SWAC tournament: Preview, prediction, TV info

Aaric Murray is looking to carry Texas Southern to a tournament title. (USATSI)
Aaric Murray is looking to carry Texas Southern to a tournament title. (USATSI)

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What: SWAC championship.

When: March 11-15.

Where: Toyota Center in Houston.

Bracket: View tournament field here.

TV: Championship game on ESPN2 (March 15, 4:30 p.m.).

Last year's champ: Southern (23-10, No. 16 seed)

What matters: The winner of the SWAC tournament might not be the league's automatic bid. Why? Well, the conference is allowing four ineligible teams into the tournament -- even though they won't be able to play in the NCAA Tournament due to APR penalties. Southern, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi Valley State and Grambling are ineligible for the Big Dance, but will still look to win the tournament championship. Southern is the top seed, which could make things very interesting. The Jaguars went 15-3 during the regular season, winning 10 of 11 before falling in the season finale to Texas Southern. TSU is talented and enters the tournament on a six-game winning streak. Alabama State stumbled a bit down the stretch, but the Hornets will still be a threat. 

Who matters: Aaric Murray has had an up-and-down college career, getting dismissed from LA Salle and West Virginia before landing at Texas Southern for his final season. And he's the best player in the league. Murray is averaging 21.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, although he has been a bit inconsistent down the stretch. Southern doesn't have one star of Murray's caliber, but it has maybe the best duo in the league in Calvin Godfrey (13.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and Malcolm Miller (12.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg). Alabama State guard Jamel Waters (14.4 ppg, 6.0 apg) might be the best playmaker in the league, and Alcorn State's LeAntwan Luckett (16.2 ppg) can carry his team to wins. 

Fun fact: 30.0. That's the percentage of SWAC games that have been decided by four points or fewer or in overtime, according to KenPom. It ranks second in the country among conferences. That could mean we're in for a wild tournament, especially with the fact four teams aren't eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Right now, Texas Southern is the favorite for the automatic bid, as the league's highest-seeded NCAA-eligible team.

Prediction: Texas Southern beats Southern in the title game, avoiding a potentially awkward and tricky situation for the SWAC and NCAA. It means the conference tournament champion will be representing the conference in the NCAA Tournament, which is probably good for all parties involved. TSU is playing well down the stretch, including going to Southern and beating the Jaguars in the season finale. Moreover, the Tigers are playing well despite its best players going through some inconsistencies late in the year. If Aaric Murray and D'Aris Scarver regain their mid-season form, Texas Southern should roll into the NCAA Tournament. Moreover, a loss to Southern in the championship game means TSU still gets into the Big Dance. It looks like head coach Mike Davis could be leading his third team into the tournament.

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