Checking In On… the Southland ConferencePosted by rtmsf on December 16th, 2011
Zach Birdsong is the RTC correspondent for the Southland Conference. You can also find his musings online at houstionianonline.com or on Twitter @zachbird_nerd
The Week That Was:
- LaQuentin Miles named Southland Player of the Week – On Monday, Central Arkansas guard LaQuentin Miles was named as Southland Conference Player of the Week. In the last two weeks, Miles averaged 19 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game as he helped Central Arkansas win two of their three contests. His standout game came against Henderson State, when he scored a career-high 29 points while picking up 12 rebounds, giving him his fourth double-double on the young season. Against SE Missouri, Miles added 16 points, and against Arkansas State, he scored 12. Currently, Miles leads the conference in scoring average with 19.3 points per game, and also ranks third in field goal percentage (55.4%), and is tied for sixth in rebounds per game (7.0).
- Young Sam Houston squad continues to deal with injuries to bigs – It’s been a rough season for the Bearkats so far, and most of the struggles have come due to the team being undersized. Antuan Bootle, the team’s only returning starter from 2010, was injured after the first game of the season against Howard Payne. After a loss at Texas A&M, coach Jason Hooten frustratingly mentioned at his press conference that the team had only suited up six out of his 13 scholarship players. Freshman Michael Holyfield has been taking the role of the team’s big man (Holyfield is dealing with an injury of his own after suffering a broken nose during a practice).
- Lumberjacks Drop Etech Classic Finale – In the finale of the Etech Lumberjack Classic, the Lumberjacks fell just short against Florida International, losing 58-56. This was the first loss for the Lumberjacks in three years of the tournament. It looked early that it would be another tournament victory for the Lumberjacks as they were able to fight and claw their way back into the contest after trailing early. With 12 minutes to go, the Lumberjacks lead by six points. However FIU battled back and with under two minutes left to go they held on for a 58-54 win.
- Texas-San Antonio (5-4): It’s been an up-and-down season for the Roadrunners as they continue to search for consistency. Against Samford, the Roadrunners came out on fire, shooting the ball 60% from the field, including 36% from beyond the arc on their way to a rout, 74-52. Forward Jeromie Hill led the way for UTSA, scoring 20 points and collecting 6 rebounds. Forward Stephen Franklin did his job getting a double-double, while scoring 10 points and rounding up 12 rebounds. UTSA’s defense continued to apply pressure and forced Samford into 16 turnovers. Things will get a little easier for the Roadrunners as they will take on Wayland Baptist University on Dec. 19 before traveling to Houston on Dec. 20.
- Lamar (7-3): Things are starting to click for Pat Knight’s Cardinals. Over the last two weeks, the team has been perfect, winning their last three games by an average margin of 29 points. In that stretch, the Lamar defense has been solid, holding opponents to just 35% shooting from the field. While Lamar hasn’t shot the ball incredibly well (just 41%), they have done a remarkable job cleaning up the glass, which has lead to second chance points. In those three games, Lamar averaged over 64 rebounds a game, including a ridiculous 72-rebound performance against UTPA. Senior guard Mike James has come into his own, scoring 25, 10 and 16 in those three games.
- Texas-Arlington (4-3): I am high on the Mavericks as they continue to play great basketball. Though they haven’t had much action in the last two weeks, they did travel to Austin and battled Texas. While the Mavericks couldn’t pull off the upset, they played Texas close, ultimately losing 80-62. With less than 16 minutes in the game, UTA trailed by six until the Longhorns were able to score the next nine out of 12 points. Kevin Butler led the way for the Mavericks scoring 12 points and securing six rebounds. But the rest of the team struggled, shooting just 33.3% from the field. This was the second game against Big 12 competition for the Mavericks (Baylor previously). In those two games, the Mavericks have held their own. This experience against tougher teams will prove vital for the team when conference play starts.
- Northwestern State (4-5): Despite having early season struggles, the Demons have seemingly progressed and gotten better as the season has gone along. Despite losing their last two out of three games, the Demons have been able to click offensively, averaging 75 points in that span. On the road at Missouri, the team was hit fast and often as the Tigers forced turnovers as they cruised to an easy victory, 90-56. After that, the team battled against Louisiana Tech, but fell in a double overtime classic, 94-93. Lastly, against ULM, the Demons turned it around and were able to garner a victory, winning 76-63.
- Stephen F. Austin (4-4): I have been impressed with the Lumberjacks so far. Though they have dropped two of their last three games, this squad is a competitive one. The team competed and took and on Texas A&M in College Station. Though they weren’t able to pull the upset, they showed toughness and hung in there. Building off that momentum, Stephen F. Austin competed in the Etech tournament. The Lumberjacks were able to defeat Alabama State easily, winning 74-48. However, the team fell short in the finale against FIU, losing a close one, 58-56. During that three game stretch, Jereal Scott has proven to be a team leader, averaging just over 13 points a game.
