The Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils are regular season champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
They’ve done so by rattling off 14 straight conference wins after starting the regular season 1-11.
The Delta Devils’ season is one of the more remarkable runs in recent SWAC history, as they are one of four teams in Division 1 that holds an unbeaten conference record.
Additionally, MVSU is the third team in the last four years to win the league title after losing nine or more games during non-conference play.
Add it up, the Delta Devils are atop the standings for the first time since 2008.
How have they done it?
Feasting on SWAC opponents
The Delta Devils (15-11, 14-0 SWAC) lost 11 of their first 12 non-conference games to the likes of Notre Dame, North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Northwestern — all teams from major power conferences and currently fighting for births in the NCAA tournament.
MVSU’s only non-conference win came at home Nov.25 versus Tennessee State in double overtime.
SWAC play presented an opportunity for the Delta Devils to navigate a schedule where the league was a combined 6-85 through the first month of the regular season, which was a far cry from the elite competition and hostile road environments they faced months earlier.
Head coach Sean Woods said the tough schedule was a catalyst for maturing and developing the team.
“I didn’t know we’d be undefeated (this far into the SWAC season), but I did think we could be good in our league,” Woods told the Lexington Herald.
The Delta Devils’ current 14-game winning streak is its longest since the 2007-08 season and the 2003-2004 season when the team won nine straight those years.
Improved defensive play
During their early season struggles, Mississippi Valley State surrendered 90-plus points in three of their first 12 games, including 101 in a loss to then No. 1 North Carolina. In fact, MVSU was giving up 81.1 points per game.
Since then, Delta Devils opponents haven’t cracked 70 points in a single game, as the unit has only allowed 60.9 during conference play.
Veterans carrying the load
“I’ve got seven seniors. The guys, I think, have learned that if we don’t get beaten down from all the losing, we can do good things in our own conference,” said Woods.
Seniors like guard Terrance Joyner, who leads the team in scoring with 14.1 points per game, has been steady all season filling the stat sheet with production in every category. Joyner is second in three-point percentage (37.5 percent) and is among the leaders in assists at 4.2 per game.
Over the last five games, he has averaged 17.7 points.
Joyner’s backcourt mate Cor-J Cox a junior who only played a little under nine minutes a game while scoring 3.9 points last season, has had a complete 180 degree turn during the 2011-12 campaign. Cox has a career high in points (11.2), three-point scoring (37.8 percent) and field goal percentage (51.3)
Although forward Falando Jones is out for the season with an ACL injury, he added nearly 10 points per contest and 40 percent shooting from three-point range.
Kevin Burrell, the smallest man on the team at 5-feet-10, led the squad in scoring three times this season in games versus Alabama State, Alabama A&M and Notre Dame.
Paul Crosby, who made the game-winning basket against Prairie View to clinch the SWAC title, has been stellar all year providing toughness on the low post on both ends of the floor at center. The reigning SWAC player of the week, and on the radar for conference player of the year, has scored in double figures in his last eight outings, including a dominate 23 and 15 game against second-place Southern.
“He showed you why a lot of people think he’s the best player in this league,” coach Sean Woods said of Crosby after the Southern game.
While the Delta Devils haven’t been one of the great teams in college basketball this season, they’ve been efficient enough to distance themselves from the SWAC pack getting timely contributions throughout the roster and believing in a head coach who wouldn’t let initial disappointments deter them.