By Patrick Herion
Remember Stephen F. Austin’s “Cinderella” run in the 2014 March Madness? Ever wonder where they came from? The answer to that question is the Southland Conference, and it is a lot of fun to watch.
This year, the Southland will crown a new champion. Last season’s winner, the Stephen F. Austin, did not make the tournament. Unlike many other tournaments, the Southland only selects the top eight teams to play in the conference playoffs. Leading the pack is the regular season conference champion, and tournament favorite, Sam Houston State.
After losing in the semis of the Southland tournament last season, the Bearkats dreamed for a return to the “big dance” this season, and with the help of Southland basketball player of the year, redshirt senior guard Cameron Delaney, that dream may become a possibility. The guard had a phenomenal season leading the conference in three-point percentage at 49 percent, as well as a spot in the top ten for both points per game (15.2) and rebounds per game (6.3). He is one of the two players to watch on this team; the second one is Southland newcomer of the year Kai Mitchell. Mitchell averaged 12 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game. Both of these players are key for the Bearkats to have a shot at returning to the tournament.
The Bearkats may be the favorite; but what’s a tournament without a wildcard? The answer is simple: not a fun one. That is why my sleeper pick is the Lamar Cardinals. Why? Because they were one of the only two teams that were able to stop the Bearkats in the regular season. The Cardinals came in third place during the standings, just behind Abilene Christian and Sam Houston. With two of the top ten scorers in the conference (Nick Garth and Josh Nzeakor), the Cardinals will have a chance to make a run for the title.
That fact alone that they beat SHSU twice should be enough to put them in the discussion as a conference winner. The road to the championship won’t be easy for them- they have to win three games to make it to the final, and would have to play Sam Houston before playing for the championship.
After dominating the regular season, Sam Houston State has the best chance to win the tournament. However, basketball is an unpredictable game where numerous one seeds have lost (let us not forget Virginia vs. UMBC last), and it is in the realm of possibility that the Bearkats can lose in the tournament. The Championship game will be played at 8:30 PM and will be shown on ESPN 2.
Predicted winner: Sam Houston State.
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org