SWAC Preview: Lions, Tigers, Tigers & Bulldogs, Oh My!

By Ivan McDowell
Updated: November 6, 2007

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The nation’s leading scorer (Trey Johnson) is now gone and everyone in the SWAC is ecstatic that he has used up his eligibility. Everyone except Jackson State, Johnson’s former school.

Jackson, who averaged 27.1 points last season, was named the SWAC Player of the Year as a senior. He scored at least 30 points 13 times, including a career-high 49 against Texas-El Paso.

Johnson did not shrink away from the better competition even when his team was outclassed, pouring in 36, 33 and 32 points, respectively, against Alabama, Georgia Tech and Memphis.

Jackson State won’t be able to replace him with one guy. “Trey is a guy who did everything for us while he was here,” said JSU Coach Tevester Anderson. “He will be tough to replace, but we’ve got other guys who will step up and produce for us. They’ll have to.”

When the SWAC announced its men’s basketball preseason predicted order of finish for the upcoming 2007-08 season, defending tournament champion Jackson State was tabbed to finish first in the conference.

The Tigers finished last season 21-14 overall, 12-6 in conference play and the Tigers — the number two seed in the postseason tournament — defeated Mississippi Valley State to claim the tournament title and participate in the NCAA Tournament. Jackson State fell in the first round to eventual champion Florida.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Grambling State both return all-conference selections and should finish near the top of the league. The Lions finished second in the conference last season and will be led by preseason player of the year William Byrd.

The 6-foot-7, 185-pound Byrd can score the basketball, especially around the hoops, as he not only averaged 13 points per game, but seven boards a game as well. Byrd is superb on the defensive end too; blocking 2.5 shots a contest.

Grambling State is led by all-conference guard Andre Ratliff, one of the leagues’ best long range snipers (36.4% from three-point range) and forward Anthony Williams, a bouncy combo forward, who dropped 14 points and seven boards per game last season. Bruising big man Jamal Breaux also returns.

Perhaps the most dangerous team in the conference is Alabama A&M.

The good news for Coach Van Pettaway heading into his 22nd season on “The Hill” is that all five starters are back, including the nations’ leading shot blocker in Mickell Gladness and conference freshman of the year in point guard Trant Simpson.

Gladness sent shots away at an alarming six per game clip and set the single game mark at 16 versus Texas Southern. He also averaged seven points and seven rebounds.

Simpson led the Bulldogs in scoring at 13 per game, while dropping six dimes per contest (tied for 11th nationally). Cornelius Hester is also back after averaging 11 points a game a year ago.

The bad news for Pettaway is the Bulldogs lost 20 games a season ago, while winning just one road game. More depth and experience will prevent the Bulldogs from matching those feats, but their shooting needs to improve if they are to contend.

Much like Alabama A&M, Alabama State did not have a particularly strong season this past year, as the team also finished with 20 overall losses, but did win eight games in SWAC.

With the return of guard Andrew Hayles the Hornets have a solid scorer and team leader on their side. Hayles averaged 14.6 ppg this past year and will certainly be one of the top backcourt players this season.

In the paint the Hornets will look towards Richard Lott Jr to be the main source of production. Lott is a stocky forward who uses his size well to position himself on under the basket. His aggressive play helped him record 8.7 ppg, while also pulling down 7.0 rpg.

Fortunately for Lott he will get a tremendous boast down low with the arrival of 7-0 Grlenntys “Chief” Kickingstallionsims. Kickingstallionsims is a junior who previously played at Stetson. The big man is a formidable presence in the paint and should be an instant contributor to this talented squad.

Mississippi Valley returns all-conference guard Stanford Speech from a squad that won the SWAC regular season crown and lost to Jackson State in the tournament championship game. Unfortunately, the Delta Devils have only one other returning starter and must get scoring from someone other than Speech.

Southern returns four starters from a team that went just 9-9 in league action this past year. The lone starter that is not back was the team’s leading scorer this past year. The backcourt has potential to be one of the best in the SWAC, thanks to the dangerous tandem of Chris Davis and Steffon Wiley.

Davis is a tremendous shooter from the outside and also has the ability to hurt opponents in the lane. On top of it all, Davis is a tremendous floor general and can be the leader Southern needs on the court. As for Wiley, the junior only netted 7.6 ppg this past season and that is a number coach Rob Spivery is hoping will increase drastically.

While the backcourt is solid, the biggest concern for coach Spivery is the lack of size in the frontcourt. Joseph Jack is the tallest player on the roster at 6-9 and will be called upon to be the team’s leader in the paint. For Southern to be successful, the team will have to rely on its quickness and strong defensive play.

With only one player that averaged double figures in points last season, the Panthers of Prairie View don’t not possess any real scoring threats returning. Coach Byron Rimm II does not have much to work with in the paint either, as the team will have to rely on strong defensive play.

The top two options for Prairie View A&M will most likely be Johnny Cobb and Jonathan Dixon, but neither player has a strong amount of experience. As mentioned earlier, there is not much here that can help lead the Panthers to a record above .500.

It’s a rebuilding season for Coach Samuel West at Alcorn State and he will rely heavily on forward Jarvis Williams. However, other than Williams there is not much else down low for the Braves. The backcourt is also in bad shape, as the team does not have a proven point guard. As of now Jumane Reed will have the chance to lead the squad on the court. Reed has a nice touch on his shot and can beat a defender off the dibble. As mentioned earlier, a large amount of the team’s offense from a year ago is gone, so the Braves are probably looking at a bottom tier finish.

Texas Southern has hired Robert Moreland as interim coach after Ronnie Courtney was fired in the off-season. This is a team in flux, so do not expect the Tigers to put up much of a fight this season. Forward Jacques Jones will be relied on heavily, as the 6-foot-8; 200-pond forward had noteworthy averages of 14 points and six rebounds. Jones is a solid defender as well. The Tigers have very little else.

Predicted Order Of Finish

1. Jackson State

2. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

3. Grambling State

4. Alabama A&M

5. Alabama State

6. Mississippi Valley State

7. Southern

8. Prairie View

9. Alcorn State

10. Texas Southern