Thursday , Apr , 01 , 2010 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Southland Conference

*** College Basketball Preview – Southland Conference ***

The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, College Basketball Staff Writer

OUTLOOK: In a league that tends to be a bit on the small side in terms of the
players’ heights, the Southland Conference will once again fly under the
college basketball radar in 2004-05. Most players in the SLC fall under 6-6,
which means having a standout performer who can capture the attention of those
outside the league is quite rare. Southeastern Louisiana, which figures to
finish in the middle of the pack this year after tying for the best record in
the conference last season at 11-5, 20-9 overall, may have the most marketable
commodity in center Nate Lofton. A transfer from Arkansas-Fort Smith, Lofton
is the only returning All-Southland Conference First Team member. This season
it appears as though Sam Houston State has finally put all the pieces together
to contend for the conference crown. With one of the best inside-outside
combinations in the Southland with Jermaine Wallace and Clifton Lee,
Northwestern State is ready to make its move to the top half of the standings
as well. The rest of the league, including Texas-San Antonio, Stephen F.
Austin and Lamar, will jockey for position behind those top two teams.


PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Sam Houston State; 2. Northwestern State; 3.
Texas-San Antonio; 4. Stephen F. Austin; 5. Lamar; 6. Southeastern Louisiana;
7. McNeese State; 8. Texas- Arlington; 9. Louisiana-Monroe; 10. Texas State;
11. Nicholls State


SAM HOUSTON STATE – The Bearkats are heading into the 2004-05 campaign with
the notion that a mere seven points last year was all that separated them from
the top spot in the league standings. With that in mind and 10 of the team’s
11 lettermen returning for this season, there’s no reason to think that Sam
Houston State can’t be the frontrunners in the Southland Conference this time
around. The Bearkats return more than 88 percent of their scoring output from
a year ago and close to 95 percent of their rebounding effort. Giving the
unit respectability within the league were Joe Thompson (15.3 ppg) and Wilder
Auguste (10.8 ppg) as they earned All-Conference honors a year ago. An
unselfish group to say the least, while the Bearkats did not have an
individual player lead the league in assists for the first time in six years,
the team did lead not just the Southland but all of NCAA Division I with close
to 19 dishes per outing last year. With players who are more than willing to
give up the rock in favor of a teammate’s better scoring opportunity, there’s
little that head coach Bob Marlin needs to teach his kids at this stage.
During his six years with Sam Houston State, no team in the conference has won
more games, and that’s why the return of 6-11 Eddy Fobbs following a medical
redshirt from last year, has the entire school making plans for the first
round of the NCAA Tournament.

NORTHWESTERN STATE – This might be the season that the Demons erase the fact
that they have not yet won a Southland Conference title. Junior guard Jermaine
Wallace, the top returning scorer in the league after putting up 15.5 ppg in
2003-04, has all the tools (and the help from teammates) to turn the trick.
However, playing against no less than nine teams this year that made it to the
NCAA Tournament last season, could be a major stumbling block and might erode
the group’s confidence before the conference schedule even gets into full
swing. Wallace, who was named the SLC Freshman of the Year in 2003, will be
joined by two other All-SLC preseason selections in Byron Allen and Clifton
Lee. Head coach Mike McConathy, still 16 games under .500 as he enters his
sixth season with Northwestern State, has a lot of faith that Allen will boost
his 8.3 ppg scoring output from last season and can see Lee improving upon his
team-best 7.5 rpg, which ranked him fourth in the conference. Also joining the
fray for the Demons will be forward Jermaine Spencer who was forced to
redshirt last season due to a knee injury. Junior guard Tyronn Mitchell was
one of the league leaders at this position with better than four assists per
contest and a shooting percentage of .524 from the floor.

TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO – With the all-time winningest coach in school history at
the helm, along with four returning starters and eight lettermen in total, the
Roadrunners expect the 2004-05 campaign to finish up at least, if not better
than last year when San Antonio advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately
for UTSA the team was bounced by Stanford in the first round, but that doesn’t
keep head coach Tim Carter from being excited about his 10th season with the
program. Sophomore guard Kurt Attaway, who was named the SLC Freshman of the
Year last season when he started all 33 games and averaged 7.4 ppg, should
have even more confidence in dishing the ball off to teammates, which means
his team-high 105 assists should get a jolt. Joining him in the backcourt is
David President, one of the best defenders that the Roadrunners can turn to in
clutch situations, having recorded a team-best 55 steals in 2003-04. Because
Carter insists on running with a three-guard approach, Justin Harbert will set
himself up on the perimeter to improve upon his 10.5 ppg and the 63 three-
point field goals that he knocked down. The team will miss last year’s
conference player of the year, LeRoy Hurd, but junior college transfer Ray
Selvage could be the savior in the paint after he averaged 16 points, 13
rebounds and four blocks per outing at Pearl River. Although he is just 6-2,
senior Rapheal Posey assumes the forward position, which means he will not be
coming off the bench as much as he did last year when he averaged 11.4 ppg for
Texas-San Antonio.

