Southland Conference Preview
by Adam Shandler
If you’re a college coach, you gotta love the junior colleges. They’re like the minor leagues for NCAA Division I programs. You may get a guy that can only give you two years, but those are two quality years. Players out of the JuCo system are a little more seasoned than your high school recruit, and for a couple of seasons have been incubating in the same hatchery with bigger, faster, quicker and hopefully more mentally mature guys. What can possibly be the downside? I’m not pontificating on anything that coaches in the Southland Conference don’t already know, which is why they went ga-ga on the JuCos like Star Jones at a Payless.
Kudos to the SLC commissioner for a positive formatting change. Up until this year, the 11-team Southland required that its teams play fellow members twice a year. With every team playing 20 conference games, that left very little scheduling room for out-of-conference games against teams with higher RPIs and deep pockets. This format terribly affected the Southland, as Sam Houston State won the automatic bid, but left 21-game winner Stephen F. Austin without any kind of postseason appearance. Beginning this year, each Southland team is only mandated to play 16 in-conference games. Schools like Louisiana-Monroe took advantage of the breathing room by slating LSU, Baylor, Mississippi, and Texas A&M. Meanwhile schools like SFA did nothing to aid their cause, creampuffing their docket with small, regional clubs like Oklahoma Panhandle, Cameron, and Alcorn State. Twice.
Texas-Arlington is ready for a title run. The Mavericks will remind fans of what Wisconsin-Milwaukee was last year in the Horizon: a team that paid its dues, had players that matured and were ready for a championship. Stephen F. Austin will be breathing down UTA’s neck, and will probably collect 20 wins or more. But will the Lumberjacks have enough gas for the conference tourney? Sam Houston State, who posted a remarkable run to the Big Dance last year goes from Conference Champs to Conference Cramps. Texas State (formerly Southwest Texas State), who landed a trip to the Great Alaska Shootout, could be the spoiler.
G/F Terry Conerway, Senior, Texas State
G LeRoy Hurd, Senior, Texas-San Antonio
G Amir Abdur-Rahim, Senior, Southeast Louisiana
G Jermaine Wallace, Sophomore, Northwestern State
C Roy Johnson, Senior, Texas-Arlington
Player of the Year
Terry Conerway, guard/forward, Texas State
Rookie of the Year
Daryl Mason, guard, Louisiana-Monroe
1. Texas-Arlington Mavericks (16-13, 13-7 Southland)
Roy Johnson, Sr., F, (11.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Derrick Obasohan, Sr., F, (11.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
Steven Thomas, Sr., F, (6.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
Keith Howell, Sr., G, (11.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Brady Dawkins, So., G (2.0 ppg, 20 assists)
Top Newcomer: Jay Neukomm, Fr., C
Depth, leadership, balance. What coach could ask for anything more? The Mavericks return three starters who know what they’re doing. All-Southland pick Roy Johnson anchors a squad not of superstars, but consistent, unselfish players. Center Johnson, forward Derrick Obasohan and guard Keith Howell all average a sliver over 11 points but need to step it up offensively. Howell prefers the 2-guard spot but may need to take some time at point while Josh Daniel’s replacement is found. The Roadrunners are not very big inside, but coach Eddie McCarter was impressed with the big ups and long stretch of 6-5 Steven Thomas last year. Depending on his off-season development, 6-10 freshman center Jay Neukomm may be accelerated into the lineup as well.
2. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (21-8, 16-4 Southland)
Antonio Burks, Sr., F (9.1 ppg, 51% FG)
Taylor Moore, Jr., F (4.2 ppg)
Jasen Gast, Sr., G/F (9.2 ppg)
Marcus Clark, So., G (9.2 ppg)
B.J. Banks, Sr., G (7.9 ppg)
Top Newcomer: Rodrigo Segantim, Jr., F
Last year’s regular season and conference tourney runner-up is coming off a storybook 21-win season that only Sam Houston State eclipsed. Point guard controversy is a good problem to have and SFA has it in spades. During the regular season sophomore Marcus Clark came off the bench to score 9 ppg and lead the team with 3.4 assists. Senior B.J. Banks will challenge the young Clark but both are good enough to be on the floor at the same time. With big man Percy Green gone, Coach Danny Kaspar will assign junior Taylor Moore (4.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg) as the frontcourt leader. Moore, one of the more active reserves, will be joined by ‘Jacks leading scorer Antonio Burks (9.1 ppg) and Nebraska JuCo rookies Rodrigo Segantim and Henry Rivers.
