Southland Conference Preview
by Jason Orts
Last season, McNeese State ransacked the Southland Conference, finishing 17-3 for the second straight season, including a 14-game winning streak that will carry over into this season. The Cowboys are now 34-6 in the last two seasons in conference play.
There is no reason to believe McNeese State cannot take its third straight title, as it returns its top two leading scorers and the most athletic center in the league.
The Southland Conference was dominated by seniors in the 2001-02 season, as nine of the 15 all-SLC selections, including all five of the first team, were seniors.
This season appears to be no different, as nine of the ten players voted to all-conference teams by the SLC coaches are seniors. Junior Amir Abdur-Rahim is the only non-senior selection.
So here it is, the Southland Conference Preview, in order of predicted finish.
1. McNeese State Cowboys
The Cowboys finished 17-3 in SLC play last season, 21-9 overall, after finishing with the same conference mark in 2000-01, and claimed their second regular season title in as many years. They were undefeated on their home floor (13-0). They then went on to defeat Louisiana-Monroe in the finals of the tournament, 65-43, earning their second NCAA tournament trip in school history (1989), falling to Mississippi State in the first round, 70-58. McNeese State is the seventh school in as many seasons to capture the tournament crown.
But while the Cowboys will have to find someone to replace tournament MVP Fred Gentry, the team’s top rebounder, and Chauncy Bryart, who was second in the conference, averaging 5.1 assists per game, this team still has plenty of talent. SLC Coach of the Year Tic Price returns his top two scorers, in seniors Jason Coleman and Demond Williams, who averaged 14.4 and 11.4 points per game, respectively.
Price also will have the benefit of having one of the league’s only true centers in Raynell Brewer, an athletic 7-footer who averaged 2.4 blocked shots per contest last season, good for second in the SLC. Until somebody takes the championship away from McNeese State, the Cowboys are the team to beat.
2. Sam Houston State Bearkats
The Bearkats return six players who started at least 16 games for last season’s 14-14 team. Sam Houston finished in a tie for 7th place in the SLC at 9-11, missing out on the tournament following a loss to Lamar in the final game of the season.
Sam Houston was third in scoring last season, averaging 74.6 points per game, but was seventh in scoring defense, giving up and average of 73.2 points per outing. The Bearkats are the league’s deepest team this season, as it returns seven of its top eight scorers, and has one of the conference’s best all-around players in Donald Cole, the SLC’s Newcomer of the Year.
Cole was the only player in the league to average a double double, finishing fifth in scoring (16.2 points per game) and his 10.2 rebounds per contest were the SLC’s best. Complementing Cole are Felton Freeman, who finished second and third in scoring and rebounding, respectively, and Jay Oliphant, who was third in scoring and second in rebounding.
Sam Houston also returns the league’s top assist man in Robert Shannon, who averaged 5.2 per game. Add in Eddy Fobbs, who led the team in blocked shots, and the Bearkats are poised to make a run at the title.
3. Lamar Cardinals
The Cardinals found their way into the postseason last year, finishing fourth place in the SLC with an 11-9 mark, 15-14 overall. In the tournament, the Cardinals pounded Stephen F. Austin, 53-36, before ending the season with a 71-57 loss to McNeese State.
The Cardinals are the league’s only team to return two players who ranked in the top 10 last season in scoring in Damany Hendrix (17.7 points per game, third) and Ron Austin (14.6 points per game, ninth), and have each of their top six scorers back this season. Lewis Arline, the teams leading rebounder and shot blocker also returns, as does point guard Eddie Robinson, who was third in the conference with five assists per contest.
Tyler Hackstadt, Terrell Petteway, Marcus Campbell, Hayes Groom, and Mike Krunti, all of whom played in at least 20 games last season give the Cardinals valuable experience coming off the bench. With that much experience, the Cardinals look to be in a good position to push McNeese State and Sam Houston.
4. Texas – San Antonio Roadrunners
The Roadrunners were the SLC preseason favorite last season, but were only able to manage a third place finish and a semifinal loss to Louisiana-Monroe in the conference tournament. UTSA was the top scoring and rebounding team in the SLC last season, putting up 76.9 points and 41.2 boards per outing.
New coach Brandon Johnson will have his work cut out for him, as he will have to find someone to replace SLC Player of the Year Everett McPowers and first-team all-SLC performer Devin Brown, who were first and third in the league in scoring. The Roadrunners also lose Reggie Minnieweather and James Joseph, the team’s third and fourth leading scorer.
All told, UTSA lost 55 of their 76.9 points per game to graduation.
Only Raymond Briggs and David President started a significant number of games among the returning players for UTSA, and Ike Akotaobi (6.4 points per game) is the leading scorer among the returnees. Transfers Justin Harbert from Colorado and Leroy Hurd from Miami, are the most likely candidates to replace Brown and Powers, respectively. While the Roadrunners have probably the most question marks of any team in the conference, they appear to be the best of the second-tier teams.