STEPHEN F. AUSTIN – Trying to replace one of the league’s top players from
last season, all-conference forward Antonio Burks, Stephen F. Austin will have
trouble duplicating its 21-9 record from a season ago. The team was one of
four in the Southland to finish with double-figure league wins and was just a
game out of first place when the smoke cleared. The Lumberjacks are directed
by head coach Danny Kaspar, now entering his fifth season with the program,
who has a wealth of potential at his disposal, but for the moment that’s all
it is, potential. Anthony Paez, Justin Thomas and Jerry Cheves are three
junior college transfers on the roster this season and according to Kaspar, as
of the first days of November, they still need to get into the rhythm and pace
that SFA has set forth. The group has to replace five seniors from last year’s
team, so there’s little time to sit back and wait for players to develop into
roles. As a possible all-conference performer in his own right, point guard
Marcus Clark will have to contribute much more than his 3.9 assists per
contest from a year ago. Senior guard Leonard Brown provides plenty of
experience in the backcourt for the ‘Jacks, but with both he and Clark
checking in at 5-10 and 5-7, respectively, opponents are going to take
advantage of the duo in the paint whenever they can. The crew from Nacogdoches
hasn’t been in the NCAA Tournament since 1987 when the school was part of the
Gulf Star Conference and chances are the school will go yet another year
without the exposure.

LAMAR – Legendary head coach Billy Tubbs begins his second season (during his
second tenure) with the Cardinals and judging by his level of excitement, this
could be the year that Lamar makes a move towards the top of the Southland
standings. Last year Tubbs, who had the Cardinals running with one of the top
scoring offenses in the entire nation at nearly 80 ppg, recorded his 600th
college victory, so there’s no doubt that he has the ability to get the job
done even at a small school like Lamar. This year the team brings back three
starters from a season ago, guards Raymond Anthony and Teddy Davis, as well as
center Jason Grant. Grant hasn’t been a real scoring threat in the post, but
with one of the top recruiting classes in the nation heading in, he knows that
he could lose time in the paint if he doesn’t get his offense on track. As for
Anthony (15.5 ppg) and Davis (13.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg), they comprise one of the top
backcourts in the Southland Conference again, so now its just a matter of
plugging in a could more starters. It looks like those spots might fall to a
couple of junior college transfers in Jeremy Long and Thomas Fairly. Anthony
and fellow guard Mike Levy are the only seniors on the squad, which probably
means there’s going to be some growing pains early on, but Tubbs sees that as
a good thing.

SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA – Last year the Lions locked into a three-way tie for
first place in the Southland Conference standings with a record of 11-5
(taking the regular season title after the tiebreakers were settled), and
although they were left out of the NCAA Tournament, the team still had its
best record since moving to the Division I level with 20 wins in 29 tries.
Southeastern Louisiana, the only team to go without double-figure losses last
year, slips down in the standings this year because it finds itself without
four seniors from the 2003-04 campaign. However, the program still boasts of
one of the top performers in the SLC in senior center Nate Lofton, the
Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year after transferring from Arkansas-
Fort Worth. He was the only player in the league, just one of only a handful
of players in all of Division I, to average a double-double with 13.2 points
and 10.9 rebounds per game (the rebounding averaging coming in fourth in the
country). Head coach Billy Kennedy, a 1986 graduate of SE Louisiana, enters
his sixth season with the program still almost 30 games under .500 and could
fall even deeper into the hole with only Jonathan Patton (6.0 points and 3.0
rebounds per game) coming back as a starter from last year.

MCNEESE STATE – The Cowboys were the toast of the Southland Conference just a
couple seasons ago, but the team returned to the rest of the pack last year as
it finished just 7-9 in league play, 11-16 overall. Head coach Tic Price, now
entering his fourth season with the program, doesn’t have a single player
returning who has earned a letter and just one starter in Edward Garriet.
Garriet averaged 14 ppg last season and is the most viable scoring option as
the season opens, although Tulane transfer Troy Aaron, who is not eligible to
play until the second semester, could take away some of that burden. Joining
Garriet in the backcourt will be Ryan Price (8.3 ppg), with the forward
positions being filled by Ronald Dorsey (4.4 points, 3.2 rebounds per game)
and junior college transfer Lance Hood. At 6-11 another junior college
transfer, Darrius Manciel, will settle in at the center spot after averaging
15 points and 15 rebounds for Ft. Smith CC. Junior Kinley Sellers showed some
scoring bursts as a member of Carl Albert CC last season with 26.9 ppg, but
whether he can bring even a portion of that with him to the Cowboys remains
to be seen.

