By Garrett Jones
Fewer teams in NCAA men’s college basketball history have had a stranger season than the 2018-19 Prairie View A&M Panthers have.
In December, its postseason hopes were dead in the water. The final game in an 11-game losing streak was a Dec. 29 loss to Winthrop that dropped its record to 1-11.
Flip the calendar, and a completely new team has emerged.
The Panthers have dominated Southwestern Conference play on the way to an outstanding 18-1 record in 2019. They are the class of the conference at this point, boasting a 19-12 overall record and 17-1 mark in SWAC play. Talk about a team to watch.
Off the heels of three consecutive tournament titles and NCAA tournament appearances, Texas Southern won’t roll over easy for Prairie View.
Led by embattled former Louisiana State head coach Johnny Jones, the Tigers aren’t far off of the Panthers’ pace with a 19-12 overall record, and 14-4 in-conference clip. They led the SWAC for most of the season until the Prairie View’s historic run.
Texas Southern wouldn’t at its place atop the standings without the play of senior forward Jeremy Combs, undoubtedly a player to watch in this tournament.
Combs ranks second in the conference in points per game at 16.9, second in rebounds with 9.0, and second in field goal percentage at 60 percent from the floor. The numbers are there- but the former LSU Tiger via North Texas is certainly a prospect for many March highlight with his sheer athleticism.
There’s talent beyond the top three in the SWAC table, but third-place Grambling is certainly a sleeper to win the tournament. The Tigers have been extremely streaky this season, but enter riding the coattails of a three-game winning streak to close out the regular season.
The action tips Tuesday on the campuses of higher-seeded schools for the first round, and then shifts to Bill Harris Arena in Birmingham, Alabama for the semifinals and tournament final this weekend.
Predicted tournament champion: Texas Southern.