5. Louisiana-Monroe Indians
The Indians finished second last season with a 15-5 conference mark and a 20-12 overall record, but lost the NCAA’s all-time leading shot blocker in Wojciech Myrda, who blocked 535 shots while at ULM. Myrda and Bryan Lubeck, the team’s leading scorer last season, were both first-team all-SLC selections that the Indians will have to replace.
Trying to fill Myrda’s shoes will be Clavis Thompson, a JuCo transfer from Kilgore Community College, where he averaged 10.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Kirby Lemons averaged 11.8 points per outing last season, second on the team, but he is the only one of the Indians’ top five scorers that returns. Brandon Horn, who started six games, is the only returnee other than Lemons to start a game last season. But while there is not a lot of starting experience returning, there are six returnees that played in 25 or more games. The Indians have too many question marks to contend, but they could scare some teams along the way.
6. Southwest Texas Bobcats
The Bobcats finished 12-16 overall last season, 10-10 in the SLC, and made a huge turnaround after being 2-8 midway through the conference season, winning eight of their last 10 regular season outings to slip into the tournament. But the run ended in the first round with a 99-83 loss to UTSA.
SWT lost its two best scorers in Clay Click and Marcus Johnson, but returns arguably its best all-around player in David Sykes, who led the SLC in steals and was fourth in assists. Brady Richeson and Brad Brickens give the Bobcats three-point shooting and Moses Aguko give them an inside presence, but if SWT is to improve, it will have to be on the defense end of the floor, as it was eighth, giving up 75.1 points per game.
The Bobcats will rely heavily on transfers this season, especially Roosevelt Brown, a point guard who played previously at the University of Texas. How well and how quickly the all of the new Bobcats can learn to play together could determine if they have a chance to make the tournament.
7. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
The Lumberjacks struggled to score points last season, but were one of the best defensive teams in the league, allowing them to finish 10-10 in conference play, 13-15 overall. Seven players who played in at least 27 games return for SFA, as well as four that started at least 22. Percy Green led the team in scoring last season and has established himself as a dominant low-post player in the SLC.
Ransom White led the team in rebounding and steals, and tied for the lead in assists, giving the Lumberjacks an all-around threat. Skip Jackson tied White for the team lead in assists and finished second in scoring and Stevin Ozier led the team in blocked shots.
While the Lumberjacks have plenty of experience, they will need to find a legitimate third scorer to have a chance to contend.
8. Texas – Arlington Mavericks
UTA was the second best team offensively last season, but it was the second worst team defensively, en route to a 12-15 overall record and a 9-11 conference mark, missing the SLC tournament after starting 8-3 in conference play. Three of the Mavericks’ top five scorers from last season return, but they lose the services of Steven Barber, the league’s second leading scorer at 18.6 points per game.
Mack Collier averaged 11.1 points per game last season and was fifth in the SLC in field goal percentage (.530), and is the team’s leading returning starter. Derrick Obasohan, Donny Beacham, Josh Daniel, and Roy Johnson each started at least 10 games for the Mavericks last season and figure to get plenty of time this season as well.
The offense should still be pretty good, but until they learn to stop somebody the Mavericks will struggle to win games.
9. Northwestern State Demons
The Demons finished 13-18 last season overall and 9-11 in the SLC, just a year removed from an NCAA tournament appearance following their conference tournament championship. And this season should be even more difficult for Northwestern State, as seven of its top eight scorers from last season are gone. Only D’or Fischer, who averaged 10 points per game as a freshman last season has started more than one game.
Only two of the other returnees even played in more than half the games (Darnell Bradley, Michael Edwards, and B.J. Edwards). There just does not seem to be a lot going the Demons’ way, as this figures to be a rebuilding year.
10. Southeastern Louisiana Lions
The Lions have Amir Abdur-Rahim and little else, as they are likely to finish ninth or lower, just as they have in every season since joining the SLC in 1997. They allowed the fewest points, but they also scored the fewest points. Last season they finished 6-14 in the SLC, 7-20 overall.
Abdur-Rahim, the younger brother of Atlanta Hawks star Shareef Abdur-Rahim, was third-team all-SLC last season and figures to move up on that list. But unless somebody comes out of nowhere to give him some scoring support, Southeastern Louisiana is looking at another long season.
11. Nicholls State Colonels
The Colonels finished in the cellar last season, with their lone conference win coming in the season finale over Southeastern Louisiana. Overall, Nicholls State finished 2-25. Nicholls State had the second worse scoring offense and the worst scoring defense in the conference, so it is not hard to see why its record was as bad as it was.
The Colonels lose Ronnie Price, their leading scorer, and while they return four players who started at least 12 games, they just do not have the talent level right now and figure to struggle again just to win an SLC game.
G Amir Abdur-Rahim – junior, Southeastern Louisiana
G Jason Coleman – senior, McNeese State
F Kirby Lemons – senior, Louisiana-Monroe
F Demany Hendrix – senior, Lamar
C Donald Cole – senior, Sam Houston State
Raynell Brewer, David Sykes, Percy Green, Lewis Arline, Ron Austin, Mack Collier, Damond Williams, D’or Fischer