers are led by guard Jawaun Daniels who averaged 15.3 points per game.

Players to Watch

Justin Thomas, Alcorn State (10.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.2 APG, 48.4% FG%)

Joirdon Karl Nicholas, Texas Southern (9.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 59.8% FG%)

Brison Gresham, Texas Southern (7.2 PPG, 7 RPG, 64.4% FG%)

Tyrone Lyons, Southern (13.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 50.6% FG%)

Brion Whitley, Southern (11.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 42.7% FG%)

Jayden Saddler, Southern (11.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.1 APG, 48% FG%)

MJ Randolph, Florida A&M (18.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.7 APG, 47.2% FG%)

Bryce Moragne, Florida A&M (10.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 56.3% FG%)

Jalen Johnson, Alabama A&M (15.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 46.8%)

Cam Christon, Grambling (13.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 43.1% FG%)

Jayveous McKinnis, Jackson State (12.3 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 56.2% FG%)

Jawaun Daniels, Prairie View A&M (15.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 44.9% FG%)

Prediction

You cannot bet against Texas Southern come SWAC Tournament time. They always find a way to make the big dance, no matter its seed. I think they end up beating Alcorn State in the title game by a score of 68-66.