College Basketball Betting Preview for Southland: New Champion Likely to Emerge

College Basketball Betting Preview for Southland: New Champion Likely to Emerge article feature image

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  • Five schools departed from the league, leaving just eight schools in the Southland Conference.
  • Nicholls will likely be the favorite entering the 2021-22 season.
  • Keg breaks down the conference from top-to-bottom.

The Southland Conference looks very different heading into the 2021-22 season.

Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin departed for the WAC, while Central Arkansas moved to the Atlantic Sun. That leaves just eight schools in the Southland, all located in either Texas or Louisiana.

Each team will play a 14-game home-and-away conference schedule this season, but more importantly, the Southland has announced it does not plan to reschedule conference games due to COVID-19 issues.

Any team that cannot compete due to a COVID-19 issue will forfeit and that loss will be reflected in the results and standings.

The last current member to win the conference was New Orleans in 2017. With so many recently dominant teams departing, which of the remaining programs will establish themselves as the leader of the new Southland?

Nicholls Colonels

Overall Record 2020-2118-7

With so many changes, only one player who made an all-conference team last year returns to any team this year. That player is Nicholls guard Ty Gordon, who was a first team all-league selection and the Southland's Newcomer of the Year.

That is huge for head coach Austin Claunch, last year's Southland Coach of the Year. His team may be last in returning minutes, but they did have a fantastic offseason and now rank first in the Southland in transfer points.

The Colonels had a lot of challenges last year — their most significant being a COVID pause for nearly three weeks — but they still made it to the conference championship.

With some of the big-name programs that have had success in the past now gone, Nicholls is in a position to win the conference and go to the tournament for the first time in more than 20 years.

Will anyone be able to stop them?

Southeastern Louisiana Lions

Overall Record 2020-218-18

The Lions return their top four scorers and have added an impressive group of transfers in the offseason.

One of the most critical returns is Keon Clergeot (15.9 PPG, 2.2 APG, 3.0 RPG). He led the Southland in free-throw makes and attempts, which was also good for top-10 nationally in both categories.

All the transfers joining the Lions will help them improve, but forward Antonio Gordon should be the most significant addition to the team.

Gordon (5.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG) led Kansas State last season in rebounding as a part-time starter. But more importantly, he has proven he can compete with the best of the best, scoring a career-high 23 points against eventual national champion Baylor. He also recorded a double-double against Oklahoma State last season.

With returning veteran presence and highly talented transfers, Southeastern Louisiana can be a dark horse in this new Southland Conference.

New Orleans Privateers

Overall Record 2020-2110-15

The Privateers finished last season on a high note, winning six of their last seven games before losing in the conference quarterfinals. But they are still trying to take that next step after winning only nine games two years ago and 10 last year.

As the last team to win the conference that's still here, can they return to the level of that 2017 run?

New Orleans returns four starters.

Troy Green (15.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.5 APG) was tied for the team lead in steals, was second in scoring and became the 24th player in school history to score 1,000 career points.

Derek St. Hilaire (12.3 PPG, 2.6 APG, .401 3PT) started only 10 games but led the team with 57 3-pointers.

Rodney Carson Jr. — an efficient shooter who was pivotal to the late-season winning streak — started 15 of the final 16 games and recorded 12.5 points in his last four outings.

And finally, Jahmel Myers averaged 4.6 points and 3.2 rebounds last season.

Meanwhile, four of the five Division I transfers for New Orleans started at their previous schools.

The Privateers can win the Southland with talented transfers and proven experience on the team. At the very least, they will take that next step forward.

I expect the Privateers to be fighting for 10 conference wins rather than 10 total wins on the year.

McNeese State Cowboys

Overall Record 2020-2110-14

2020 was a year of challenges for everyone in college basketball, but it's hard to think of anyone who had more struggles than McNeese State.

Two Category 4 hurricanes in August and October severely damaged the H&HP Complex that houses the basketball arena, practice facility and coaches' offices.

The team relocated to Lafayette for the first month of preseason practice and then COVID protocol's resulted in eight games against Division I opponents being canceled in November and December.

One week after the season ended, head coach Heath Schroyer stepped down to focus on being the school's athletic director. Associate head coach John Aiken, with nearly 20 years of coaching experience, including recent stints at UT Martin and Southland member Nicholls, was promoted to take his place.

If McNeese can have any resemblance of a regular season it will be an improvement from last year.

The Cowboys haven't had a winning season in nine years and they only return four players total. Their top-six scorers all transferred out of the program.

But with John Aikens' experience and a solid group of transfers, not all hope is lost. I don't think they break their losing record streak, but anything above a 10-win season would be impressive with the challenges they've faced.