3. Texas State Bobcats (17-12, 11-9 Southland)
Nick Ponder, Jr., G (Transfer)
Terry Conerway, Sr., G (15.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 40% 3-Pt. FG)
Roosevelt Brown, Sr., G (7.7 ppg)
Josh Naylor, Jr., F (Transfer)
Jeremiah Coleman, Sr., F (13.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
Top Newcomer: Nick Ponder, Jr., G
First order of business: name change. Oh, they’re still in the Southwest of Texas, they just won’t be Southwest Texas State anymore. The Bobcats now hail from lingually friendly Texas State. TSU acted fast and made the most of the league’s new schedule-flexibility ruling. Tulsa and New Orleans grace the Bobcat docket this year as does a first-round clash with Purdue in the Great Alaska Shootout. And Dennis Nutt’s club has goods to compete with such formidable competition. Hoopville SLC Player of the Year Terry Conerway is coming off a career year (15.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and should get backcourt assistance from junior college transfer Josh Naylor (Northern Oklahoma JC). Another JuCo face helps out up front – Redlands CC’s Nick Ponder.
4. Lamar Cardinals (13-14, 10-10 Southland)
Brian Rowan, Jr., C, (3.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 21 blocks)
Jason Grant, So., F/C (5.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 52 blocks)
Terrell Petteway, Sr. F (Redshirt)
Jonathan Burnet, So., G, (10.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
Hayes Grooms, Jr., G (26 assists, 75% FT)
Top Newcomer: Teddy Davis, Jr., G
Lamar didn’t have to go far to find its new coach. Er, old coach, who interviewed with an athletic director, who was himself. Yeah, Billy Tubbs got so sick of seeing his Cardinals go 13-14 last year, he reinstated himself as coach. He needs just five wins to become only the 28th coach in NCAA history to earn 600 wins. Tubbs re-ups with a Cardinals team that’s not too heavy on senior leadership. But sophomore leadership ain’t bad when it comes in the form of 6-0 point guard Jonathan Burnett and 6-9 center Jason Grant, who was an all-SLC pick in some polls. Burnett averaged over 10 points per game before a season-ending ACL injury against Texas-San Antonio. He’s back, he’s healthy, he’s ready to rock and he’s going to be needed. Tubbs, like many Southland coaches, dipped into the JuCo well and pulled out SE Illinois CC’s Teddy Davis, a versatile 6-3 shooting guard.
5. Louisiana-Monroe Indians (12-16, 10-10 Southland)
Daryl Mason, Jr., F (Transfer)
Chavis Thompson, Sr., F (7.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 52% FG)
John Andrews, Sr., G (8.2 ppg)
Brandon Horn, Sr. G (7.1 ppg, 79 assists)
Mark Keith, Sr., G/F (9.4 ppg)
Top Newcomer: Daryl Mason, Jr., F
The Indians lost Lemons – all-forward Kirby Lemons, that is – but have made lemonade with, what else, JuCo recruits. Lemons powered through last season with averages of 16.5 ppg and 10 rpg and was largely responsible for ULM getting into the postseason tournament. Daryl Mason, our Southland newcomer of the year, may not be the Shaqesque player that Lemons was, but he’s a flexible 6-6 swingman who averaged 13 ppg with national JuCo power San Jacinto. Seven other strangers fill out the roster, but don’t think of this as a rebuilding year for ULM. Five of their guys have ample experience, especially in the backcourt with returning starters Mark Keith and John Andrews.
6. Northwestern State Demons (6-21, 6-14 Southland)
Jermaine Wallace, So., G (11.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
Tyron Mitchell, So., G (6.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.3 apg, 70 steals)
Jermaine Spencer, So., F (7.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
Clifton Lee, So., F (10.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Byron Allen, So., C (10.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
Top Newcomer: Greg Tyler, Fr., F
Few teams can boast every player returning. The youngest team in the nation last year is a touch older and should be more competitive. All-SLC guard Jermaine Wallace came out of nowhere last season and his 11.1 ppg and natural groove for the floor salvaged an otherwise unforgettable season. Another Jermaine – 6-7 forward Jermaine Spencer – will likely improve upon his 7.1 ppg average, which was a little lower than last year’s expectations. 6-11 sophomore center Tim Van has already shown promise in intercollegiate preseason games. With a team of predominantly sophomores and an out-of-conference schedule featuring Tulsa, Oklahoma State and the Demons’ namesake Northwestern, Mike McConathy’s club could be one of the more intriguing stories this year.
7. Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners (10-17, 7-13 Southland)
LeRoy Hurd, Sr., F (17.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
John Milsap, Jr., F (Transfer)
Anthony Fuqua, Jr., C (Transfer)
Sammie Cole, Sr., G (9.4 ppg, 37% 3-Pt. FG)
David President, Sr., G (5.4 ppg, 3.3 apg, 3.8 rpg)
Top Newcomer: Anthony Fuqua, Jr., C
The Roadrunners have their own “Thundering Hurd”: Leroy Hurd, who led the SLC in scoring last year at a 17.6 ppg clip. He’ll sizzle again, but the rest of the offense remains a mystery. Someone is going to have to replace the departed Ike Akotaobi’s 3-point shooting, and that someone just may be senior guard Sammie Cole (9.4 ppg). Scrapping underneath with Hurd are JuCo additions Anthony Fuqua, a 6-10 center and 6-6 power forward John Milsap.
