Derick Beltran is no longer around, but Southern returns enough of its championship core this season to make hopes of a repeat in SWAC realistic. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)
Our "32 In 32" series marches on tonight, with the Southwestern Athletic Conference getting its moment in the sun. This time, however, the SWAC profile will be done at a somewhat reasonable hour, unlike the 2011 SWAC preview on this site; which was completed at our "upstate office," the home of friend of the site David Rochford, shortly after 4:00 a.m., and posted later in the day. The same field of ten teams will be chronicled, but with a different look than we revealed two years ago. Without any further ado...
1) Texas Southern - Senior point guard Ray Penn may stand just 5-9, but there is no doubt that he makes the biggest impact for the Tigers on both sides of the ball, having averaged more than twelve points and nearly six assists per game while also shooting 36 percent from three-point range to make the Houston native one of the most feared players in the SWAC. Texas Southern also has a formidable inside/outside scoring duo behind Penn, with senior forward Aaron Clayborn and fellow senior Lawrence Johnson-Danner; who connected from beyond the arc at a 39 percent clip, serving as the Tigers' supporting cast.
2) Arkansas-Pine Bluff - The Lions, who won the SWAC back in 2010, are in prime position to raise a championship trophy for the second time in four years, with three returning starters and four of their top six scorers back this season. Senior forward Davon Haynes is a candidate to average a double-double per game after managing twelve points and seven rebounds per contest last year, while point guard Tevin Hammond makes the motor run out of the backcourt.
3) Southern - The reigning SWAC champion Jaguars only have six players on their roster at the present moment, but three of them are key contributors from the team that nearly upset Gonzaga as a No. 16 seed last March. Derick Beltran is gone, but senior guard Malcolm Miller, who shot an uncharacteristically high (for a shooting guard) 51 percent from the field and 46 from three-point range, returns alongside burgeoning big man Javan Mitchell to keep a competitive balance on the bayou.
4) Alabama A&M - Much like Texas Southern, the Bulldogs have a dynamo point guard who makes their motor run, and it comes in the form of 5-8 senior Jeremy Crutcher, who averaged twelve points and nearly five assists per game while shooting 38 percent from three-point range. Crutcher's backcourt partner Brandon Ellis and swingman Demarquelle Tabb, the Bulldogs' leading scorer last season, make Alabama A&M a deceptively strong foe despite last season's 11-20 record.
5) Prairie View A&M - Usually, the Panthers are brought up for negative reasons, such as their football team's infamous 80-game losing streak during the 1990s. However, 6-11 senior forward Jules Montgomery can keep Prairie View in their share of games this season, as well as underrated rebounder Demondre Chapman, a fellow senior who joins Montgomery up front.
6) Mississippi Valley State - Notorious for being the alma mater of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, the Delta Devils will make a big jump from their 5-23 record last year, a year in which not a single senior was on the roster. Having the whole team back will give head coach Chico Potts mounds of confidence, and the backcourt of seniors Davon Usher and Darryl Marshall; coupled with sophomore and rising star Matt Smith, makes MVSU a potential sleeper just two years after winning the SWAC.
7) Alcorn State - The alma mater of the late Steve McNair retains the services of point guard LeAntwan Luckett, who enters his junior year for the Braves on the heels of averaging over thirteen points per game last season. Senior Anthony Evans and sophomore Devonte Hampton will be relied upon heavily as Luckett's backcourt running mates.
8) Alabama State - The Hornets lose their top two scorers from last season, but senior forward Phillip Crawford is back for one more year after averaging nearly eleven points and six rebounds per game as a junior.
9) Jackson State - Senior guard Jeff Stubbs will be the primary option for the Tigers this year after coming off the bench last season to average over seven points per game in only 19 minutes. With eight freshmen on the roster, patience truly will be a virtue in Mississippi's state capital this season.
10) Grambling State - Best known for the legacy of legendary football coach Eddie Robinson and Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, the Tigers have nowhere to go but up after finishing 0-28 last year. Grambling will not go winless this time, however, with an inside/outside tandem of leading scorer and sophomore guard Terry Rose returning to join junior forward Demetri Wheeler, the team's top returning rebounder.