We’re in the second year of a “new look” Southland after the WAC came through and stole most of the leagues perennial powers. Last year, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi came from the fourth spot to win the title in a bit of a surprise, but backed it up this year with a regular season title. In hot pursuit are the Northwestern State Demons, who notched a huge road victory over ranked TCU among other strong showings, and finished just one game behind the Islanders. Also lurking are the Southeastern Louisiana Lions, who nearly won the title last year, and Nicholls State, who have been close-but-no-cigar for several years now. Will the Islanders repeat, or is it time to see a new face in the tournament for the first time in 10 years or more?
All times CST; tournament held in Lake Charles, Louisiana at the Legacy Center.
Sunday, March 5
Game 1: No. 8 McNeese vs. Texas A&M-Commerce, 5 p.m., ESPN+
Game 2: No. 7 New Orleans vs. No. 6 Houston Christian, 7:30 p.m., ESPN+
Monday, March 6
Game 3: Game 1 winner vs. No. 4 Nicholls, 5 p.m. ESPN+
Game 4: Game 2 winner vs. No. 3 Southeastern, 7:30 p.m., ESPN+
Tuesday, March 7
Game 5: Game 3 winner vs. No. 1 Texas A&M Corpus-Christi, 5:30 p.m., ESPNU
Game 6: Game 4 winner vs. No. 2 Northwestern State, 8 p.m., ESPN+
Wednesday, March 8
Game 7: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 4 p.m., ESPN2.
Texas A&M Corpus-Christi (21-10, 14-4 Southland) is gunning for their second NCAA Tournament bid in as many years, and they are well on their way after winning the regular season crown. That, and, they’re playing their best ball of the season at the most important point, having won 10 of their last 11.
This team can win a lot of ways. They’re the league leader in 3-point percentage and opponent 3-point percentage, rebounds, assists; second in free throws made and attempted (first in free-throw percentage), and, unsurprisingly, lead the league in scoring. This team, of course, knows what it takes to play in the big dance; they also know a lot in general, with seven seniors as key rotation players, led by Trey Tennyson, Isaac Mushila, and Terrion Murdix.
Northwestern State (21-10, 13-5) has drawn some eyeballs ever since their road win at TCU; that was one of several strong non-conference showings, and they’ve kept it up in conference play. Damarcus Sharp has been awesome for the Demons all season and has shown an ability to simply take over a game at times, but Ja’Monta Black, Jalen Hampton and Isaac Haney present viable scoring options as well. This is another hot team, having won 11 of 13 (although they’ve lost two of their last four games). And, of course, the Demons have Hansel Emmanuel, the one-armed sensation, who has pitched in more and more as the season has progressed.
Southeastern Louisiana (18-13, 12-6) came up just short in last year’s conference championship game, and were a tough out all season. The Lions looked as though they’d be a top two seed after going on an run early on, including beating Corpus Christi on the road, before dropping four straight in early February, though they rebounded with four straight wins to end the year. This team, more than any other Southland team, will want to score inside. South Dakota transfer Boogie Anderson leads the team in scoring, while 6’ 5” Roger McFarlane patrols the inside.
Austin Claunch has brought consistency to a Nicholls (16-14, 11-7) program that has lurked near the top of the league for several seasons in a row but still hasn’t made the NCAA field since 1998. They were blocked from advancing by some higher powered Stephen F. Austin and Abilene Christian teams before they both departed. It feels like this team is deserving of a bid soon. Caleb Huffman and Latrell Jones lead this squad into Lake Charles, who are holding opponents to the second-least points in the league.
Kudos to Texas A&M-Commerce (13-19, 9-9) for finishing in the top half of their league in Year One. Demarcus Demonia stuck it out to his senior year in his first year of transition, and leads a pesky group into Lake Charles that could surprise some people.
New Orleans (10-19, 7-11) won three of their first four league games, then lost nine in a row (while being affected by injuries), before winning four in a row, including against Northwestern State and Nicholls State, before dropping their last one. Not a team you might want to bet on, but this young team is a bit of a wild card.
Houston Christian (10-21, 7-11) formerly Houston Baptist until … literally midseason, has a nice win over Corpus Christi, but has only won three of their last 11 games, and allows the most points in the Southland.
McNeese (9-22, 6-12) was in danger most of the year of missing out on the tournament that they are hosting, but won four of seven late to just barely sneak in. The Cowboys coming away with the tourney title would be an all-time shock.
Players to Watch
DeMarcus Sharp, Northwestern State: 18.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.8 apg, 56.0 3P%, POY
Terrion Murdix, A&M-Corpus Christi: 13.7 ppg. 4.5 rpg, 5.6 apg, 51.4 3P%, DPOY
Isaac Mushila, A&M-Corpus Christi: 14.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 55.3 FG%
Caleb Huffman, Nicholls: 16.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 51.7 FG%
Boogie Anderson, Southeastern Louisiana: 14.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.4 apg
Trevian Tennyson, A&M-Corpus Christi: 15.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg
Ja’Monta Black, Northwestern State: 15.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg
Demarcus Demonia, A&M-Commerce: 15.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg
Christian Shumate, McNeese: 13.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 54.8 FG%
Jordan Johnson, New Orleans: 11.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 61.8 FG%
Latrell Jones, Nicholls: 14.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg
Nick Caldwell, Southeastern Louisiana: 11.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 51.0 FG%
Brycen Long, Houston Christian: 15.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.3 apg
Maks Klanjscek, Houston Christian: 14.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.5 apg
Hansel Emmanuel, Northwestern State: 1.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg, *he has one arm*
It’s going to be Northwestern State and Corpus Christi, the two best and the two hottest teams in the final, with the Demons taking the rematch and going to their first NCAA Tournament in 10 seasons.