8. Southeastern Louisiana Lions (11-16, 9-11 Southland)
Terry West, Sr., F (11.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
Nate Lofton, Jr., F/C (Transfer)
Jonathan Walker, So., C (5.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
Michael Gardener, Sr., G (3.4 ppg, 47 assists)
Amir Abdur-Rahim Sr., G (15.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
Newcomer of the Year: Nate Lofton, Jr., F/C
If all-SLC selection Amir Abdur-Rahim (15 ppg) doesn’t get some help this year, the Lions may be one of three teams that don’t make the postseason tournament. It looks like Abdur-Rahim will get his help, although SELA is a perfect example of how returnees need to gel with newcomers quickly. With Abdur-Rahim and veteran Michael Gardener in the back, the frontcourt will have old and fresh faces. Heralded JuCo Center Nate Lofton, of Arkansas-Fort Smith, will probably step into a starting role immediately. The 6-10 big man will be joined by steady senior forward Terry West and sophomore forward/center Jonathan Walker. Redlands CC guard Jonathan Patton adds depth at the 1 or 2 position.
9. Sam Houston State Bearkats (23-6, 17-3 Southland)
Wilder Auguste, Jr., F (Transfer)
Joe Thompson, Jr., F (Transfer)
Sam Onwuchekwa, So., F
Marcus Ebow, So., G, (2.3 ppg, 61 assists)
Jason Stephenson, Sr., G (5.5 ppg)
Top Newcomer: Joe Thompson, Jr., F
Things go south for the Bearkats, who swept the regular season and conference tourney for a well-earned trip to the dance. But all five starters went cap-and-gown in May, leaving the conference champs with a blank page. Senior forward Eddy Fobbs, the most experienced and highest scoring returnee, had knee surgery in September, and will miss the upcoming season as a medical redshirt. The Bearkats were dealt another blow in the classroom, when senior Rodrick Winters and junior Mario Kinsey failed to meet academic requirements. Backup point guard Marcus Ebow, who saw about 9 minutes a game last year, will be one bright spot, while 6-2 guard Jason Stephenson – the only returning senior – joins him.
10. McNeese State Cowboys (15-14, 10-10 Southland)
Monte Farmer, Sr., F (4.2 rpg, 52% FG)
Marcus Watts, So., C (4.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
Eldridge Lewis, Sr., G (4.15 apg)
Greg Tucker, Sr., G (7.1 ppg, 72% FT)
Edward Garriet, Sr., G (7.1 ppg, 45% 3-Pt. FG)
Top Newcomer: Erkan Oguz, Jr., G/F
Two years ago the Cowboys showed the basketball world that they were not just a football school, by winning the conference tourney and going to the dance. McNeese isn’t a surefire pick this year, but Tic Price’s team is gunning for a fourth straight winning season. Senior guard Eldridge Lewis (5.3 ppg, 4.3 apg) and sophomore center Marcus Watts are the only returning starters, and neither one was a scoring machine. But according to reports out of Lake Charles, coach Price is running more intense, high-scoring scrimmages to get his team to used to up-tempo games. The week of November 3rd was a bad one for McNeese Basketball. Two key players – forward Brett Teeter and 2-guard Erkan Oguz – are out with extensive thumb and knee injuries respectively and three players returned home due to deaths in the family.
11. Nicholls State Colonels (3-25, 1-19 Southland)
Markeith Brown, Sr., G (5.5 ppg, 2.5 apg)
Shaun King, Fr., G (Rookie)
Stefan Blaszczynski, Fr., G/F (Rookie)
Eric James, Jr., F (6.2 ppg, 3.4 apg)
Kieran Gleeson, Fr., C (Rookie)
Newcomer of the Year: Stefan Blaszczynski, Fr., G/F
You might say after a 3-25 season, you can only go up, but the Colonels find themselves in another rebuilding year. Coach Ricky Blanton returns only three players this season, none of them starters. Second-year Blanton didn’t rest on his proverbial laurels. He went out and got a two-for-one deal by landing Wilkinson County High (Milledgeville, GA)’s Shaun King (5-11 point guard) and 6-8 power man Maurice Veal. Then Blanton went down under and scored a pair of Aussies. 6-6 big man Stefan Blaszczynski scored 30 ppg with his New South Wales traveling club and 6-9 Kieran Gleeson put up nightly double-doubles and was selected to the All-Australian high school team. The Colonels will put their AusGeorgia formula to the test when they face Arkansas and Florida State in their first two games.