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Southwestern Preview

December 27, 2001 Conference Notes No Comments



2001-02 Southwestern Athletic Conference Preview

by David Mosse

The non-conference season has been unkind to the SWAC. With two teams
still winless, two others with one win, and no team above the .500 mark, it
will be interesting to see which teams can turn things around during league
play. The team to beat promises to be Alabama State, who placed three players
in the pre-season first team, including player of the year candidate Tyrone
Levett. The Bulldogs should face a stiff challenge from Alcorn State and
their star forward Marcus Fleming. Two teams who could emerge as contenders
if things break right are Grambling and their all-world forward Paul Haynes,
and the feisty Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils, whose frenetic fast-paced style could cause some sleepless nights for coaches around the league.
The smart money however, is on a two-team race between the Bulldogs and
Braves, with the winner earning a trip to the NCAA tournament.

1. Alabama State: Alabama State, the defending champions and preseason favorites to capture the conference crown, enters the conference season as the hottest team in the
League. After stumbling to a 1-5 start, the Hornets, led by head coach Rob
Spivey, have strung together six straight victories including their first two
conference games. The catalyst for this remarkable turn around has been a
stingy defense that has allowed an average of 57 points per game over the
course of the winning streak. If the Hornets are to sustain this momentum
through to the conference season they must not only continue their defensive
mastery of their opponents but must get strong play from senior forward
Tyrone Levett. Levett has owned the boards thus far, including hauling down
18 in a victory over Jackson State earlier this season.

2. Alcorn State: After a miserable 0-5 start, the Braves have rebounded by taking their first two conference games behind the one-two punch of youngsters Jason Cable and
Marcus Fleming. Fleming, a sophomore forward, is averaging 12 points and 8
rebounds a game while Cable, a talented freshman from Huntsville, Alabama, is
off to a strong start contributing over 10 points per game. The pair must
maintain their level of play and also find help from a third scorer if Harold
Blevins’ squad is to capture the conference title for the third time in four
years and make another trip to the big dance.

3. Mississippi Valley State: The Delta Devils and their energetic head coach Lafayette Stribling hope to overcome two common prerequisites for success: size and experience. Without a single player over 6 foot 8 and four freshmen seeing considerable playing time, the Devils thus far have done an admirable job of coping with a stacked
deck. The freshman have played above their years and the front court has
played above its height as Mississippi State won their conference opener and
stands just one game below .500. The driving force behind the strong start
has been the performance of D’Jamal Jordan and Ashley Robinson. The pair must
continue their strong play if the Devils are to continue to defy the odds.

4. Alabama A & M: The Bulldogs hope to survive the rugged conference season playing their version of small ball. Without a single player above 6 foot 8, head coach
Vann Pettaway will rely on speed and toughness to make up for a troubling
lack of size. The Bulldogs will need a strong senior season from point guard
Desmond Cambridge, the team’s leading scorer thus far. Cambridge, a candidate
for conference player of the year, scored 28 of the team’s 54 points in a
loss to Alabama despite being hounded by the Crimson Tide defense. The
Bulldogs must also figure out some way to avoid being slaughtered on the
backboards every night.

5. Grambling: Simply put, the Grambling Tigers should be the Paul Haynes show. The
sophomore forward has done it all in the early part of the season for head
coach Larry Wright’s troops, leading the league in scoring at a 23 point per
game clip. Haynes, a native of Auburn Hills, Michigan, was overlooked by Michigan and
Michigan State and is using this season as his personal retribution. If he
continues to display the outside range that has him shooting 43 percent from
three-point land, Haynes may be laughing all the way to the bank – as in
finding a place in the NBA. Yet for all of Haynes’ heroics, the Tigers are
off to a 3-7 start and must find other weapons if they are to make a run at
the conference title.

6. Texas Southern: Despite featuring arguably one of the most talented backcourts in the State, the Tigers find themselves off to a miserable 1-8 start, including dropping
their conference opener. So what’s been the problem? Defense. The Tigers are
being lit up game after game wasting strong efforts from guards Steve Hoyer
and Rakim Hollis who are combining for 37 points per game. The good new is
with most of the conference still struggling to find themselves, head coach
Ronnie Courtney has time to make adjustments. However, the team will have to
improve drastically at the defensive end and also on the boards, where the
guard laden team has been overwhelmed in virtually every game.

7. Jackson State: Thank God for Arkansas Pine Bluff. This must be the rallying cry coming from Jackson State where only the Golden Lions winless record is deflecting
attention away from the Tigers own disastrous start. With a single win from
their first 10 games, head coach Andy Stoglin has little to build upon for
the remainder of the season. One bright spot has been the play of junior
guard Tim Henderson, who leads the team with a 16 point per game average.
Henderson has been all alone however, as the Tigers have struggled to find a
second scorer. Jackson State is hoping the conference season will afford them
a fresh beginning but after an 0-2 start its clear they are in need of a
major overhaul.

8. Prairie View: With but two freshman on the roster and five seniors contributing heavy minutes, head coach Elwood Plummer will lean on experience to make a run at
the conference title. Like the rest of their conference foes, the Panthers
struggled in the non-conference season posting a 3-7 mark but they are
confident their veteran leadership will lead to success in the league. The
Panthers rely on strong defense and timely outside shooting as witnessed by
their almost 40 percent clip as a team from three point land. If the Panthers
are to emerge as contenders, seniors Gregory Burks and Jamar Miles must lead
the way as they have in the team’s three victories this season.

9. Southern: Don’t be surprised if the Southern Jaguars have circled their meeting with Arkansas Pine Bluff on the calendar for it may represent their only chance at
a victory this season. At 0-10 the Jaguars have been an absolute debacle. In
their last four losses they have surrendered up an average of 95 points per
game. Even stellar play from 5 foot 9 point guard Victor Tarver, averaging
just under 17 points per game, has not been enough to notch a victory this
season. The Jaguars showdown with the Golden Lions may not represent a Final
Four preview, but it should be a competitive match-up between two hungry
teams.

10. Arkansas Pine Bluff: Arkansas Pine Bluff fans should hold off on those reservations to Atlanta. Not much has gone right for the Golden Lions so far this season. Winless in their first 10 games, the team has been an exercise in futility, suffering a
pair of 50 point losses to Gonzaga and Marquette respectively. The Golden
Lions defense has been downright putrid, allowing seven teams to eclipse the
90-point mark. The lone bright spot for this bumbling bunch has been the play
of junior forward Kory Mckee, who leads the team with an 11 point per game
average. If the Golden Lions are to salvage some kind of respectable season
they will need to stiffen up on the defensive end and find someone to
compliment Mckee offensively.

Predictions:

Player of the Year: Paul Haynes, Grambling

Coach of the Year: Lafayette Stribling, Mississippi Valley State

Newcomer of the Year: Jason Cable, Alcorn State

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