By Kevin Sweeney
I’ll be honest: the SWAC has probably been the least interesting conference to follow over the past 5 seasons. In that stretch, Texas Southern has won 4 of 5 regular season titles, 3 of 5 postseason tournaments, and had the conference player of the year all 5 times. Combine that with the league’s overall weakness (nearly every metric ranks it in the bottom 2 conferences in the country) and you just don’t have an incredibly appealing product to watch. That said, it should be intriguing to see if Texas Southern can continue their dominance over the rest of the conference into the 2017-18 season, or if someone can rise past the Tigers and claim the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
- Texas Southern- The Tigers are again the favorites in the SWAC, despite losing star wing Zach Lofton to transfer this offseason. They replace Lofton with a grad transfer of their own in former UMass guard Donte Clark, a supremely talented scorer who averaged over 16 points per game in the A10 as a sophomore. Combine him with sophomore PG Demontrae Jefferson, and you have an extremely dangerous backcourt.
- Alcorn State- 3 key rotation players graduate, but the Braves have the best returning player in the conference in Reginal Johnson (15.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg). Look for sophomore guard Maurice Howard to have a breakout year in the backcourt and help the Braves contend for a conference title.
- Southern- The Jaguars have very talented duo in senior big Jared Sam and versatile wing Chris Thomas that will win them a lot of SWAC games. The x-factor for this team could be a pair of transfers in Richard Lee, a shooter who transferred in from UT-Martin, and Sidney Umube, a transfer from YSU who should provide another interior presence up front.
- Jackson State- The transfer of Edric Dennis was a crusher for the Tigers, but they still have some intriguing pieces to build around. Look for senior guard Paris Collins to take on a huge scoring load offensively, but he’ll have to improve on his sub-30% 3-pt shooting to take the next step into a POY candidate.
- Prairie View A&M- PVAMU started the season 3-14 and 0-3 in conference play a season ago, but turned things around by winning 10 of their final 16 games and finishing in a tie for 3rd in the SWAC. This is a team that could surprise this season with a pair of returning double-digit scorers.
- Alabama State- 3 starters return for the Hornets, who could make a big jump this season after winning just 8 games last season. They’ll have to be more efficient offensively though if they are going to move up the conference standings.
- Grambling- A tough spot for first-year head coach Donte Jackson to enter with the program ineligible for the postseason this year and several key cogs departing. We’ll see if Jackson can bring over some of the offense his teams produced at Stillman College, where they averaged over 86 points per game.
- Arkansas-Pine Bluff- Pine Bluff was a rare team without a guy averaging double-digit scoring a season ago, but they do bring back a good amount of production from a season ago. The Golden Lions could climb in the SWAC.
- Mississippi Valley State- Unknowns are about for this Delta Devil roster, but Andre Payne’s club will rely on a glut of JUCO products to keep them them out of the cellar in the SWAC.
- Alabama A&M- Talented sophomore De’Edrick Petty will be looked to for a huge year in order to try and push AAMU up in the standings this season.
Champions: Texas Southern
This is the most talented roster in the conference, and the Tigers also have the league’s best coach in Mike Davis. Auburn transfer Trayvon Reed comes in to solidify the frontcourt, while stars in Clark, Jefferson, and Kevin Scott look to be dominant forces in the backcourt. An x-factor could be Derrick Bruce, a former 3-star recruit who was solid at Oregon State before transferring to junior college and landing at Texas Southern. This roster is full of high-level pieces that should help TSU keep their SWAC crown.
Dark Horse: Southern
While Texas Southern has been the dominant program in the conference of late, Southern has been a pretty solid #2. With a pair of double-digit scorers returning, the Jaguars have more than enough firepower to make noise in the SWAC title race. One area they must improve is outside shooting, where the Jaguars really struggled last season.
First Team All-Conference:
- G: Demontrae Jefferson (Texas Southern)
- G: Donte Clark (Texas Southern)
- F: Zachary Hamilton (PVAMU)
- F: Jared Sam (Southern)
- F: Reginal Johnson (Alcorn State)
Player of the Year: Donte Clark (Texas Southern)- Clark is a high-major talent who hasn’t always had his head on straight during his time in college. However, the talent to go for 20 points or more any given night is most certainly there, and Mike Davis has done a tremendous job with guys like Clark in his time at Texas Southern. I expect a huge year from him.
Breakout Player of the Year: Reginald Gee (Alabama State)- After a freshman season in which he averaged over 8 points per game, Gee seems poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. I see him blossoming into one of the better scorers in the conference this season.
Newcomer of the Year: Donte Clark (Texas Southern)