- Texas State (6-3): I’m not quite sold on the Bobcats. After winning three straight, the team traveled to Austin and took on Texas. However, the Bobcats were never able to get it together and the Longhorns dominated and easily won, 86-52. This team has many questions, and though their overall record would suggest otherwise, Texas State struggles away from home (currently holding a 1-3 road record). One positive for the Bobcats is their abundance of scorers. In the last three games, three different players have stepped up and led the team in scoring.
- Southeastern Louisiana (5-3): Despite having a 5-3 overall record, Southeastern Louisiana has been a very inconsistent team. These last two weeks has proved that as the team is just 1-1 in two overtime games during that time period. The team lost to SE Missouri on the road before picking up a win against Southern University. In order to have success during conference play, SEL will have to be able to win on the road. Currently, the team remains winless away from home (0-3 record on the road). Leading scorer Brandon Fortenberry could miss some time as he is dealing with a foot injury.
- McNeese State (4-5): Before the season started, McNeese was predicted to not only be one of the top teams in the Southland Conference, but some even projected the team to win the conference. However, the team has gotten off to a rough start this season and struggled for consistency and in the last two weeks that has become more apparent. McNeese has dropped two of their last three games, including a heartbreaking loss at Louisiana Tech, 60-58. The key for McNeese is to get hot early. In their two losses, the Cowboys struggled from the field shooting under 40%, while in their lone win they shot 52%.
- Central Arkansas (5-4): As the season has progressed, it’s easy to see that the Bears have significantly improved. Starting the season with three straight losses, the team then went on a five-game losing streak before falling on the road to Arkansas State. One of the keys to the recent success of the Bears is due to their shooting improvement. In their last three games, Central Arkansas has shot the ball better (42% from the field), including a 50% mark in a win against SE Missouri. Over that three game span, LaQuentin Miles has been outstanding, averaging 19 points on his way to being named the Conference Player of the Week.
- Sam Houston (3-7): The Bearkats have been dealing with significant injuries that ultimately have affected the team’s play as they are limited in what they could do inside the paint. This past week the team traveled and took on Texas A&M and North Texas and lost both games. Sam Houston continues to shoot the ball poorly from the field (during the game in College Station they shot a dismal 25% from the floor). Sam Houston is sporting the conference’s best defense and if their injuries heal up by the start of conference play, the Bearkats could be a contender in what looks to be a tight Southland Conference race.
- Nicholls State (3-7): It would be easy to say that things have been bad for Nicholls State, so I’m going to focus on their good side. Early in the season, the team lost their first six out of seven games. However, in the last two weeks, the team has improved and won two of its last three. The team was able to garner wins against Loyola (NO) and on the road against ULM. However, the team did fall in a 93-40 shellacking by Texas. Shooting was essential for the Colonels in their two wins (53% during that span).
- Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (1-5): So far, this season has been a rough one for the Islanders. The team started the year with two straight losses before picking up a win against Utah State. However, after that, its all been downhill as the squad is currently riding a four-game losing streak (and likely to extend as they will battle West Virginia on the road). In the last two weeks, the Islanders have played games against Texas Tech, Houston and South Alabama. One reason for their lack of success is their poor shooting percentage. In those three previously mentioned game, the Islanders have shot just 37% from the field. Junior guard Terrence Jones has been a bright spot for the Islanders, though, averaging over 18 points a game in that span.
- Monday, December 19 – McNeese State at UTEP- In the early season, both McNeese and UTEP have struggled. This will be a game where both teams will be looking for a little kick start to get their seasons going in the right direction.
- Tuesday, December 20 – UTSA at Houston – Both UTSA and Houston have had their share of close games this season. From the outlook, this game will be high-scoring as both teams like to run the floor. Whichever team has their star players step up and perform well will win this game.
- Wednesday, December 21 – Southeastern Louisiana at South Carolina- Southeastern Louisiana has struggled away from the road in the early season. They will be tested when they take on South Carolina. If the team is able to get back forward Brandon Fortenberry, the Lions could be able to keep it close with the Gamecocks.
- Thursday, December 22 – Northwestern State at Mississippi State – Over the last two weeks, Northwestern State has found their identity, averaging 75 points a game. Mississippi State could be a challenge for the Demons, but the teams do match-up well against one another, and I expect this one to be a close contest.
Spotlight on the Lamar Cardinals
After a slow start this season, Pat Knight has the Lamar Cardinals heading in the right direction, winning their last three. However, they will be tested as they will travel and battle #2 Ohio State on the road on December 20. Then on Dec. 28, they will travel to Rupp arena and take on #3 Kentucky. This will be a good test for Knight to see where his team stands. Currently, Lamar ranks second amongst college basketball teams in rebounds per game. It will be interesting to see if Lamar is able to have success and out-rebound these top teams.