By Kevin Sweeney
The Mike Davis reign of terror in the SWAC is over, with the long-time Texas Southern head man taking over at Detroit this offseason. The departure of Davis opens things up for a new team to take control of the conference, though TSU made a strong hire in Johnny Jones to run the program in the post-Davis era.
#1. Grambling State
Ineligible for the postseason last season, the Tigers heated up down the stretch despite having nothing but pride to play for, rattling 11 straight wins at one point to finish 13-5 in SWAC play. 4 of GSU’s top 5 scorers return, including star point guard Ivy Smith, who exploded onto the scene last season after a less-than-exciting freshman campaign.
#2. Texas Southern
Former LSU head coach Johnny Jones took over late in the process for the aforementioned Davis, and embraced similar recruiting tactics to his predecessor to add some talent to this club and keep them competitive in the SWAC despite the loss of Trae Jefferson. LSU grad transfer Jalyn Patterson, who played for Jones, should step into the point guard role, while former North Texas forward Jeremy Combs should pair nicely with Trayvon Reed in the frontcourt. I don’t foresee the Tigers missing much of a beat.
#3. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
JUCO important Martaveous McKnight was truly a revelation for UAPB, averaging over 18 points per game en route to earning SWAC Player of the Year honors in his first season with the Golden Lions. Combine a star scorer like McKnight with a stout defense, and George Ivory has a legit SWAC contender on his hands.
#4. Prairie View A&M
To say PVAMU has gone all in on the transfer market is an understatement. Not a single scholarship player on the roster came from the high school ranks, with the roster littered with JUCO and D1 transfers. The Panthers should get excellent guard play, with returning stars Gary Blackston and Dennis Jones being joined by Kent State grad transfer Taishaun Johnson, who averaged over 12 points per game as a freshman at South Alabama before steadily falling off the map. If he can revert to his 2015 form, no SWAC club will have more firepower than PVAMU.
Once a rising name in the business who recorded a pair of 20+ win seasons in 4+ seasons at Morehead State, Sean Woods starts over as the head coach at Southern after player abuse allegations led to his dismissal from Morehead. Woods will lean heavily on senior guard Eddie Reese, who averaged over 11 points and 3 assists per game last season, as well as mobile big man Sidney Umude, for big production out of the gates.
#6. Alabama State
After entering SWAC play winless, the Hornets put together a surprisingly-successful 2017-18 conference campaign, going 8-10 and breeding some future optimism with a lot of production returning. Reginald Gee and Jacoby Ross should provide some backcourt fireworks, but ASU will have to improve from the charity stripe, where they shot under 65% as a team last season.
#7. Jackson State
JSU loses a ton of production from last season. Adding Ball State grad transfer Jontrell Walker, a microwave-type scorer who played a big role Incarnate Word before heading to BSU should help in that regard, but Wayne Brent needs a few of his newcomers to step up in order to contend.
#8. Alcorn State
Shooter Maurice Howard should be the focal point offensively for the Braves this season, as ASU loses AJ Mosby from last year’s club. Watch out for JUCO import Jonathan Floyd, who averaged almost 17 points per game while shooting over 44% from downtown for Copiah-Lincoln.
#9. Mississippi Valley State
The Delta Devils bring back a ton of production, but how good a thing is that considering they only won 4 D1 games last season? MVSU was mostly horrible on both ends, with former Memphis wing Dante Scott a bright spot in what was a forgettable season. Not much improvement should be expected.
#10. Alabama A&M
Former FIU head coach Donnie Marsh departed his post as AAMU’s head man after a brutal 3-28 opening season, instead opting for a spot on Michael Fly’s staff at FGCU. Former Morehead State assistant Dylan Howard takes over on an interim basis, and he inherits a club that was the worst in the nation on a points-per-game basis.
All-Conference First Team:
- Ivy Smith– Grambling St (16.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.0 apg, .399/.362/.805)
- Gary Blackston– PVAMU (19.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, .439/.358/.719)
- Martaveous McKnight– UAPB (18.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, .452/.352/.724)
- Dante Scott– MVSU (14.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, .420/.370/.775)
- Trayvon Reed– Texas Southern (9.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 0.4 apg, .683/.111/.657)
Player of the Year: Martaveous McKnight (UAPB)
The defending POY, McKnight should be seen as the clear favorite this season. His scoring prowess was truly game-changing for the Golden Lions last season, and he should have a huge senior season.
Breakout Player: Maurice Howard (Alcorn State)
Howard knocked down 75 triples last season, and 100 shouldn’t be seen as out of the question this season as he moves into a bigger role. The Braves will need a big year from him with all the production they lose.
Newcomer of the Year: Jeremy Combs (Texas Southern)
Combs barely played in his only season at LSU, but before that he was one of the better big men in the C-USA. In 2015-16, Combs averaged nearly 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Mean Green. He should be a steal at this level.