The Southland Conference basketball season is well underway, as the teams just finished up the first half of their conference schedule last weekend. So far, this season has been going the way a lot of the media projected, a season with a lot of parity, and no real dominance.
For the last three years Stephen F. Austin State University had dominated SLC basketball, winning the last three conference championships by an average of 18 points per game. The Lumberjacks also had a combined 53-1 record in SLC play the previous three years.
However, with the graduation of star player Thomas Walkup, and the departure of head coach Brad Underwood to Oklahoma State, the Lumberjacks reign of dominance has ended and the SLC title is now up for grabs.
The SLC is being defined by their parity this season, as there are six teams within two games of first place. Currently, there is a tie for first between the Sam Houston State Bearkats and the New Orleans Privateers.
Both teams are 8-3 in conference play, but the Bearkats hold the head to head advantage over the Privateers with a win on the road against New Orleans on Jan. 12. The two teams will not meet again during the regular season.
SFA is also near the top of the standings; with a win over New Orleans on Jan. 28, a loss against SHSU on Feb. 2 and an overtime victory over Northwestern State last Saturday, the Lumberjacks now sit with a 7-4 record in conference play. The Lumberjacks are just one win out of first place and are preparing for a home game against Incarnate Word on Feb. 9.
The head to head tiebreakers could play a big role come conference tournament time. Since the conference is so close, if any team end up tied in the standings tiebreakers would set in.
As of right now, the Privateers have lost to both first place SHSU, and third place SFA. Those games could come back to haunt them come tournament time.
Winning the conference regular season title would be a nice accomplishment to any team, but since the SLC is just a one-bid league, winning the championship in Katy this March is top priority for all of these teams in order to make the big NCAA Tournament.
All conference awards, and player of the year honors are up for grabs as well, and players will have the opportunity to separate themselves down the stretch this season.
So far, Erik Thomas of New Orleans looks to be the front-runner for conference player of the year. Thomas leads the SLC in scoring, averaging 20 points per game, and is third in rebounding, averaging 7.7 rebounds per game.
The Bearkats have two players who could be looking at all conference honors later this year. Sophomore point guard John Dewey III is currently leading the SLC in assists with 5.3 per game, and junior forward Chris Galbreath could end up being the conference’s sixth man of the year, averaging 9.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game coming off the bench.
As of right now, the Bearkats are the hottest time in the SLC, winning eight of their last nine, and would have to be the favorites if the conference tournament were to begin today.
After struggling early on, the Bearkats are playing like the team many expected to see when they were voted the favorites to win the conference in the preseason. If SHSU keeps up the hot play, the Kats could have a top seed in the SLC tournament locked up fairly quickly.