Stephen F. Austin and Abilene Christian represented the Southland Conference in six of the previous seven NCAA Tournaments. As both programs have transitioned to the Western Athletic Conference, the bid to the Big Dance is up for grabs in Katy, Texas.
The No. 1 seed Nicholls State (21-10, 11-3 Southland) has not seen its name on the NCAA Tournament bracket since 1998, but the Colonels find themselves in prime position to make history.
The top three seeds in the Southland finished within one game of each other, which featured the University of New Orleans (17-12, 10-4 Southland) and Southeastern Louisiana (18-13, 10-4) tied for second in the conference.
Since 2014, New Orleans is the only current Southland Conference member to appear in the NCAA Tournament. The Privateers earned the automatic bid in 2017 after defeating Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in overtime 68-65.
As the actions tips-off in Katy on Wednesday, the Southland Conference is guaranteed to see a new face hoist the trophy. Will Nicholls State advance as the slight favorite or will one of the other Louisiana contenders punch their ticket?
Note: All times EST
Wednesday, March 9 (First Round)
Game 1: (5) Houston Baptist vs. (8) Incarnate Word, 6 p.m, ESPN+
Game 2: (6) Northwestern State vs. (7) McNeese State, 8:30 p.m, ESPN+
Thursday, March 10 (Quarterfinals)
Game 3: (4) Texas A&M-CC vs. (5) HBU/(8) Incarnate Word winner, 6 p.m., ESPN+
Game 4: (3) New Orleans vs (6) Northwestern St./(7) McNeese St. winner, 8:30 p.m., ESPN+
Friday, March 11 (Semifinals)
Game 5: (1) Nicholls State vs. Game 3 winner, 6 p.m., ESPN+
Game 6: (2) Southeastern Louisiana vs. Game 4 winner, 8:30 p.m., ESPN+
Saturday, March 11 (Finals)
Game 7: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner
Nicholls State (21-10, 11-3 Southland)
The Colonels earned the regular season championship in the Southland, powered by Southland Conference Player of the Year Ty Gordon. The Tunica, Miss., native averaged 21.6 points per game, good for first in the Southland and ninth in all of college basketball.
Devante Carter earned All-Southland Second Team honors, pouring in 11.7 points per game and leading the league in assists (3.8 assists per contest).
Senior Latrell Jones and graduate transfer Ryghe Lyons were voted to the All-Southland Third Team, while Lyons also earned a place on the All-Defensive Team in the Southland. Nicholls State’s four all-conference selections were the most in the Southland.
The quartet of Colonels helped Austin Claunch’s squad rank No. 1 in the league in field goal percentage (47%) and turnover margin (+2.9). The offensive attack led by Ty Gordon is among the best in the Southland, ranking second with 79.6 points per game.
As Nicholls State seeks their first NCAA Tournament bid in the 21st century, other contenders from The Pelican State will look to steal a spot in the Field of 68.
Southeastern Louisiana (18-12, 10-4 Southland)
Nicholls State’s kryptonite during the regular season came in the form of Southeastern Louisiana, as the Lions were victorious in all three contests (one in non-conference play) against the Colonels. Although Southland Player of the Year Ty Gordon missed the first matchup of the season, Southeastern Louisiana won by an average of five points per contest.
Owning the league’s best scoring offense with 79.7 points per game, the Lions head to Katy as the No. 2 seed.
Fueled by Southland Coach of the Year, David Kiefer, and Southland Defensive Player of the Year, Jayln Hinton, Southeastern Louisiana will look to clinch its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2005.
Junior Gus Okafor earned All-Southland First Team honors, leading the Lions with 15.2 points per contest. The senior duo of Keon Clergeot (13.1 PPG, 3.3 APG) and Hinton (14.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG) were voted to the All-Southland Second Team, rounding out the honors in Hammond, La.
Hinton sits atop multiple categories in the Southland, leading the conference in both field-goal percentage (65%) and blocks (2.2 blocks per game).
With Kiefer’s squad earning a bye to the semifinals, don’t be surprised if the Lions are favorites over the Colonels heading into Saturday’s final.
New Orleans (17-12, 10-4 Southland)
Despite tying for second in the conference standings, the Privateers will be the No. 3 seed in Katy, earning a place in the quarterfinals.
The guard tandem of Derek St. Hilaire (20.8 PPG) and Troy Green (16.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG) earned all-conference honors, both headlining the All-Southland First Team.
The Privateers defeated Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana in back-to-back contests in January, cementing their status among the top tier of the Southland.
Led by Mark Slessinger, New Orleans will seek their second trip to the Big Dance under his guidance. A conference championship will be tough but not impossible, as the Privateers will likely face Southeastern Louisiana in the semifinals. Nicholls State would the likely opponent in the Southland finals.
The Darkhorse: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (20-11, 7-7 Southland)
With first-year head coach Steve Lutz at the helm, the Islanders were one of just two teams in the Southland to reach the 20-win mark.
Led by a duo of transfers in Isaac Mushila and Trevian Tennyson, Corpus Christi finished fourth in the conference, earning more victories than their previous two seasons combined.
Mushila led the Islanders in scoring and rebounding with 14.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, good enough to earn Southland Newcomer of the Year and a spot on the All-Southland Second Team.
Tennyson earned a spot on the All-Southland Third Team, tallying 12.5 points per contest.
Although Lutz’s squad faces an uphill battle to clinch a spot in the Southland Finals, watch out for the Islanders if they advance to the semifinals against Nicholls State.
Although Nicholls State is the favorite in Katy, Southeastern Louisiana has had the Colonels’ number this season. As difficult as beating a team four times in a season may be, I do not see the Colonels coming out of the Southland. The Lions will beat Nicholls State in a close contest to advance to their first NCAA Tournament in 17 years.