Alabama A&M, which won the regular season and SWAC Tournament titles last season, is primed for a repeat performance. The Bulldogs return the premier player in the league, Obie Trotter, who was the SWAC’s Player of the Year and the SWAC Tournament MVP. Trotter averaged 15.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.75 assists per game. He also led Division I by averaging 3.9 steals per game. Sophomore Marcus Jones teams with Trotter to give the Bulldogs the best backcourt in the league. Alabama A&M also returns forward Joseph Martin, who averaged 13.7 points and 7.7 rebounds, fourth-best in the league.
2. Alabama State (15–15, 11–7)
Alabama State lost successful coach Rob Spivery to SWAC rival Southern, but the Hornets hope to continue the success they enjoyed the last four years with the promotion of Lewis Jackson to head coach. The former Alabama State player will continue the Hornets’ tradition of strong defense. Alabama State led the SWAC in defense last year, allowing just 63.1 points per game. The Hornets’ top returnees are senior guards Alexander Oliver (8.3 ppg) and George Savage (6.5 ppg). The key will be the development of 6'7" post player Joel Bosh, who started five games as a freshman and averaged 3.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
3. Grambling State (14–12, 11–7)
It seems every year Grambling State appears poised to break out, and just maybe this is the season. The Tigers return their entire roster except two seniors — starter Ron Ellis and seldom-used backup Terry Hill. Grambling returns one of the top players in the SWAC in senior guard Brion Rush, the SWAC’s second-leading scorer. Rush averaged 17.6 points and ranked second in 3-pointers made with 62 to earn first-team All-SWAC honors. The key for the Tigers will be their play in the low post. Senior Jamar Lewis had a solid season, averaging 8.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, but the Tigers need more from Martez Stevens and John Dorsey.
4. Alcorn State (7–22, 6–12)
Alcorn State is looking to rebound from a disappointing season in which the Braves finished eighth in the league. The Braves struggled to a 6–12 SWAC mark and won just one non-conference game — a 76–71 win over Arkansas-Baptist. The Braves return four quality players in forwards Almaad Jackson, Juan Wyatt and James Kendrick and guard Delvin Thompson, the SWAC’s 2005 Newcomer of the Year. Thompson ranked fifth in the SWAC in scoring, averaging 14.9 points per game, while Jackson ranked 10th in the league in rebounding (5.6 rpg).
5. Mississippi Valley State (13–15, 11–7)
A new era begins in Itta Bena following the retirement of longtime coach Lafayette Stribling, who stepped down after 22 years with the Delta Devils and a 315–307 record. Former Southern Miss coach James Green inherits a team that graduated no seniors. The Delta Devils return leading scorer Hosea Butler, who averaged 13.0 points and led the SWAC with 4.9 assists per game and ranked second in steals with 3.25. The Delta Devils will be one of the better teams in the post with 7'0" sophomore Ronald Alexander and senior forward Timothy Latiker. Alexander averaged 6.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and led the conference with 82 blocks. Those numbers should improve this season.
6. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (7–21, 5–13)
It was a tough season for the Lions, who finished ninth in the SWAC with a 5–13 league mark. The good news, however is that Arkansas-Pine Bluff returns four of its top five players in Tamarius Brown, Jarvis Gunter, William Byrd and Martese Coleman. Brown, a 6'1" guard, led the Lions in scoring, averaging 14.1 points per game, and was named second-team All-SWAC.
7. Texas Southern (11–15, 9–9)
Texas Southern lost three of its top players from a year ago, including forward Mike Sneed, a first-team All-SWAC pick who ranked third in the league in scoring and first in rebounding. However, the Tigers also return the most prolific scorer in the SWAC in senior guard Sean Walker, who averaged 17.8 points per game last year to earn second-team All-SWAC honors. Walker also ranked third in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (38.6) and fifth in 3-pointers made with 49.
8. Jackson State (15–17, 10–8)
The Tigers must re-tool a bit after losing three of their top seven players from a team that won 15 games overall and finished tied for fifth in the SWAC. Jackson State lost second-team All-SWAC forward Kelly Ross, who averaged 10.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season. Guards Dakari Wallace and Charlie White will pace the Tigers. Wallace averaged 8.7 points per game and White 8.6; however, both players must improve their shooting, especially from 3-point range. Hilton Tompkins, a 6'8" senior, provided JSU with most of its punch in the post. As a junior Tompkins averaged 8.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.
9. Southern (14–15, 10–8)
The Jaguars are in transition after the controversial firing of Michael Grant but could see a quick turnaround under the direction of new coach Rob Spivery, who left Alabama State to take over at Southern. Spivery, the fourth coach in six seasons, led Alabama State to two SWAC Tournament titles and two other championship games, including the 2005 title game. It will be mostly a rebuilding year for Spivery, whose team must replace seven seniors, most notably first-team All-SWAC forward Peter Cipriano, who averaged 10.1 points and 9.3 rebounds last season.
10. Prairie View A&M (5–23, 5–13)
The Panthers return their top two scorers in a pair of 6'3" guards, Phillip Scott and Oscar Thompson. However, A&M ranked last in the league in scoring (56.9 ppg) and last in the league in points allowed (71.8), and not surprisingly tied for last in the conference standings. The Panthers need quick development from sophomores Marlon Davis, Torry Cornett and Timir Patel to avoid the basement again.