Top of the O26 Class: C-USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC

Posted by Adam Stillman on November 3rd, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Southern region of the U.S: Conference USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region and Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region.


Conference USA

  • Louisiana Tech –2013-14 record: 29-8 (13-3) – Two straight seasons Louisiana Tech has won its conference (C-USA in 2014; WAC in 2013), and two straight seasons the Bulldogs have been upset in the conference tournament and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. Is the third time a charm? Louisiana Tech is undoubtedly the favorite to take the C-USA crown, but can it come through when the games matter most? After flirting with some other opportunities, head coach Michael White is back, as are guards Alex Hamilton (14.5 PPG), Raheem Appleby (11.2 PPG) and Kenneth “Speedy” Smith (7.8 PPG, 7.7 APG). The big question mark is in the frontcourt. If the Bulldogs can get some decent play there, they might be able to finally break through.
Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C Bristow)

Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C. Bristow/AP)

  • UTEP –2013-14 record: 23-11 (12-4) – If there’s a team to challenge Louisiana Tech for the league title, it’s most likely UTEP. After a strong start with a win against Tennessee and a four-point loss to Kansas last season, the Miners stumbled down the stretch and were unable to win the league tournament on their home floor. There’s reason for optimism heading into 2014-15, though. Head coach Tim Floyd brings back a talented frontcourt duo of Julian Washburn (13.1 PPG) and Vincent Hunter (12.3 PPG), and talented recruit Omega Harris should help fill the void in the backcourt.

Ohio Valley Conference

  • Murray State2013-14 record: 23-11 (13-3) – Murray State appears ready to take back its crown as the king of the Ohio Valley Conference. By no means a bad year in 2013-14 with a CIT championship, there are loftier expectations in Murray, Kentucky, this time around. Those goals include a return to the NCAA Tournament for the third time since 2010. Cameron Payne looks to be the man to lead the Racers there — as a freshman, the talented guard averaged 16.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Joined by three other returning double-figure scorers: Jarvis Williams (14.9 PPG, 9.9 RPG), T.J. Sapp (13.3 PPG) and Jeffery Moss (13.2 PPG), Murray State and head coach Steve Prohm will be a potential Cinderella to keep an eye on.
Rick Byrd and the Belmont Bruins will battle with Murray State for OVC supremacy.

Rick Byrd and the Belmont Bruins will battle with Murray State for OVC supremacy. (AP)

  • Belmont –2013-14 record: 26-10 (14-2) – Belmont has a little bit of postseason history itself, with six NCAA Tournament appearances under its belt since 2006. While most of that came as a member of the Atlantic Sun, the Bruins did represent the OVC in NCAA Tournament in their league debut in 2011-12. Belmont will always be a force to be reckoned with as long as Rick Byrd is roaming the sidelines. Craig Bradshaw (15.7 PPG) and Reece Chamberlain (10.9 PPG) will provide a solid 1-2 punch, but what will the supporting cast give him?

Southland Conference

  • Stephen F. Austin2013-14 record: 32-3 (18-0) There might not be enough superlatives to describe what Stephen F. Austin did last season. It was nothing short of amazing. A few highlights? Let’s start with 29 straight wins, bridging the regular season into the postseason. Then there was the comeback win against VCU you had to see to believe (a four-point play with 3.6 seconds to go tied the game) for the #12-over-#5 upset in the NCAA Tournament. While that might be impossible to top in 2014-15, this is still a team capable of reaching the Big Dance and winning another game once it gets there. Reigning Southland Player of the Year Jacob Parker (14.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG) is back, as is Thomas Walkup (13.1 PPG).
  • Sam Houston State2013-14 record: 24-11 (13-5) Sam Houston State returns a strong nucleus from last season, including preseason all-league selections Jabari Peters (12.6 PPG) and Kaheem Ransom (11.6 PPG). If anybody will give Stephen F. Austin a run for its money in the Southland, it’s going to be the Bearkats. They played the league champions tough last season, losing their two games by a combined 10 points. A conference tournament title game between the two could be another doozy.

Sun Belt Conference

  • Georgia State2013-14 record: 25-9 (17-1) Georgia State might be the fourth and final team in the top tier of mid-major programs heading into the 2014-15 season (along with Wichita State, Gonzaga, and Harvard). Coming off a very successful campaign last season — the only thing missing was an NCAA Tournament berth — it’s possible that the Panthers will be even better this year. Georgia State boasts one of the top backcourts in the entire nation, not just among the mid-major ranks. R.J. Hunter (18.3 PPG) and Ryan Harrow (17.8 PPG, 4.2 APG) are joined by Louisville transfer Kevin Ware to form a scary trio of athletic and talented guards. The big question mark will be in the frontcourt. Can the Panthers find any help there for Curtis Washington (7.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG)?
R.J. Hunter is the star for Sun Belt favorite Georgia State. (Georgia State athletics)

R.J. Hunter is the star for Sun Belt favorite Georgia State. (Georgia State athletics)

  • Louisiana-Lafayette2013-14 record: 23-12 (11-7) Top-10 NBA Draft pick Elfrid Payton might be gone, but there’s still reason for optimism at Louisiana-Lafayette. The biggest is the return of double-double machine Shawn Long (18.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG), a future pro in his own right. The Ragin’ Cajuns stole an NCAA bid from Georgia State last year in the Sun Belt title game, and while winning the league is probably out of the question, a repeat as a bid thief certainly isn’t.

