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BtB 2009-10 Southwestern Athletic Conference Preview

The first decade of the 21st century was not an easy one for the two Division I conferences populated by Historically Black Colleges and Universities. However, things were just a little bit easier for the MEAC than their SWAC counterparts.

Twenty MEAC and SWAC teams appeared in the ten tournaments held in the '00s. These twenty appearances resulted in only two tourney wins, and only one of those occurred in the First Round proper (Hampton of the MEAC over Iowa State in 2001). The other was a 72-57 win for the MEAC's Florida A&M over Lehigh in the 2004 Opening Round. As the Pirates and Rattlers both fell at the next hurdle, HBCUs combined to go 2-20 in the NCAAs during the '00s.

Unlike the '90s, when the two conferences combined to go 2-18 in the NCAAs, the SWAC didn't manage a single win in NCAA play in the first decade of the new millennium. (Southern drubbed Georgia Tech by 15 in a 1993 first rounder in Tucson.) The two leagues didn't even get bids in 1991, as they both lost play-in games that the NCAA doesn't consider to be part of Tournament play. Which brings us to the biggest obstacle these two leagues face at the moment, the Opening Round that the NCAA does happen to consider official.

While Alabama State and Hampton (a 15 seed) were lucky enough to avoid the inaugural edition in 2001, every subsequent tournament opener has featured one, but not both, HBCU entrants. Even if the result is the 70-29 drubbing Mississippi Valley State took at the hands of UCLA in 2008, the selection committee is careful to not put both the MEAC and SWAC champs in Dayton. Both leagues have made four appearances. And while the MEAC has managed to win one of their four games, the SWAC has never moved a team past Dayton. So that's the biggest challenge for whomever wins the SWAC, avoiding that Tuesday night date.

It won't be easy, as SWAC teams typically play the toughest non-conference schedules in the country and take their lumps doing so. That results in low RPIs that only get lower during the conference season. In other words, it's not a problem that's easily fixed. More on the ten teams who will try to buck the trend after the jump.

First, here's a look at the final SWAC standings from last season.

Southwestern Athletic Conference Standings

(updated 3.17.2009 at 10:47 PM EDT)

Now here are my picks for the 2009-10 season, presented in reverse order.


Alcorn State (last NCAA: 2002) The Braves only won two D-I games last season, all in the league. They'll have trouble improving on that number, as they also lost four starters from a season ago, starting with experienced forwards Anthony Ford (10.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Jarvis Williams (9.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg). Second year coach Larry Smith should have had leading scorer Troy Jackson back for his senior year, but he and his 20 points per game left for Europe. That means 6-3 guard Jonathan Boyd (9.8 ppg) is the only major contributor back from a year ago. Considering that Alcorn already had defensive woes, the offense is now a major worry, as the newcomers will all have to contribute immediately. The schedule, as you'd expect is going to be rough. For starters, Central Michiganwill be the only non-SWAC team to make the trip to Alcorn this year. The Braves also play at Ohio State in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament, before they head to Albany to face the hosts, Robert Morris, and Detroit in one of the "subregionals" for that event.


Texas Southern (last NCAA: 2003) The Tigers had a rough season in '08-09, going 0-14 out of the SWAC, then only managing seven wins in the league. Things may not get any better for coach Tony Harvey in his second season in charge, as he lost his second and third leading scorers, Matthew Miller and Jacques Jones (also the team's leading rebounder). Leading scorer DeAndre Hall, a 6-6 guard who isn't afraid to go inside, and 6-7 forward Ricky Boyles (7.5 ppg, 5 rpg) are the only two returnees who saw significant action last year. The schedule is typically brutal, as Idaho is the only Non-SWAC Division I school who will visit the H&PE Arena this year. As an aside, it's really sad that the first Google result for the Tigers isn't the TSU page varsity team, but the club team.


Grambling State (last NCAA: None) The Tigers will play with a heavy heart, as JC transfer Henry White died 12 days after a becoming ill after a conditioning drill. He was only 21. Head coach Rick Duckett, who was heading into his second year with the program, was forced out. One of his former assistants, Bobby Washington, Jr., has a very difficult job in replacing him this season. Like TSU, this group of Tigers also lost a lot last season, though they did manage to beat OVC champ Morehead State out of the league, and they'll be without three starters from last time around. The starting backcourt, 6-0 Ariece Perkins (11.3 ppg, 3.9 apg) and 5-8 Donald Qualls (10 ppg, 2.1 apg), is back, however. The frontcourt is going to be thin and inexperienced, however, as only three players are listed as forwards, and only 6-9 senior George Akpele (1.8 ppg) featured last season. Short-timers Centenary are the only non-SWAC D-I school who will play at Grambling this season.


Mississippi Valley State (last NCAA: 2008) Much like Southern, all seven of MVSU's wins came in the league last year. Three of the Delta Devils starters from a year ago are back, though leading scorer and rebounder Eric Petty (12.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and second-leading scorer Dwayne Harmason (11 ppg) are gone. 6-7 swingman Shannon Behling (10.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg) will attract the most attention on the team this season, but 6-8 F/C Amos Studivant (2.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg) will have to be more productive for head coach Sean Woods, yet another SWAC bench boss who's entering his second season. The Delta Devils will play in the low/mid-major half of the Chicago Invitational, where they'll open with Liberty before facing either Kennesaw State or Tennessee State.


