Northwestern State won a co-championship and played in the SLC Tournament title game last season. The Demons rose to prominence with a nucleus of young players who have spent several years together. Senior guard Jermaine Wallace was the only double-figure scorer for Northwestern, which won its first regular season conference crown in 31 seasons. Coach of the Year Mike McConathy will bring back 6'7" junior forward Jermaine Spencer and senior point guard Tyronn Mitchell, who will be the SLC’s top returning assist man (4.3 apg).
2. Southeastern Louisiana (24–9, 13–3)
The Lions have a new coach in Jim Yarbrough, who takes over a Southeastern program that has won two consecutive Southland Conference titles and made its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament last season. Yarbrough arrives in Hammond following a successful five-year tenure at Valdosta State University, where he led his squad to a 97–42 overall record and two NCAA Division II National Tournament appearances. The Lions ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense (55.8) and finished 21–1 in games in which they allowed 60 points or less. As for star power, senior forward Ricky Woods is back after averaging 17.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in his first season after transferring from junior college.
3. Texas-Arlington (13–15, 7–9)
Senior forward Steven Thomas emerged as a go-to player last season as he led the Mavs in scoring (17.1) and rebounding (7.9). He ranked third in the league in scoring and led the Southland in rebounding. Also returning are senior point guard Brady Dawkins, who was fourth in the SLC with 4.0 assists per game and senior Jarrett Howell, who shot a league-leading 51.0 percent from 3-point range.
4. Lamar (18–11, 9–7)
Legendary coach Billy Tubbs is known for his high-scoring teams, and his players usually have a chance to post big numbers. Senior forward Alan Daniels won the Southland scoring title with a 19.9 points-per-game average, and the Cardinals scorched the nets for 80.6 points per game, which also led the league. The team also benefits from the best home attendance in the Southland. The pride of Beaumont, Texas, the Cardinals led the conference with an average crowd of 3,986, nearly twice that of the next closest team.
5. Sam Houston State (18–12, 11–5)
Coach Bob Marlin has a history of winning at Sam Houston, but he’ll have to replace Southland Player of the Year Joe Thompson, a versatile guard who averaged 16.0 points per game to rank fourth in the conference. Sam Houston also lost senior center Eddy Fobbs and forward Wilder Auguste. Senior guard Chris Jordan, who averaged 11.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, is the most experienced returnee. The Bearkats also bring back Ryan Bright, 6'6" sophomore who was the Southland Conference Freshman of the Year.
6. Texas-San Antonio (15–13, 10–6)
The departed UTSA senior class of Anthony Fuqua, Justin Harbert, John Millsap, Rapheal Posey and David President took with them close to 50 points and just over 20 rebounds per game. Coach Tim Carter must hope for similar leadership from this year’s senior crop that includes Ray Selvage and Andre Owens. The Roadrunners were the second-best rebounding team in the Southland last year, averaging 41.8 per game. Key newcomers include three junior college transfers — forwards Gabe Bernard, Chris Thompson and Kyile Byrd.
7. Texas State (14–14, 8–8)
After losing forward Anthony Dill, the team’s leading scorer, and guard Josh Naylor, the Bobcats re-tooled their roster with an eight-player signing class that includes five freshmen and three junior college transfers. Texas State coach Dennis Nutt is counting on immediate contributions from his trio of transfers — forwards Jushay Rockett and Charles Dotson and guard Jeremy Johnson. Texas State will be looking to qualify for postseason play (the SLC Tournament) for the 10th straight season.
8. Stephen F. Austin (12–15, 6–10)
The Lumberjacks are banking on senior guard Marcus Clark to help them return to the SLC Tournament after missing out a year ago. Clark was a second-team all-conference pick after leading SFA in scoring with a 13.0 points-per-game average. The 5'10" playmaker also ranks fourth all-time in assists (317) for SFA. Junior guard Josh Porter contributed 11.3 points as a sophomore. Coach Danny Kaspar signed four junior college prospects, including burly 6'6", 255-pound forward Antuane Miller.
9. McNeese State (13–15, 8–8)
McNeese State overcame a 2–7 start in league play to reach the Southland Tournament last year by winning six in a row towards the end of the season. The Cowboys should be better this year with three returning starters and maturing young talent. Senior J.T. Williams is the top returning scorer, after averaging 10.4 points per game last season. Sophomores Aldryan Wardell and John Ford enjoyed productive freshman years. Wardell made 52.5 percent of his shots in 22 starts, while Ford handed out 3.75 assists per game. The Cowboys were the league leader with 9.64 steals per game but allowed teams to score 73.9 points per game, third-worst in the SLC.
10. Louisiana-Monroe (8–19, 2–14)
Former Alabama assistant Orlando Early was tabbed to replace long-time head coach Mike Vining as the sixth head coach in the program’s 54-year history. Early will direct ULM through its last season in the Southland before the Indians make an all-sports move to the Sun Belt Conference in 2006-07. The Indians didn’t have a scorer average in double figures last year but return a number of contributors who could be improved, including guard Cecil Hood and forward Daryl Mason.
11. Nicholls State (6–21, 1–15)
The Colonels will have to replace senior All-SLC guard Willie Depron, but even he couldn’t keep Nicholls out of last place. Nicholls State signed four Australian high school players — Ryan Bathie, Mitch Boyce, Michael Czepil and Dominic Friend — giving them five players from the land down under. Returning swingman Stefan Blaszczynski, a Sydney native, averaged 14.4 points last season as a sophomore.