The 2019 edition of the Toyota SWAC Basketball Tournament kicks off Tuesday night with a total of four men’s games on the home courts of seeds 1-4. Before the action tips off this evening, watch out for these storylines on and off the court.
PRAIRIE VIEW A&M ENTERS AS TOURNAMENT FAVORITE
Prairie View A&M enters the tournament as the hottest team in the SWAC with a 17-1 league record and the proud owners of the top seed. The Panthers open up at home versus No. 8 Alcorn State on Tuesday and gets to play a team they defeated by 34 points this past weekend. While the scales should tip in Prairie View’s favor, Alcorn State does have history on its side as they took out top-seeded Mississippi Valley in 2004 but Prairie View A&M is well aware lightning can strike as they knocked off top-seeded Southern in the 2014 SWAC Tournament as the No. 8 seed.
A win over Alcorn State would set the Panthers up against either No. 4 Arkansas-Pine Bluff or No. 5 Grambling State in Birmingham at Bill Harris Arena on Friday. Either team would be an intriguing match-up for the Panthers as both teams overcame blowouts by PVAMU in the first half of SWAC play to play much closer games in the second half.
Head coach Byron Smith has built the program the old-fashioned way and has taken the Panthers one step further in regular season and postseason play each season as head coach. Will this be the year he takes the final step and make it to the finals? PVAMU has appeared in the 2013 and 2014 championship games and a de facto championship game in the 2015 tournament. At stake is the program’s first SWAC Tournament Championship since the 1998 season.
TEXAS SOUTHERN IS ONE TO WATCH
This was a typical year for Texas Southern as the Tigers once again picked up major non-conference wins and were a factor in the SWAC race. However, an injury to center Trayvon Reed in the second game of league play altered the lineup and slowed the Tigers down early as they dropped three of their first seven SWAC games while Prairie View A&M never slowed down en route to a 9-0 start.
TSU and new head coach Johnny Jones regrouped from Reed’s absence and reeled off 11 straight wins as Jeremy Combs emerged as the team’s go-to player down low while point guard Tyrik Armstrong became a key factor in the backcourt. The Tigers closed out SWAC play last Saturday night with a shocking loss to Southern and will have an opportunity to redeem themselves quickly as they’ll host No. 8 Southern once again Tuesday night. A win on Tuesday would set up a rematch with either Jackson State or Alabama State as TSU swept both teams this season. One caveat to watch out for is both Alabama State and Jackson State has played TSU tough by virtue of holding double digit leads over the Tigers before falling to late rallies.
This time of the year is when TSU hits its stride as the Tigers have won two consecutive tournament championships and four of the last five tournament titles. Since 2010, TSU has had a say in how the tournament will end as the Tigers have made six appearances in the championship game.
With a new head coach making his tournament debut along with several key starters in their first year of SWAC play, will they be able to keep the tradition going?
THE DARK HORSES
George Ivory of Arkansas-Pine Bluff is tournament tested with a tournament title (2010) under his belt and another as a player in the mid-1980s. No. 5 UAPB features the SWAC’s top scorer in Martaveous McKnight (20.6 ppg) and has size in the post to wear down smaller teams. Tuesday’s contest versus No. 4 Grambling is intriguing as UAPB defeated GSU by four recently but was defeated by 14 earlier in the season.
Depending on whom you ask, Jackson State either played below expectations this year or remained under the radar but the Tigers played their way into a No. 3 seed nonetheless. They’ll open up against No. 6 Alabama State and has recent history on its side after claiming a 12-point win over ASU on Saturday. A win over ASU sets up a rematch with Texas Southern or Southern as JSU split with SU and had TSU on the ropes in both losses this season.
JSU enters tournament play winners in four of its last five games as head coach Wayne Brent looks to get past the first round for the first time since his 2016 SWAC Tournament Championship game appearance.
Things didn’t turn out as expected for the No. 4 seed Tigers this season as they were picked to win the SWAC after winning their first regular season title in 29 years last season. The Tigers are built for postseason play with size in the post and exciting guard play but which team will show up?
One thing to consider is postseason experience will be a factor for head coach Donte’ Jackson and Grambling State as a whole. This marks his inaugural SWAC Tournament appearance as the Tigers were not eligible for postseason play last season. Since 2014, GSU has only advanced to the semifinals once (2017) but they do feature several players from the 2017 team which took eventual champion Texas Southern to the wire.
Southern’s body of work this season wouldn’t normally put them on this list but they’re coached by veteran Sean Woods and he has a SWAC Tournament title on his resume’ (2012). Woods closed out the 2018-19 regular season with a win over No. 2 Texas Southern and snapped the team’s 11-game win streak. If you look closely at Woods’ tournament history while in the SWAC, he is 1-3 in first round games but his average margin in those games is 3.2 points which means his teams will be a tough out. Another small factor to consider is he also has a coaching staff which all earned tournament championship rings as either coaches or players in the SWAC.
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