By Kevin Sweeney
There are 3 distinct ways that college basketball coaches typically find talent: recruiting players directly from high school/prep school, getting players who transferred from another Division I school, and recruiting players from junior colleges. In the SWAC, the JUCO route has been used heavily by coaches, as an incredible 43.6% of all the players in the SWAC played at junior college before coming to the SWAC. The junior college transfer market is a risky business, as many JUCO players struggled academically in high school. Also, the talent gap at the JUCO level is very large, from excellent teams that would give some Division I squads a run for their money to some that are barely better than a high school team, making it difficult to determine how good a player is. A team taking the JUCO route for finding talent also sees lots of roster turnover, as players usually only have 2 years of eligibility remaining. This annual roster upheaval makes the SWAC very difficult to project, as any team could come out of nowhere to win the SWAC.
- Jackson State
- Texas Southern
- Alcorn State
- Alabama State
- Mississippi Valley State
- Prairie View A&M
- Arkansas-Pine Bluff
- Alabama A&M
- Grambling State
Champions: Jackson State- While Texas Southern has dominated this conference in recent years, winning either the regular season title or conference tournament in each of the past 4 seasons, I think this year Jackson State will take home the SWAC title. Texas Southern’s lack of experience, except for star forward Derrick Griffin, makes them a bit of a question mark for this season. Jackson State, on the other hand, has plenty of proven depth, with 4 starters returning from last season’s 20-win campaign. Among those returners is the guard duo of Paris Collins and Chace Franklin, who each averaged over 12 points and 5 rebounds per game last season. Each of them have a chance to contend for the SWAC Player of the Year award. They do have to replace their leading scorer and rebounder from last season in Raeford Worsham, but with a few wings from the JUCO ranks entering, they should be able to make up for his production. With a duo like Collins and Franklin in tow, Jackson State should have a shot in every game they play.
Dark Horse: Mississippi Valley State- The Delta Devils have the best pure scorer in the conference in Marcus Romain, a 6-2 guard who averaged 18.6 points per game last season following 2 years at a junior college in Los Angeles. For MVSU to be a contender in the SWAC, Romain will have to do even more than he did last season. He must take better care of the basketball this season after averaging 3.6 turnovers per game last season. He also must make some 3’s, after shooting just 34% from downtown last season. If he does those things, the Delta Devils could be dangerous. With Romain and Isaac Williams, another double digit scorer last season, MVSU has a strong nucleus in place to help them improve from last season’s 9th place finish.
Preseason First Team:
- F: Derrick Griffin-Texas Southern
- G: Paris Collins-Jackson State
- G: Marcus Romain-MVSU
- G: Tre’lun Banks-Southern
- G: Chace Frankin-Jackson State
Player of the Year: Derrick Griffin- At the mid-major level, big men typically struggle early in their careers as they grow into their frames while guards thrive from day one. Griffin is the exception to that rule. The 6-7 sophomore forward had one of the best seasons by a freshman in all of college basketball, posting averages of 13.3 points and 11 rebounds per game en route to being name SWAC Player of the Year. The scary part of that is that Griffin left a ton of points on the free throw line, making just 53% of his foul shots. If he can improve that number, Griffin could put up some absolutely ridiculous numbers for the Tigers.
Newcomer of the Year: Zach Lofton (Texas Southern)- To say that Zach Lofton has taken an odd road to Texas Southern would be a significant understatement. The talented 6-4 guard began at a junior college in Houston before transferring to Illinois State, where he averaged in double figures as a sophomore before transferring to Minnesota, where he was kicked off the team before ever playing a game with the Golden Gophers. Now, it appears that Lofton is on his last strike, with Texas Southern giving him a chance to redeem himself. There’s a reason teams keep taking chances on Lofton; he has incredible talent. He’s certainly a question mark, but if Lofton can develop into a reliable second option on offense behind Derrick Griffin, the Tigers have an excellent chance to continue their dominance of the SWAC.