SWAC Basketball Tournament 2013: Southern favored in the nation's weirdest format

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It's Southern and everybody else at the SWAC Tournament.

The 2013 SWAC Tournament gets started on Wednesday night as seven teams vie for the easiest automatic bid in the country. The regular season champion is ineligible, as Texas Southern is serving a one-year ban from postseason play. Arkansas Pine-Bluff and Mississippi Valley State are also restricted from participating, leaving just seven teams to compete.

Texas Southern was by far the best offensive team in an extremely shooting-challenged league. The SWAC was 30th among all conferences in offensive efficiency and three-point percentage. It was 31st in two-point percentage and 32nd in free throw percentage.

The pace of play in the SWAC also produces a high number of opportunities for the players to miss. The league was second in tempo, averaging 67.2 possessions per game. That fast tempo also brings selfish play. The SWAC finished 31st in assists per field goal made.

Fans of fast-paced, but still low-scoring, and one-on-one basketball will love the SWAC.

Who, What, When

The SWAC Tournament takes place at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas from March 13-16.

Format

With just seven teams in the tournament, something funky is bound to happen. Southern gets the only bye as the No. 1 remaining seed. It awaits the winner of No. 6 Alabama A&M and No. 7 Grambling State in the semifinals.

The other half of the bracket is a little less strange, though seeing No. 3 play No. 4 and No. 2 play No. 5 in the first round is a little awkward.

Wednesday: No. 6 Alabama A&M vs. No. 7 Grambling State (Game 1)

Thursday: No. 2 Jackson State vs. No. Alabama State (Game 2); No. 3 Alcorn State vs. No. 4 Prairie View A&M (Game 3)

Friday: Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner (Game 4); No. 1 Southern vs. Game 1 winner (Game 5)

Saturday: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner (Championship)

Who The Numbers Like

Southern: It's really not even close with Texas Southern ineligible. The Jaguars outscored SWAC opponents by 21 points every 100 possessions. Southern had the second-best offense in league play (1.07 points per possession) to go along with the best defense (0.85 PPP).

Ken Pomeroy's log5 prediction gives Southern an 81 percent chance to grab the automatic bid. It helps that the Jaguars have to win just two games, and that they beat their most likely second-round opponent (Alabama A&M) by an average of 14 points this year.

Who The Eyeballs Like

Southern, again: The Jaguars won 15 of 18 games in league play. They are the only team with more than 20 wins in the entire league. They have two of the three All-SWAC first-team players in the tournament. This really is Southern's to lose.

Darkhorse

The bottom of the conference is a jumble of awful, with the bottom six seeds all falling between No. 311 and No. 347 (last) on kenpom.com. Jackson State is the least-worst of the bunch, as it is the only team outside of Southern in the field that finished with more points scored than allowed in SWAC play. The Blue Bengals would still would have a tough time against the Jaguars in the title game. Southern beat Jackson State by a combined 33 points in two games.

Best Possible Title Game

Grambling St. vs. Anyone: Any matchup involving Southern is likely to be a blowout. Any matchup not involving Southern means there would be a SWAC team getting its doors blown off in one of the First Four games in Dayton.

The GSU Tigers on the other hand, have yet to win a game all year. If they manage to secure that first win over Alabama A&M, who wouldn't be rooting for them to go all the way? Everyone loves an underdog, and Grambling is the underdog-est.

Who Might Get In/Will Get In Anyway

No one. Not even close.

Players to Watch

Malcolm Miller, Southern: In a conference full of bad shooting, Miller is an outlier. The 6'6 wing is threat on the inside (59 percent on twos) and the outside (46 percent on threes). His 64 effective field goal percentage was 10th in the nation. His 126.5 offensive rating was 21st nationally, and that was while taking nearly 32 percent of his team's shots while on the floor.

Phillip Crawford, Alabama State: Crawford is the most dominant inside force in the league, and that is always helpful in the grind of a conference tournament. He led the league in usage (using nearly 30 percent of the possessions while on the floor) and offensive rebounding percentage. Crawford also finished fifth in defensive rebounding percentage and hit on 57 percent of his two-pointers.

Derick Beltran, Southern: The other half of Southern's all-conference duo can be considered Miller Light. Like his teammate, he is primarily a jump shooter that is also a threat to take it inside. Beltran is better at getting to the free throw line, but doesn't shoot at Miller's level. Still, he limits turnovers and is capable of going on a hot streak at any time.

Christian Williams, Jackson State: Williams was fifth in the league in steal percentage, so he can be a threat on both ends. His best asset on offense is the three-point shot, where he knocked down 36 percent. More than half of his shots were from beyond the arc, and it likely should have been more. Williams hit just under 40 percent on two-pointers.

More in College Basketball:

The latest Bracketology

Tracking March Madness automatic bids

Full coverage of the Big East Tournament

Richard Pitino makes his own name

Projecting the bracket with Easy Bubble Solver

Full coverage of the Big Ten Tournament

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