Alabama A&M (last NCAA: 2005) The Bulldogs will struggle to improve on their eight wins of a season ago, as Van Pettaway was already going to be down two-thirds of his starting frontcourt because of graduation. Then, the team's leading scorer and point guard, Trant Simpson (16.1 ppg), left because of personal issues. However, there is hope, as 6-3 guard Evan Hilton, who averaged 12 points and 5 boards a game in '07-08, returns to the squad after missing last year with a knee injury. Another 6-3 guard, Cornelius Hester, is also back. He's the team's leading returning scorer, as he managed 12 points a contest last year. 6-5 sophomore swingman Casey Cantey should also see a lot more time this season after putting up over 8 points and grabbing nearly 4 boards a game. The big question for Pettaway is who will run the offense. The answer may very well be redshirt freshman Marcus Lee. Auburn will actually play A&M in Huntsville, but off campus at the Von Braun Center.


Alabama State (last NCAA: 2009) The Hornets won both the SWAC regular season and tournament crowns last season, but they'll struggle to repeat, as they lost all five starters from a year ago, including defensive force and all-time All-Name selection Chief Kickingstallionsims. Three key reserves from last season, guards Tremaine Butler, Menji Mundadi, and Ivory White, will see a lot more action this time around. Newcomers Chris Duncan and Adrian Spellman and redshirt freshman Jordan Jefferson will have to take over in the frontcourt, while junior A.J. Spencer should take over the point. The Acadome won't see a non-SWAC D-I school this season.


Southern (last NCAA: 2006) Rob Spivery's Jaguars lost four starters from a year ago, including his three top scorers, so they'll struggle to match the 8 wins they earned (all in the conference) in '08-09. The one returning starter is 6-6 forward Douglas Scott, who is one of the best rebounders in the conference (7.2 a game, alongside 6.8 ppg). Spivery also has three reserves who could be ready to contribute more this time around--6-6 forwards Earnest Jones (5.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and Julius Ingram (5.4 ppg. 3.1 rpg) and 6-5 swingman Jazz Williams (5.1 ppg). Wofford transfer Norm Nixon could fill the Jags' gap at the point. Southern will face the Terriers in the low-/mid-major flight of the Las Vegas Invitational over Thanksgiving weekend. They'll then face a transitional D1 team, Presbyterian or Seattle, in their second game there.


Prairie View A&M (last NCAA: 1998) Byron Rimm's squad is actually in really good shape for this campaign. The Panthers lost only one starter from a season ago, guard Derek Johnson (9.9 ppg). 6-7 forward Darrell Hugee (12 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is the only returning frontcourt player with significant experience, but as last year's league Newcomer of the Year, he's a great building block. The backcourt, featuring 5-8 Michael Griffin (9.6 ppg), Chris Jones (9.1 ppg), Tim Meadows (9 ppg), and Dorian McDaniel (7.7 ppg), will make a difference in this league. Schedule-wise, transitional D-I member Florida Gulf Coast is the only non-SWAC D-I school who will visit the Panthers this season.


Jackson State (last NCAA: 2007) The Tigers bring back three starters, led by 6-7 F Grant Maxey (16.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg); however, Darrion Griffin (14.8 ppg) is going to be missed in the backcourt and center Jeremy Caldwell (11.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) won't be easily replaced. 7-2 Jemarious Sykes could've been an interesting addition to Tevester Anderson's squad, but he didn't enroll. 6-10 JC transfer Gertavian Blake and 6-1 freshman Raymond Gregory are aboard though, and they'll join Maxey and swingman Garrison Johnson (10.7 ppg) to form one of the better frontcourts in the league. Sophomore Rod Melvin bears watching in his second year running the point. Two Southland teams, defending champions Stephen F. Austin and Southeastern Louisiana, visit Jackson State this season. The Tigers will play in the low-/mid-major flight of the Christmas week Las Vegas Classic, where they'll face Wagner, then either Chicago State or Eastern Washington.


Arkansas-Pine Bluff (last NCAA: None) The Lions biggest losses off a team that won 11 league games and beat SMU in Dallas were reserves Rickey Parks and Eric Brooks. That means all five starters, led by point guard Terrance Calvin (12 ppg), are back. Calvin's main point of improvement this season has to be ball control, as his assists-to-turnover ratio of 1-to-1 will attest to. The biggest obstacle for the Lions is their schedule. George Ivory's squad opens with a 14 game road trip, as their entire non-conference schedule and their first three league games will be played away from Pine Bluff.

Despite their long journey to start the season, UAPB is my pick to win the SWAC. They'll hold the league's auto bid in my 2009-10 Final Preseason Bracket, which I will release on November 9. Unfortunately, I think they'll end up in the Opening Round Game, mostly as a result of not winning enough early in the year. Now, to wrap up this preview, here is my preseason All-SWAC team, featuring the best returning players from last season.

Preseason All-SWAC Team

Player of the Year: Grant Maxey, 6-7 F, Sr. (Jackson State)

Remainder of the Team
Terrance Calvin, 6-2 G, Sr. (Arkansas-Pine Bluff)
Darnell Hugee, 6-7 F, Sr. (Prairie View A&M)
Garrison Johnson, 6-6 F, Sr. (Jackson State)
Shannon Behling, 6-7 F, Sr. (Mississippi Valley State)