RTC Conference Primers: #28 – Southland ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on October 6th, 2011
Zach Birdsong of The Houstonian is the RTC correspondent for Southland Conference. You can find him on Twitter at @zachbird_nerd.
Readers’ Take I
- McNeese State Returns Championship Squad: Last season, the McNeese State Cowboys finished conference play with an 11-5 record. That was enough to claim the regular season league title, but the team was knocked out of the conference tournament by UT-San Antonio. McNeese returns eight players from last year’s team, though, including team MVP and All-Southland Conference forward Patrick Richard. With an experienced team, the Cowboys are hoping to break through to win the conference tournament and get to the Big Dance for the first time in ten years.
- A Knight In Sight: Pat Knight, son of legendary head coach Bobby Knight, was signed as Lamar‘s new head coach. After being fired from Texas Tech back in March, the Cardinals signed him to take over the program in April. With a new setting and bringing his Big 12 experience to the Southland, it will be interesting to see if Knight can improve on last season’s disappointing 7-9 finish.
- Bearkats Move On Without Clavell: Sam Houston State will be without star forward and Southland Conference Player of the Year Gilberto Clavell, as he graduated in May. Clavell averaged 19.5 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game last season. Head coach Jason Hooten will be bringing in a younger team as he looks to limit any slippage as a result of Clavell’s departure.
Predicted Order of Finish
- McNeese State (12-4)
- Texas-San Antonio (10-6)
- Northwestern State (10-6)
- Lamar (10-6)
- Sam Houston State (9-7)
- Texas State (9-7)
- Stephen F. Austin (8-8)
- Nicholls State (8-8)
- Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (7-9)
- Southeastern Louisiana (6-10)
- Texas-Arlington (5-11)
- Central Arkansas (2-14)
- G: Mike James, Lamar (12.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG): James did not start the season, but in 24 games in 2010-11, the guard averaged 12.5 points per game, including a ridiculous 52-point performance against Louisiana College.
- G: Devon Lamb, Lamar (9.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG): Last season, Lamb finished Southland Conference play tied for first in rebounding. In 16 conference games, the guard averaged 10.9 rebounds per game.
- F: Patrick Richard, McNeese State (16.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG): Patrick Richard was named the McNeese State MVP and was an All-Southland Conference selection a year ago, as he led McNeese to the Southland Conference regular season championship.
- F: Melvin Johnson, III, UTSA (14.8, 3.4 RPG): Last season, Johnson was clutch for UTSA as the team ran through the Southland Conference tournament and led the team to a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
- C: William Mosley, Northwestern State (7.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG): Center William Mosley finished third in rebounding in the Southland Conference. In 16 conference games, Mosley averaged 9.8 rebounds per game and Northwestern State finished with a 10-6 record.
Sixth Man: Jereal Scott, SFA (13.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG): Averaging 13.3 points per game last season, center Jereal Scott finished second in the Southland Conference in shooting percentage (60%).
Impact Newcomer: Hammed Ali, Texas A&M-CC: The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders will have Hammed Ali this season. Ali, an incoming freshman from Hayward, California, finished his high-school career with 1,000 poins and was a two-time first team All-League selection.
McNeese State (NCAA seed: #15): A year ago, McNeese finished the Southland Conference season with a record of 11-5 and won the Southland Conference regular season championship. A year ago, the Cowboys had the highest scoring margin in the conference (+5.4 PPG), and it will be returning eight players from that team including team MVP and All-Southland forward Patrick Richard. If the team stays healthy, it will be amongst the top contenders in the Southland and have a great shot at getting to the NCAAs.
- UTSA: After finishing last season 9-7 in conference play, the UTSA Roadrunners were able to clinch a spot in the Southland Tournament. The team would ultimately run through the tournament and win it, clinching an NCAA Tournament berth. The Roadrunners were led by forward Melvin Johnson III, who finished the season averaging 14.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. If the Roadrunners are looking to repeat, they must get the same play from Johnson as they did at the end of last season.
- Northwestern State: Northwestern State finished the 2010-11 season with a 10-6 record that put them in a tie for second place in the conference. Last season, the team led the league in blocked shots (7.3 per game) and finished second in steals (7.6 per game). If the team can continue its solid defensive play from a year ago, when it was second in the conference in adjusted defense, the team will be in every game this season.
- Lamar: Last season, the Lamar Cardinals finished last season with a 7-9 record in conference play. During the offseason, the team hired former Texas Tech head coach Pat Knight. Knight will have an experienced team that includes six seniors. Guard Mike James is among those seniors, coming off a junior campaign where he averaged 12.5 points per game. If Knight can get his team to play well and avoid injuries, Lamar could be a top contender this season. In 2010-11, Lamar played some of the fastest ball in the country, with 74.5 possessions per game, so keep an eye on whether Knight decides to keep the team pushing the ball.
Readers’ Take II
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?
- Patrick Richard: Southland fans should be plenty familiar with McNeese State’s dynamic forward, but Cowboy fans will want to cherish his final campaign as a career overseas could await him with a strong finish to his amateur days.
- Melvin Johnson, III: Johnson, who finished last season with 14.8 points per game as well as 3.4 rebounds a game, is one of the conference’s top players. Johnson hoisted over 400 shots last season, so there’s little doubt that he’ll be the focal point for the Roadrunners. If he stays healthy, he’ll play a crucial role in keeping UTSA in the mix for another NCAA Tournament berth.
Spotlight On…The Southland Conference East Division
With player returns, new coaching, and good defense, it’s easy to see why the focus this year will be on the Southland Conference’s East division. McNeese State is projected to be on top of the conference again after being the regular season champions last season. Lamar is looking to improve on last year, and has hired Pat Knight to come in and coach the Cardinals. Northwestern State was able to get great defensive play last season, and finished second in the conference with a 10-6 record. These three teams will make the Southland Conference East division fun to watch this season.
NCAA Tournament History
The Southland champion is usually good enough to avoid the NCAA Tournament’s play-in round, but that hasn’t changed the harsh reality that this is typically a one-and-done league. Only one team since 1986 has gotten past a First Round opponent, and everyone remembers Northwestern State’s huge upset win over #3 Iowa in the 2006 tourney. The league has won two other play-in games, including last year’s UTSA victory over Alabama State, but it typically has trouble getting a team out of the rut of #16 and #15 seed placements. Still, the conference has some NCAA history, having gone 14-37 (.275) with most of those wins coming from Louisiana Tech (now departed) and Lamar back in the 70s and early 80s.
As previous years have shown, the Southland Conference is a tough league and can sometimes be unpredictable. That unpredictability makes this conference a fun one to watch. The conference features top team’s who are returning players, as well as new coaches who are looking to prove that their team is the best. McNeese State is the likely top team in the conference, but it will be interesting to see if they will remain there. With a highly competitive conference, the race is up for grabs and it will be a heck of a season.