Monday , Nov , 08 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Southwestern Athletic Conference

*** College Basketball Preview – Southwestern Athletic Conference ***

The Sports Network

By Pat Taggart, College Basketball Staff Writer

OUTLOOK: Last year, Alabama State won the SWAC Tournament title after
finishing second in the standings during the regular season. According to a
recent vote by the league’s coaches and sports information directors, the
Hornets are the favorite to finish on top in 2004-05. Don’t expect an easy
road, however, as the SWAC is a league of considerable parity. Southern is
fortunate to have five of its top six players back in the fold, and coach
Michael Grant hopes that the experience and talent will pay major dividends.
Mississippi Valley State rode its tenacious defense all the way to a regular
season title a year ago, and the defense will be even more important this
season considering that the Delta Devils lost their top two scorers. Alabama
A&M has a chance to claim the crown because of Obie Trotter, as he may be the
league’s most talented overall performer. As for Jackson State, it certainly
has a different attitude these days thanks to head coach Tevester Anderson,
but the squad lost some serious scoring punch from a year ago and may not have
what it takes to challenge some of the better teams in the SWAC. Texas
Southern expects to be good once again, as it has a few key contributors back
from the group that finished third during the regular season in 2004-05. If
you were to pick a true darkhorse, Grambling may be the best choice. The
Tigers aren’t expected to challenge for the title, but their young nucleus
from a year ago is more experienced now, and there is no doubt that some
considerable talent exists on the roster. Alcorn State split its 18 league
tilts in 2003-04, but it would be a surprise if the squad is able to repeat
that showing. Rounding out the conference are Prairie View A&M and Arkansas-
Pine Bluff, a pair of squads that will experience many more lows than highs
this season.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Alabama State

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Alabama State; 2. Southern; 3. Mississippi
Valley State; 4. Alabama A&M; 5. Jackson State; 6. Texas Southern; 7.
Grambling State; 8. Alcorn State; 9. Prairie View A&M; 10. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

ALABAMA STATE: Sure, last year’s top scorer Malcolm Campbell is gone. Still,
it’s hard to say that any team has a better chance of winning the league than
Alabama State. The Hornets have better guard play and more depth on the front
line according to head coach Rob Spivery, and he expects the team to score
more points than it did a year ago. Whether the defense will be quite as tough
remains to be seen. In the first exhibition game of the season, Ralfeal Golden
netted 21 points and Akeim Claborn added 12 points as Alabama State defeated
Division II Montevallo, 77-74. While the score was too close for comfort, it
was positive to see Golden score the way he did.

SOUTHERN: No team in the league will depend more heavily on one player than
Southern will on Deon Sanders, but the senior forward is more than capable of
carrying the load. Recently named the SWAC Preseason Offensive Player of the
Year, Sanders is coming off a junior campaign in which he averaged 18.4 ppg
and 5.8 rpg. With his notorious name, Sanders has had to work especially hard
to create his own identity, and he has done so successfully. While the
supporting cast for the Tigers could certainly be better, expect the team to
ride Sanders to many more wins than losses.

MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE: It’s fun to watch a team that is completely
dedicated to shutting down its opponent defensively. That was the case with
the 2003-04 Mississippi Valley State squad, and the results was a 16-2 league
record and a regular season title. Repeating that feat will be extremely
difficult, however, as the two proven scorers from a season ago are gone.
Fortunately, senior guard Soloman Forbes is back in the fold. Forbes averaged
14.0 ppg as a junior, and that mark would have been even better if not for his
inconsistent 39.1 percent shooting from the floor. Surrounding Forbes are a
collection of solid players willing to do whatever it takes to win.

