Wednesday , Mar , 08 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

2006 Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament Preview

The Sports Network

By Nick Browne, College Basketball Staff Writer

FACTS & STATS: Site: Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Arena (17,000) —
Birmingham, Alabama. Dates: March 9-11. Television: ESPN U (Semifinals and
Championship Game). Annual: 29th. Defending Champion: Alabama A&M

OUTLOOK: Birmingham, Alabama is the site of the 29th annual Southwestern
Athletic Conference Tournament, which is set to get underway on Thursday,
March 9th. While league play was tight this season, and teams battled
until the final day of the regular slate for tourney seeding, one team stood
above the rest throughout. The Southern University Jaguars (16-12, 15-3) were
almost unstoppable in SWAC play, winning 15 of 18 league bouts to claim the
regular season title and the top seed in this event. The Jaguars’ regular-
season crown was their first since the 1989-90 season. Coming into tournament
play, coach Rob Spivery’s squad is the consensus favorite to come out on top.
If Southern is able to take the tourney title, it will be the seventh time it
has done so and tie the school with Alcorn State for most all-time. While it
looks as though this is the Jaguars’ tournament to lose, there are a few other
squads looking to make some noise, most notably second seed and defending
tournament champ Alabama A&M (13-12, 11-7), which finished the regular slate
on a five-game win streak. Also, third-seeded Grambling State (13-12, 11-7)
could be a team to be reckoned with. Last year, Alabama A&M knocked off
Alabama State, 72-53, to win its first ever SWAC Tournament title.

The first game of the tournament features fifth-seeded Jackson State (14-16,
10-8) and fourth-seeded Alabama State (12-17, 10-8). ASU has just a 14-17 mark
in this event all-time, but has played in four of the last five championship
games, losing last year and taking the crown in 2004. The Hornets ended the
regular season with a win over Jackson State, following a three-game losing
streak. Prior to the skid, the Hornets had been one of the SWAC’s hottest
squads, reeling off seven straight wins. As for JSU, it will be looking to
avenge the season-ending 93-79 loss to the Hornets in this quarterfinal-round
tilt. While the Tigers dropped five of their final seven games, they have been
a force to reckoned with in the tourney in the past, winning the title four
times, with the most recent coming in 2000.

The second tip-off of the opening day pits the third-seeded Grambling State
Tigers (13-12, 11-7) against the sixth-seeded Mississippi Valley State Delta
Devils (9-18, 9-9). The Tigers ended the regular season on a sour note,
dropping a heart-breaking 58-57 decision to Alabama A&M. If the Tigers had
come out on top in that contest, they would have earned the number two seed.
GSU struggled down the stretch, losing three of its final four games to drop
to 11-7 in league play. One such loss came at the hands of these same Delta
Devils, 62-53. The Tigers have never won this event. Mississippi Valley State
struggled through much of the season, and the team dropped seven straight at
one point. The Delta Devils did however, rebound late in the year to win three
of their final five tilts to secure the sixth seed. MVS has won three
tournament championships in its history, with the latest coming in 1996.

The third quarterfinal-round clash features the defending tournament champs,
second-seeded Alabama A&M (13-12, 11-7) against the seventh-seeded Arkansas-
Pine Bluff Golden Lions (11-15, 8-10). The Bulldogs used a thrilling 58-57 win
over Grambling State on the final day of the regular season to grab the No. 2
seed from the Tigers. A&M ended the season as quite possibly the hottest team
in the conference, reeling off five consecutive wins to finish the regular
campaign. While the Bulldogs have won just one tourney title, it came last
season over Alabama State. The Golden Lions were up and down throughout the
final portion of their schedule this season, seemingly alternating wins and
losses down the stretch. APBU did, however, win four of its final six
contests, including a 68-57 decision against Mississippi Valley State on the
last day of the regular season. The team has never won the conference
tournament.

The nightcap of the quarterfinal round has the top-seeded Southern Jaguars
(16-12, 15-3) matching up with the eighth-seeded Alcorn State Braves (8-19,
8-10). The Jags were one of the hottest teams in the conference all season
long, especially over the final 12 games, as they won 10 of their final 12 to
finish far and above the rest of the league in the standings. Southern has won
the SWAC Tournament six times, last taking the crown in 1993. The Jaguars
appeared in the finals in 1999, but fell to the Braves, 89-83. Alcorn State
was able to get its game on track in the final two regular-season bouts,
claiming wins over Texas Southern and Prairie View. Prior to those victories,
the squad had struggled in falling in four straight and 11 of its previous 14
contests. ASU has won the SWAC Tournament championship a record seven times,
with the last coming in 2002 over Alabama State.

Despite, being outscored by the slimmest of margins (0.1 ppg), Southern
managed to dominate play in the SWAC this season. The Jaguars did so thanks to
the best shooting percentage in the conference (.444) and the number two
scoring defense (65.9 ppg). Southern proved it has a solid, hard-nosed group
of defensive-minded players, which will prove vital in the tourney, as the
Jaguars will win the title and advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Sports Network Predicted Champion: Southern University