The Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament starts on campus sites and ends in Birmingham, Alabama with one team cutting down the nets in hopes of a Cinderella story in March Madness. The SWAC Tournament starts up on Tuesday March 10 with eight of the conference’s 10 teams in the field. Unfortunately, Arkansas Pine-Bluff and Mississippi Valley State fell short of qualifying.
This is a conference with very little fanfare and uninspiring records. This is a conference that really has to schedule up early in the season to fill the athletic department budgets and that often hurts the win column for these teams. Once the playing field gets leveled in conference play, we have a pretty good idea of the good teams and the bad and this is a very top-heavy conference. The top six seeds in this tournament all won at least 11 of their 18 conference games, led by Prairie View A&M, who was the only team at 14-4.
Here are the teams, seeds, standings, and odds from 5Dimes Sportsbook for the 2020 SWAC Tournament:
- Prairie View A&M 18-13 (14-4) +140
- Southern 16-15 (13-5) +290
- Texas Southern 16-14 (12-6) +425
- Jackson State 14-17 (11-7) (H2H tiebreakers) +1100
- Alcorn State 14-14 (11-7) +1100
- Grambling State 17-14 (11-7) (H2H tiebreakers) +1100
- Alabama State 8-23 (7-11) +2500
- Alabama A&M 8-21 (5-13) +4000
As you can see, those overall records very much took a beating from the non-conference portion of the year. The SWAC is not a good conference anyway. This is one of the fastest-paced conferences in college basketball, as it ranked third in adjusted tempo, but also ranked 32nd in adjusted offensive efficiency and 29th in adjusted defensive efficiency. This is a conference with a ton of turnovers and a lot of bad shooting.
Bart Torvik’s conference rankings had it just barely better than the MEAC. As far as conference play, Alcorn State had the best offense, but one of the worst defenses. Southern had the best defense and actually ranked third in offense, including the top spot in 2P%. Prairie View A&M played a daunting non-conference schedule and had more balance offensively and defensively than most of the SWAC teams. Furthermore, PVAMU forced the highest TO% in the conference and also took better care of the basketball than most. Extra possessions mean a lot here.
For the first time, the semifinals and finals are at Bartow Arena. Previously the semis and the championship game were at the Bill Harris Arena. Bartow Arena is where UAB plays and is a bigger venue than the previous one. Alabama A&M is the only team in this conference to have played on this floor this season.
Here is the schedule for the 2020 SWAC Conference Tournament:
Tuesday March 10
7:30 p.m. CT: 8 Alabama A&M at 1 Prairie View A&M
7:30 p.m. CT: 5 Alcorn State vs. 4 Jackson State
7:30 p.m. CT: 7 Alabama State vs. 2 Southern
8 p.m. CT: 6 Grambling State vs. 3 Texas Southern
Friday March 13
2:30 p.m. CT: 8/1 winner vs. 5/4 winner
8:30 p.m. CT: 7/2 winner vs. 6/3 winner
Saturday March 14
5 p.m. CT: Championship Game
We haven’t gotten many surprises in this conference tournament. Last year’s title game was 1 vs. 2. The title game in 2018 was 1 vs. 3 and the #3, Texas Southern, won. The 2017 version was 1 vs. 2. The 2016 game was actually #3 vs. #4 and #2 Alcorn State was upset in the quarterfinals by the #7 seed. The 2015 game was #1 vs. #3. PVAMU did make the final as a #8 seed in 2013, but the #1 seed Southern was ineligible to go the NCAA Tournament and lost badly to Prairie View A&M in the quarterfinals.
A case could really be made that Southern is actually the best team in this conference. The Jaguars were the top defensive team, due in large part to their defense against threes. They were also a decent offensive team that led the league in 2P%. Alcorn State made a lot of threes, but ranked 336th in the nation in 2P%. They are something of a high-variance team if they embrace their ability to bomb away from deep. They beat Texas Southern twice, but lost to Jackson State twice in really lopsided fashion, so maybe drawing the #5 seed instead of the #6 is problematic.
Southern is a team that has been on an upward trajectory in the latter part of the season, including wins in seven straight games to finish 13-5 in the conference. The Jaguars even beat Prairie View A&M on the last day of the regular season. Southern played a grueling non-conference schedule with a ton of road games early in the year that skewed the full body of work, but things were different in conference play.
The worry here is that Southern just runs over inferior teams, which is what was often the case during conference play. They split with PVAMU and Texas Southern. The Alabama State opener is a pretty easy one and then the Jags draw the winner of that Texas Southern vs. Grambling State game. If there was no downtime, that could be a much more difficult spot.
There are potential landmines for the top teams. Texas Southern has a reputation here and even though Mike Davis is gone, they are still solid by SWAC standards. Prairie View A&M will either run into Snacks and Jackson State or get Alcorn State, the high-variance team with three-point success. Alcorn State split with Prairie View A&M. Jackson State is a solid defensive team, but lost both games to PVAMU.
I really don’t know what I like in this conference aside from an Alcorn State money line rollover. The Braves had the conference’s best offense and made a lot of threes and free throws. They’re going to be a dog at Jackson State, a big dog to PVAMU, and then a dog to Texas Southern or Southern. A money line rollover is going to pay back well over 11/1. That is what my favorite betting option is in this conference tournament.
Otherwise, I like Southern over PVAMU. The price isn’t great at +290, especially with Texas Southern in the semifinals. Southern is roughly a pick ‘em against PVAMU and a probably a slight dog to Texas Southern. A money line rollover starting with $100 probably becomes $230 (+115) or so and then rolling that over against PVAMU should pay back around even money or +105 or something. That means that the money line rollover on Southern pays about 4.5/1 if we project out the lines.
Look for a money line rollover on Southern on the bottom and Alcorn State on the top.
Pick: Southern +290