Southland Conference Preview
The Southland Conference was one of the most underrated conferences in the country last season. It finished as the No.19-ranked conference according to the RPI, and had two teams in the top-100 of the RPI. Furthermore, there was a great race for the conference title, with Stephen F. Austin and Lamar eventually tying for the championship. Lamar had a one-game lead heading into the final day, but it lost to Southeastern Louisiana and had to settle for a tie. Sam Houston State was the only other team to finish with double-digit wins in conference play. The conference tournament featured a surprise, as Texas-Arlington, who finished just 7-9 in league play after playing well in non-conference play, won the automatic bid after knocking off Northwestern State in the title game. UTA fell to Memphis in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament, while Stephen F. Austin lost to Massachusetts in the NIT. This season will feature a wide-open league race at the top.
Favorites: Stephen F. Austin was outstanding last season, until it fell prematurely in the conference tournament and was relegated to the NIT. This season, the Lumberjacks will look to take the next step. Leading the way is returning Player of the Year Josh Alexander, an outstanding long-range shooter. Point guard Eric Bell and Eddie Williams man the backcourt, while all-conference big man Matt Kingsley and Nick Shaw start up front. Texas-Arlington got off to a great start last season before faltering during conference play and then winning the automatic bid. The Mavericks are aiming for more consistency this year. It starts with the inside-outside duo of guard Rog’er Guignard and forward Anthony Vereen, two of the best players in the conference. Anthony Long and Jeremy Smith are solid guards, while Tommy Moffitt can do a variety of things up front. Lamar won the East Division last season at 13-3, but returns just two starters. Luckily, one of those two returnees is Kenny Dawkins, perhaps the best point guard in the league. He is flanked by Brandon McThay in the backcourt. Up front, Justin Nabors is a good scorer and rebounder, but the Cardinals need help from Lawrence Nwevo and Jay Brown.
Contenders: Sam Houston State looked like an at-large threat for much of the season before dropping several games late in the year. Only two starters return. DeLuis Ramirez is primed for a breakout season as the go-to-guy, while Ashton Mitchell will also be more of a factor. Domas Kvedys is the leader up front. Southeastern Louisiana could look like the league favorite during the first half of the season, but might fall back after that. That is because Kevyn Green only has one semester of eligibility remaining. Aside from him, though, there is still talent. Center Patrick Sullivan and forward Warrell Span are both double-figure scorers up front, while Jeremy Dunbar and Chris Cyprian are solid in the backcourt. Northwestern State will field a young team this season, but will remain a title threat. The strength is in the backcourt with Keithan Hancock and Damon Jones as the scorers and Michael McConathy the point guard. C.J. Clark and Devin White form a solid frontcourt tandem.
Sleepers: Texas-San Antonio could make some noise this season, mainly because of its all-conference tandem. Devin Gibson is an excellent all-around point guard, while forward Travis Gabbidon can score and rebound well. Joey Shank also returns as a starter; newcomers will round out the lineup. McNeese State returns two starters from its 7-9 league campaign of a year ago. John Pichon and Kleon Penn are solid up front, while Diego Kapelan is the top perimeter option. However, a solid recruiting class led by three junior college transfers and a highly-touted freshman will make an immediate impact. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will undoubtedly improve this season as it returns four starters from its fifth-place finish in the division. Kevin Perkins and Tim Green form a solid backcourt, while Justin Reynolds is an all-conference performer in the frontcourt. Demond Watt also returns up front. Nicholls State also has promise heading into the season. The Colonels are led by the forward duo of Ryan Bathie and Anthony Bose, two very solid scorers, as well as guard Michael Czepil, who will return after tearing his ACL last season. Dominic Friend and Justin Payne also return.
Rounding out the Pack: Texas State is one of the most exciting teams in college basketball to watch due to its scoring ability, but the Bobcats’ defense leaves a lot to be desired. They are led by Brandon Bush, one of the best players in the conference. Joining him in the frontcourt are center Ty Gough and forward Dylan Moseley. On the perimeter, Brent Benson is a very good three-point shooter and Corey Jefferson and Ryan White split point-guard duties. Central Arkansas is not eligible for postseason play as they are still in the transition phase between being an Independent and a full-fledged Southland member. York Sims and Marcus Pillow form a solid backcourt.
Prediction: Will the Southland be as successful as it was a season ago, finishing in the top-20 of the RPI and having a team with a legit shot at an at-large bid? It looks doubtful, but there will certainly be a terrific race at the top of the standings. Stephen F. Austin returns most of its top guns from last season, while Texas-Arlington has the momentum of its run to the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year. Those two should battle all season long, but I think SFA will win the title when it comes down to it. The Lumberjacks have the league’s best player in Josh Alexander, a great point guard in Eric Bell and a dominant inside performer in Matt Kingsley. Those three will lead Stephen F. Austin to the Big Dance – they won’t falter in the conference tourney this time around.
Player of the Year: Josh Alexander, Stephen F. Austin
G- Devin Gibson, Texas-San Antonio
G- Josh Alexander, Stephen F. Austin
G- Kenny Dawkins, Lamar
F- Brandon Bush, Texas State
C- Matt Kingsley, Stephen F. Austin
G- Rog’er Guignard, Texas-Arlington
G- Eric Bell, Stephen F. Austin
F- Justin Reynolds, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
F- Anthony Vereen, Texas-Arlington
F- Travis Gabiddon, Texas-San Antonio