TEXAS-ARLINGTON – Entering his 13th season as the head coach at Texas-
Arlington, Eddie McCarter has his work cut out for him, trying to figure out
how to replace four seniors without slipping too far down the Southland
ladder. Last year the Mavericks claimed a share of the conference regular
season title, matching the 11-5 records produced by both SE Louisiana and
Texas-San Antonio. Junior forward Steven Thomas was selected to the Preseason
All-Southland Conference Second Team in late October after he started 19 games
for the Mavericks a season ago. He was the second-leading scorer for Arlington
with 12.1 ppg and tied for third in rebounding with 146 boards altogether.
Thomas certainly has the ability to increase those numbers this year with more
playing time, but he’ll need some of his lesser-known teammates to take the
weight off his shoulders. Sophomore Stephen Floyd showed that he can be a
threat out on the perimeter, hitting his three-pointers at 35 percent as a
freshman, while junior guard Jarrett Howell (a transfer from Niagara) has a
good eye from inside the arc. Senior forward Steven Ozier is a 6-8 product
that defected from fellow Southland member Stephen F. Austin, so he’s keen to
what awaits the Mavericks in 2004-05.

LOUISIANA-MONROE – Last year this was one of four teams to finish even in
league play with a record of 8-8, and that was quite an accomplishment
considering there wasn’t one double-digit scorer on the squad. The Indians
posted a non-conference record of just 4-11, which is why head coach Mike
Vining is not surprised to see that the rest of the Southland Conference
doesn’t fear his program all that much. Vining, who enters this season as the
league’s all-time winningest coach, has just two seniors returning in DeNadre
Alexander and Aaron Branch and a total of five players from last year’s unit
altogether. Neither Branch nor Alexander are the type of leaders that Vining
would like to go to battle with in 2004-05, but until someone else steps up to
take on the responsibility, that’s all the Indians have at the moment. One of
the other major issues with Louisiana-Monroe is that the squad lacks
significant height, with just two players checking in at 6-8 (Darien Bynum and
Oliver Haranga). Junior transfer Cecil Hood could be a competitor this year
but that remains to be seen. With opponents like Texas A&M, Ole Miss and
Arkansas early on, this group could be easily discouraged by the time the New
Year rolls around.

TEXAS STATE – As a collegiate head coach, Dennis Nutt has never known anything
other than Texas State basketball. Now entering his fifth season with the
Bobcats, Nutt consistently gets the most out of what is typically a small
lineup, but this season he may be running out of luck. After posting an 8-8
record in league play a year ago, Texas State has a lot of work ahead of it
just to break even overall in 2004-05. Senior guard Josh Naylor, who averaged
11.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game for the Bobcats in 2003-04,
was named to the Preseason All-SLC Second Team. A transfer from Northern
Oklahoma College, Naylor led the Southland in free-throw shooting a season
ago, converting 93.3 percent of his chances and was also one of the top three-
point threats at 41.6 percent beyond the arc. Unfortunately for the
sharpshooter, the rest of the projected starting five doesn’t have much
experience in scoring, with senior forwards Zach Allison and Anthony Dill both
focusing most of their energies on clearing the glass. Running with a
predominantly three-guard offense, the Bobcats are expecting a lot out of
juniors Andre Oupoh and Brad Brickens, a junior college transfer and a
redshirt from last season, respectively. Aside from opening the season with
the Texas Longhorns and then having to play SMU in early December, the Bobcats
have plenty of winnable games on the schedule (St. Edwards, Utah Valley State,
St. Gregory’s and Rochester College) so perhaps they’ll have some confidence
built up when the rest of the SLC comes calling.

NICHOLLS STATE – Why will Nicholls State finish at the bottom of the
conference once again? A good reason will be because head coach Ricky Blanton
bailed out on the squad as the end of October approached because of personal
reasons. The team wasted little time in finding a successor though, filling
the void with J.P. Piper who is stepping in after spending two years as an
assistant to Blanton. Unfortunately for the Colonels, Piper has no head
coaching experience at the college level, spending eight years at the high
school level in Louisiana instead. So what does Piper have to deal with as
Nicholls State tries to erase the memories of a 6-21 season in 2003-04? Senior
guard Willie Depron led the team in points (417), rebounds (155), assists (97)
and steals (65) last year as he started in all 27 games for the group, but
even his efforts were not enough to lift the Colonels from a 1-15 record in
league play. Senior forward Jason Wilkins (11.1 ppg) showed that he could put
points on the board for the Colonels, but they’ll need the 6-6 wing to spend
more time in the paint rather than trying to improve upon his 37.9 percent
accuracy on the perimeter. As one of the last teams in the nation to post a
conference win last season, finally beating Lamar in late February, there was
not much to be excited about in Thibodaux. It won’t get any easier this time
around with a schedule that has the likes of Mississippi State, Auburn,
Michigan and Loyola to start things off.