Southwestern Athletic Conference

  • Alabama State 2013-14 record: 19-13 (12-6) Alabama State is really just here to acknowledge the SWAC as an NCAA Division I basketball-playing member that sends a representative to the Big Dance every year. The Hornets get the nod as the preseason favorite, as voted on by the league’s coaches. Regardless, the conference tournament champion will be sent to a play-in game, and if it manages to advance, will be blasted by a #1 seed. James Waters (14.3 PPG, 5.9 APG) is the guy to watch for Alabama State.
Which mid-major will make the most noise this season? in Rush the Court's Polls on LockerDome


  • R.J. Hunter– The type of player you don’t typically see in leagues like the Sun Belt. The Georgia State guard stands at 6’6″ and plays like a high-major athlete. The son of head coach Ron Hunter, R.J. poured in 18.6 PPG and grabbed 4.6 APG last season. He also takes care of the ball, turning it over at a 8.1 percent clip, good for 19th in the nation.
  • Ryan Harrow – Harrow has finally found a home at Georgia State. After struggling at previous stops with Kentucky and N.C. State, Harrow had himself a huge first season for the Panthers. The point guard scored 17.8 PPG and dished out 4.2 APG as a junior. Let’s see what he has in store in his final go-round.
  • Jacob Parker– The reigning Southland Conference Player of the Year does a little of everything. He scores (14.2 PPG), he rebounds (7.1 RPG), he defends, and he can step out and hit the 3-pointer (46.9%). Parker was a big reason Stephen F. Austin won a game in the NCAA Tournament last season, and he’s the main reason the Lumberjacks are the favorites to again claim the league’s automatic bid.
Jacob Parker returns as the Southland Conference Player of the Year for Stephen F. Austin. (

Jacob Parker returns as the Southland Conference Player of the Year for Stephen F. Austin. (

  • Cameron Payne – The 6’2″ guard was a revelation as a freshman, scoring 16.8 PPG and ranking 26th in the nation with a 34.0 percent assist rate. It should be more of the same from the Preseason OVC Player of the Year, as the point guard is filling Isiah Canaan’s shoes nicely.
  • Shawn Long – Let’s call this Long’s “contract season,” as the 6’9″ forward from Louisiana-Lafayette appears to be a near-lock to enter the NBA Draft after the year is over. DraftExpress rates him 36th in its most recent mock draft. Long does exactly what you want a big man to do: score (17.8 PPG), rebound (10.3 RPG and collects 26.7 percent of the available defensive boards, good for 17th nationwide), and protect the rim (9.1% block rate, 54th in the nation).
  • Corey Walden – The senior guard played a vital role in leading Eastern Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament last season, averaging 23.3 PPG in the OVC Tournament. Walden is the top returning scorer for the Colonels at 13.8 PPG, and he’ll be counted on to replace some of the scoring lost with Glenn Cosey’s departure (18.7 PPG).
  • Kenneth Smith — Speedy, as they call him, can do more than just run fast. The senior Louisiana Tech point guard was one of the best at his position last season, leading the nation in assists with 7.7 APG. Not only that, his 4.6 percent steal rate ranked 11th in the country. A pest for opposing teams, Speedy is a guy to keep an eye on in Conference USA.


  • Devonte Upson – Upson plays for a team that’s not going to make any noise this season at Southeastern Louisiana, a middle of the pack Southland Conference squad. Upson will make plenty of noise on his own, though.

  • Javonte Douglas – You might not recognize the name at first. After all, he’s a junior-college transfer heading into his first season at Old Dominion. But you more than likely have seen one of his dunks from last year at College of Central Florida.

Coach on the Rise

  • Mike WhiteLouisiana Tech– Don’t forget this name. White is going to be big-time before too long. The fourth-year Louisiana Tech head coach turned down the Tennessee coaching job during the offseason to stay with the Bulldogs. Now whether that’s because Tech has a good shot at making the NCAA Tournament this season and Tennessee is in rebuilding mode, or because White is holding off for an even bigger gig next off-season — that remains to be seen. But there’s no doubt White is a coach on the rise.
Adam Stillman (48 Posts)

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