ALABAMA A&M: The best guard in the SWAC without question is Obie Trotter, a
player who can get it done on both ends of the floor. He averaged 18.2 points
(second in SWAC), 5.1 rebounds (13th in SWAC), 4.34 assists (second in SWAC)
and 3.03 steals (first in SWAC) per game last season, and there is no reason
to expect a decline in 2004-05. Trotter had 26 games with double-digit points
(13 with at least 20 points) and 13 games with at least six rebounds. His
backcourt mate, Rickey Ricketts, is back after averaging 9.3 ppg a season ago.
Ricketts has plenty of room for improvement, however, as he shot a lowly 33.7
percent from the floor. The frontcourt is unproven, and the hope is that a few
forwards will be at least serviceable.

JACKSON STATE: Ishmael Joyce and K.C. Cavette combined to average 28.7 ppg
last year, but both are gone and will be sorely missed. Aside from those
players, no Tiger averaged more than 7.1 ppg a year ago, so it is unclear who
will emerge as the go-to guy at the offensive end when this new season gets
started. Jackson State suffered losses in six of its final seven regular
season games in 2003-04, and while the team expects to win this year, there
are plenty of questions to be answered. If 7-0 center Shane King can provide
an inside presence, Jackson State will benefit tremendously.

TEXAS SOUTHERN: The Tigers finished third during the regular season in
2003-04, and guard Allen Lovett is the key to the squad’s success this year.
Lovett averaged 13.9 ppg and 5.4 rpg last season, and that rebounding figure
is impressive considering that he plays guard. Sophomore guard Larry Evans is
certainly capable of developing into a solid second scoring option, as he is a
constant threat from three-point range. Last year’s club won 10 games against
conference opponents, but a repeat of that feat seems highly unlikely.

GRAMBLING STATE: Last year, the Tigers had a combination of 12 freshmen and
sophomores on their roster. Coach Larry Wright expects significant improvement
from that group, and Brion Rush is the best of the bunch. The junior guard
averaged 19.3 ppg last year, and twice he scored more than 30 points in a
contest. Considering that Rush finished with more turnovers than assists,
there is some room for improvement, but his overall game is strong. Maurice
Searight, another guard for Grambling, is not much of a threat as a scorer.
Fortunately, however, he is strong in other areas of the game (7.0 apg, 5.1
rpg). At just 6-2, his ability to outrebound taller players is remarkable.
Rush and Searight form a strong backcourt, and there is enough talent in other
spots to make Wright optimistic.

ALCORN STATE: The bad news for Alcorn State is that last year’s leading
scorer, Brian Jackson, is no longer with the squad. On a positive note,
however, Trey Johnson and DeAndre Jones are back in the fold. Jones averaged
7.9 ppg in 24.2 minutes per game a year ago, and both of those numbers figure
to increase significantly in 2004-05. His 39.3 percent shooting from behind
the arc keeps defenders honest, and his 21-point effort in a near upset of
Southern Miss last season is proof of his ability. As for Johnson, he netted
11.0 ppg last year thanks in large part to his 41.5 percent efficiency from
three-point range. Johnson also dished out 78 assists, proof of his
unselfishness. Not much is being expected of the Braves as a team, and the
players and coaches feel that they have a golden opportunity to shock some
people.

PRAIRIE VIEW A&M: All nine of Prairie View A&M’s non-conference games last
year ended in defeat, but the squad did manage to post seven victories against
non-conference opposition. There is hope for this year, however, as Tyrone
Nelson is poised for a monster campaign. As a freshman, the forward averaged
15.1 ppg and 8.4 rpg. There is no reason to expect anything but improvement
from the frontcourt force, and he should get some help from a pair of fellow
sophomores. Joshua Thompson and Jared Ellison did not post big numbers in
2003-04, but they will be counted on much more heavily as this new year begins
and both have the ability to be solid.

ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF: While Arkansas-Pine Bluff brings back almost every key
contributor from last year’s squad, it is hard to get too excited considering
that the 2003-04 version of the Golden Lions finished 1-26 overall, including
1-17 in league play. Not a single player averaged double figures in points a
season ago, and there is a good chance that the same fact will be stated after
this season. Sadly enough, there is a realistic chance that Arkansas-Pine
Bluff will go winless this season.