Last year, the conference about to be previewed managed to win one of the "First Four" play-in games thanks to a breakout performance from a sensational guard. This player and this team are back in 2011-12; and without any further ado, I give you the Southland Conference. Much like the SoCon before it, I will offer a complete order of finish before making divisional picks at the end.
1) Texas-San Antonio - The reigning Southland champion brings back sharpshooter Melvin Johnson for his junior season, and the Roadrunners should expect similar productivity from Australian import Jeromie Hill inside to ease some of the pressure on Johnson in the backcourt. If Melvin's 29-point outburst against Alabama State in the NCAA Tournament is any indication, then he will be hard to beat this season. The Roadrunners also get help inside from 6-9 Alex Vouyoukas, a former Marist transfer.
2) Lamar - The hire of former Texas Tech head man Pat Knight to take over the reins of the Cardinals moves them up in this conference, and not just because of the name. All three of Lamar's most productive guards (Mike James, Anthony Miles and Devon Lamb) will return to play their first season of Knight basketball, but Bobby's boy will have a hard time inside given the lack of size on the Lamar roster.
3) Northwestern State - It wasn't long ago that the Demons advanced to the round of 32 as a No. 14 seed; and if the chips fall in the right places again, the Louisiana institution best known for producing former Saints and Falcons quarterback Bobby Hebert could be dancing one more time. Guard Louis Ellis is the top returning scorer for the Demons; but the X-factor will be 6-7 senior center William Mosley, who averaged almost five blocked shots per game last year.
4) Southeast Louisiana - Brandon Fortenberry coming back for his senior season is the shot in the arm the Lions need to jump into the top half of the Southland. The 6-3 combo guard possessed a successful balance between scoring and playmaking last season in SLU's 15-14 campaign, and his 36 percent clip from three-point range should enable him to play off the ball a little more with backcourt partner DeShawn Patterson also returning.
5) McNeese State - The reigning East division champions should still be in the top half of the league despite the loss of three starters. The Cowboys are expecting a big season from junior swingman Patrick Richard, and are hoping Dontae Cannon can step into the starting point guard role vacated by C.J. Collins.
6) Sam Houston State - This will be a rebuilding year for last year's West division winners. However, the Bearkats are experienced despite having just one senior on their roster. Pay attention to 6-7 small forward Marcus James. The Connecticut native did not get the chance to contribute very often last year, but the athletic swingman should be an integral part of the offense this time around.
7) Texas State - Former Miami transfer Eddie Rios will be the Bobcats' leader this season in the absence of their four top scorers from a season ago, and swingman Travis Jones will likely see the first crack at the starting shooting guard position. Much like Lamar, size is a concern for Texas State, who features just two players over 6-8.
8) Texas-Arlington - UTA loses swingmen LaMarcus Reed and Bo Ingram, but gets the services of 6-3 guard Cameron Catlett for another year. Although Catlett was primarily a bench contributor a season ago, he still produced enough to be the Mavericks' third-leading scorer. 6-10 forward Jordan Reyes will also get an opportunity to increase his production, particularly on the glass.
9) Stephen F. Austin - The Lumberjacks only have one senior on their roster, but 6-7 senior center Jereal Scott just happens to be SFA's top returning scorer and rebounder. Darius Gardner and Antonio Bostic will likely be the starting backcourt, with Bostic playing off the ball while Gardner runs the point.
10) Nicholls State - The Colonels will get guard Fred Hunter for a full season, which bodes well for their chances given the sharpshooter's prowess from long range. Sophomore guard Dantrell Thomas will be Hunter's comrade in the backcourt, and he will need to have a phenomenal season to make up for the lack of size up front.
11) Central Arkansas - Corliss Williamson, who won a national championship with the University of Arkansas in 1994, is coaching the Bears, who get guards Mark Rutledge and Dewan Clayborn back to anchor their offense from a team that won only five games last year.
12) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi - The man who made the motor run for the Islanders a year ago comes back, as 6-2 point guard Terence Jones returns for his junior season. Swingman Chris Mast is the lone senior on a young team with a bright future.
Southland Conference East Division Picks
2) Northwestern State
3) Southeast Louisiana
4) McNeese State
5) Nicholls State
6) Central Arkansas
Southland Conference West Division Picks
1) Texas-San Antonio
2) Sam Houston State
3) Texas State
5) Stephen F. Austin
6) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi