(SportsNetwork.com) - The 38th annual Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament gets underway on Tuesday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, with the survivor of the event earning an invite to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Texas Southern is the defending champion, having taken down Prairie View A&M a year ago in the title game, 78-73, and is again the favorite to make it a repeat performance if all goes according to plan. Leading the way for the top- seeded Tigers (19-12, 16-2) is Madarious Gibbs who was just named the SWAC Player of the Year as he paced his team in scoring with 14.1 ppg and was also responsible for 117 assists, many of which went to Deverell Biggs and Chris Thomas as they both averaged 12.3 ppg.
The Tigers have the luxury of earning a bye through to the quarterfinal round, and will face the winner of the matchup between Grambling State (2-26, 0-18) and Alcorn State (5-25, 4-14), a pair of opponents that will likely serve as a minor speed bump for TSU before it advances.
Surprisingly, even though Alcorn State was near the bottom of the standings, the squad still put a pair of players on the All-SWAC First Team in LeAntwan Luckett and Marquis Vance. Luckett is just a 37.0 percent shooter from the floor, but by getting to the free-throw line and hitting on 122-of-173, he was able to produce 16.3 ppg. Vance is also someone who struggled from the field (.372) but was active at the charity stripe (121-177) as he tallied 12.9 ppg to go with 7.9 rpg.
The second-seeded Alabama State Hornets (18-9, 14-4) figure to be in the mix near the end, just as long as Jamel Waters (13.4 ppg) and DeMarcus Robinson (10.4 ppg) get some scoring support from the rest of the roster.
Southern University (16-16, 13-5), which is tied with Alcorn State for the most tournament titles with seven, the most recent coming in 2006, has a record of 37-24 in this event so success is nothing new for the Jaguars. The third seed doesn't have a lot of scoring punch, led by Adrian Rodgers with 13.2 ppg on only 39.6 percent accuracy from the floor, but the defense could certainly keep the Jags relevant over the next few days.
As previously noted, Prairie View A&M (14-17, 12-6), this year's fourth seed, played in not only last year's title tilt but also the finals in 2013, losing to Southern by just a single point, 45-44. Obviously the Panthers have come close recently, but when it comes to bringing home the trophy, that's happened only once previously, back in 1998.
Winners of eight of the last nine games on the schedule, the Panthers have one of the better offensive performers in the league in Montreal Scott with his 15.1 ppg. Tre Hagood (12.3 ppg) shot just 22.8 percent behind the 3-point line and 59.1 percent at the charity stripe, but he made himself into a valuable asset by handing out 151 of the unit's 333 assists over 31 games. The squad has done well defensively out on the perimeter, limiting foes to just 28.8 percent success, but that is offset by the fact that the team is losing the rebounding battle by 5.5 rpg.
Mississippi Valley State (6-25, 5-13) and Jackson State (11-20, 9-9) have both celebrated five championships in this event, but neither is a considered a real threat to the top programs in the league this season.
While anything can happen in this tournaments, and often does, to expect a major upset coming from a program that was lucky enough to win even nine games this season is a stretch. The smart money should go on Texas Southern, but don't be surprised if Alabama State has something to say about that.
Sports Network Predicted Champion: Texas Southern