The Southwestern Athletic Conference was the worst conference in the country last season, by a large margin. Only one team had an RPI higher than 249, Alabama State, which was ranked just No. 193. Furthermore, the conference had just eight non-conference wins – as a whole. The Hornets were the only team to finish above .500 overall, despite going just 1-6 in the non-conference. In terms of the conference race, there wasn’t much of one, since ASU won it by three games over Mississippi Valley State, who finished 12-6. However, in the conference tournament, ASU bowed out before the finals, opening the door for MVSU to knock off Jackson State and advance to the NCAA Tournament. The Delta Devils were throttled by UCLA once they got there, while ASU was bounced in the first-round of the NIT by Arizona State. This season should be closer than last year – but don’t expect the SWAC to be better as a whole.
Favorites: Jackson State returns four starters last season, including Player of the Year candidate Grant Maxey. He combines with fellow all-conference big man Jeremy Caldwell to form a potent inside duo. On the perimeter, Darrion Griffin can really fill it up from the wing. Alabama A&M would like to get above .500 this season. The Bulldogs are led by Trant Simpson, arguably the league’s best point guard, while Evan Hilton is a very solid scorer and rebounder in the backcourt. Jonathan Belt could be due for a breakout season up front. Alabama State wants to take the next step to the NCAA Tournament this year. It starts with one of the top backcourt combos in the league, Player of the Year Andrew Hayles and Brandon Brooks, an outstanding passer. 7-1 Chief Kickingstallionsims and Ole Miss transfer Wesley Jones lead the way up front.
Contenders: Southern boasts a deep and talented perimeter group, led by Chris Davis. The all-conference guard can score at a high clip and also play solid defense. Steffon Wiley mans the point for the Jaguars. Up front, the returning Freshman of the Year, Barry Honore, leads the way. Mississippi Valley State has a lot of work to do if it wants to get back to the NCAA Tournament. The Delta Devils have a good starting point, though, in the returning backcourt of Dwayne Harmason and Michael Clark. Eric Petty needs to take the next step in the frontcourt.
Sleepers: Texas Southern is led by a very good trio in guards Sollie Norwood and Matthew Miller, and forward Jacques Jones, who is back from injury. Davis Burrell is a solid all-around point guard for the Tigers. Grambling State finished strong last season, and will look to carry that over. The Tigers have a great frontcourt, including Andrew Prestley and Jarred Riley, two athletic forwards, and Jamal Breaux, a bruising center. Jordan Lemons and newcomers lead the backcourt.
Rounding out the Pack: Prairie View has eight players with starting experience, but JC transfer Christopher Jones and freshman Alex Richman could start immediately. Derek Johnson is one of the best all-around guards in the SWAC. Tarrence Garrison leads the way up front. Arkansas Pine-Bluff loses its top four players from last season, leaving juniors George Davis, Terrance Calvin and Tyree Glass to pick up the pieces for the Golden Lions. Gavin Montgomery needs to become more of a factor on the wing. Alcorn State has only five players returning from last season after ten players departed. Troy Jackson and Anthony Ford form a solid scoring duo on the wing, with Jumane Reed running the point. Jarvis Williams is the headliner up front.
Prediction: The SWAC could feature a very good race for the top spot this season, although I wouldn’t expect the league as a whole to get out of the cellar of the conference rankings. Jackson State has a dominant inside duo in Grant Maxey and Jeremy Caldwell, while Alabama A&M and Alabama State have outstanding backcourts. The difference could be Jackson State’s inside-outside balance with Darrion Griffin scoring from the perimeter to take the pressure off Maxey and Caldwell. If Wesley Jones makes a major impact for Alabama State, they will definitely be a factor. Unfortunately, whoever wins the conference will likely be relegated to the play-in game for the NCAA Tournament.
Player of the Year: Grant Maxey, F, Jackson State
G- Andrew Hayles, Alabama State
G- Trant Simpson, Alabama A&M
G- Brandon Books, Alabama State
F- Grant Maxey, Jackson State
C- Jeremy Caldwell, Jackson State
G- Chris Davis, Southern
G- Troy Jackson, Alcorn State
G- Evan Hilton, Alabama A&M
G- Darrion Griffin, Jackson State
G- Sollie Norwood, Texas Southern