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Northwestern State Demons

Overall Record 2020-2110-14

The Demons' record may look tough on paper, but they bounced back amazingly after starting 1-12. They won six straight at one point to finish with a winning record in the conference. Their run was only cut short by the would-be conference tournament champions, Nicholls.

Northwestern State loses three starters but returns six players who averaged between 5.5 and 8.7 points while playing at least 15 minutes per game.

Carvell Teasett and Kendal Coleman averaged 17 minutes over 29 games off the bench as the two most productive returnees.

Teasett (8.7 PPG, 1.9 APG, .387 3PT) was tied for the team lead with 43 made 3-pointers, posted 10 double-figure scoring games and had a 25-point effort against Houston Baptist. Unfortunately, he will sit out the first semester because of academics.

Coleman (6.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.1 BPG) was the team leader in blocks and rebounds. Over the summer, Coleman averaged nearly 15 points in five games — all wins — while playing with Athletes in Action in North Macedonia against U20 teams from that region.

The Demons had a great run to end the season, but I don't think they will continue that this year after losing key players. Ranked in the bottom 50 per KenPom, it's hard to see this team winning more than 10 games.

On a positive note, circle back to the Demons once conference play begins, as they could flip the script again like they did last year.

Texas A&M-CC Islanders

Overall Record 2020-215-19

Willis Wilson had three straight 20-win seasons at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, during which it also won the Southland in back-to-back years.

In his 10 years at TA&M-CC, he won a school-record 143 games. But Wilson has retired and the Islanders return only three players total from last year's team.

Enter Steve Lutz and a slew of JUCO transfers. Lutz spent the last four years as an assistant on a consistently competitive Purdue team, but he's in for a significant change.

At least some things will be familiar, though, as Lutz has ties to the area as a San Antonio native who was formerly on the staff at Stephen F. Austin.

The team's likely leader will be a familiar face in a program looking to start a new chapter. Myles Smith (9.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.6 APG) is a four-year starter who graduated last May. Last season, he was the team leader in assists and steals and was second in scoring and 3-pointers made (31).

I think Lutz can build something special at Corpus Christi, but I don't think it will happen overnight. Expect the Islanders to be fighting to stay out of last place in the Southland as they work through this transitional period.

Houston Baptist Huskies

Overall Record 2020-216-19

There are a lot of key figures in college basketball who have done a lot for their program, but Ron Cottrell may be one of the more overlooked coaches, even though he quite literally built Houston Baptist basketball from the ground up.

In his 30 years with the Huskies, Cottrell has been through all the ups and downs. He restarted the program in 1991 at NAIA and took them to Division I before they later became a Southland member.

From 1994 to 2009, he also took over as the Athletic Director.

And while last year may have been down, he expects the Huskies to be on their way up.

While they lost their leading rebounder and scorer to the transfer portal, the Huskies return their next five top scorers. With more experience, you can expect coin-flip games to land the Huskies' way. Last year, they lost 11 conference games by single digits.

HBU should improve this year. A critical note if you are betting on the Huskies, they rank first in the Southland, per KenPom, in Adjusted Home Court Advantage. That is something to factor in once we get into conference play late in the season.

Incarnate Word Cardinals

Overall Record 2020-218-14

Last season, the Cardinals qualified for the Southland Tournament for the first time since moving up to Division I in 2013. They increased their overall winning percentage for the second straight year, while winning half of their league road games for the first time in five years.

But last season did end on a bad note. They lost six games in a row, including five games that were within single digits.

To make matters worse, the Cardinals lost two of their best players. Second-team all-league guard Keaston Willis (19.0 PPG, 2.1 APG, .366 3PT) and forward Marcus Larsson (8.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG) transferred to Louisiana Tech and UIC, respectively.

Projected by most to finish last in the Southland, it will be a challenging year for IWU.

But there may be one way to find value in this team throughout the year. The Cardinals, per KenPom, rank outside the top 300 in adjusted offense and defensive efficiency while also ranking outside the top 300 in tempo.

Wait to see if they are really bad defensively, but if they can't score and can manage to slow the game down to a snail's pace, the Cardinals may be an under team to keep an eye on.

Future Notes

Futures in the Southland are few and far between, but Nicholls should be the clear favorite for good reason if they become available.

But in a conference that had so much reshuffling and is now essentially wide open, taking a few long shots in the preseason could come in handy down the road. That is especially true if higher teams run into any issues — COVID or otherwise — as the Southland plans to have teams forfeit any games they cannot play.

For long shots, I will be looking at Southeastern Louisiana and Houston Baptist if they become available.

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