- Matt Cox
- 'Grambling's Greatness': One of the season's first signs of the college hoops 'parity apocalypse' was when Georgia Tech lost to Grambling at home. For most SWAC schools, simply getting a single win in the non-conference is a marker for success - turns out that milestone victory for the Tigers was just a stepping to stone to one of the more improbable winning streaks in college basketball history. After dropping their first 3 league games, Grambling's souls were suddenly consumed by some extra-terrestrial spirit - how do I know this? Well, the Tigers proceeded to rattle off 11 straight wins and at one point held claim to the nation's longest winning streak. For a program that was picked by most to finish in the bottom-half of the SWAC standings - which typically equates to one of the 10-15 worst teams in the country - there's simply no other rational explanation for what transpired during the month of January, especially since one of those wins was a 23-point destruction of Texas Southern, the unanimous preseason pick to win the conference, in their building.
- 'Texas Southern Tumbles': Speaking of those other Tigers, it was a relatively disappointing year for Mike Davis. The ex-Indiana head man entered the 2018 campaign with a boatload of talent (at least by SWAC standards), headlined by the addition of Donte Clark transferring in from UMASS. While their 0-13 non-conference record should not have been a major cause for concern - they played the hardest non-conference schedule in the country (per kenpom.com) and were actually competitive in a few of those road tests - their defensive faults lingered well into SWAC play. After finishing with the best offense and defense in the league the past two seasons, Davis's bunch dropped all the way to 7th in the SWAC's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings this year.
Nothing is more SWAC than the conference regular season title winner being ineligible for postseason play. Don't fret Grambling, we'll all remember your magical run 20 years from now.
For the rest of the 8-team field, the higher seeds will host opening round games in their building before moving on to a "neutral" site in Houston to play out the semis and finals - "neutral" is a lenient word, given it will effectively be a semi-home court advantage for Houston-based Texas Southern.
What to Watch:
- Eh, instead of forcing a mildly interesting narrative to follow, I'll just save myself the time - there ain't a ton to see here folks. The SWAC was once again the worst conference in the country, per kenpom.com's rankings, and the league champion won't even be participating in the tournament.
Who will win:
- Texas Southern: Assuming Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M take care of business at home in their opening round tilts, the champion of the SWAC tournament will likely be decided in their date in the semis. Pine Bluff got off to a sizzling-hot start, but came back down to Earth over the final month of the season and the tiebreaker played out in their favor as they avoid both Prairie View and Texas Southern until the finals. However, the advanced metrics indicate there's a clear top-2 in this field and I'd put my money on the Tigers punching their ticket to the dance for the 3rd straight season.
If not them, then...
Prairie View A&M: Prairie View split with Texas Southern in the regular season and boasts the only other semi-competent offense in the league. Though the bulk of their roster has been piecemealed together through the JUCO and transfer avenues, the Panthers are an old, veteran team fully capable of seizing the title belt from Texas Southern. Bryon Smith has been excellent in his first two seasons at the helm in Prairie View and the almighty goal of reaching the NCAA tournament is well within grasp. The Panthers' fate typically lies in their accuracy from behind the arc, but JD Wallace's work on the interior has given Smith some much needed balance on the offensive side of the ball.