Southland Preview: Oral Roberts assumes role of instant favorite in new league
Yahoo! Sports is breaking down each league for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 31 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 28 league, the Southland Conference.
In its final nine seasons in the Summit League, Oral Roberts won the regular season title five times and never finished lower than third in the standings.
That bodes well for the Golden Eagles entering their debut season in the traditionally weaker Southland Conference.
Oral Roberts accepted an invitation to change leagues last October because the Southland is a better geographic fit than the Summit was. Instead of costly, time-consuming trips to the Dakotas, Michigan and Indiana, the Golden Eagles will play mostly schools in Texas and Louisiana, nearby states that they typically recruit heavily.
The first Oral Roberts team to compete in the Southland Conference won't be quite as formidable as the 2011-12 squad that won 27 games and narrowly missed earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament after a devastating loss in the Summit League tournament. Star Dominique Morrison and two other starters are gone from that team, a big loss considering coach Scott Sutton mostly used a six-man rotation.
The frontcourt headliner next season is 6-foot-8 junior Steven Roundtree, a capable scorer and fierce rebounder who won Summit League freshman of the year honors in 2011 and shot 57.1 percent from the field last season. Six-foot-9 Damen Bell-Holter, a strong defender and rebounder, also will provide toughness inside.
Likely to take over Morrison's role as Oral Roberts' top perimeter scorer is senior guard Warren Niles, the Golden Eagles' second-leading scorer and top three-point shooter a year ago. Utah transfer Shawn Glover brings length and athleticism at small forward, but Oral Roberts needs redshirt freshman D.J. Jackson to prove he's ready to assume the starting point guard role and other newcomers to provide depth off the bench.
Defending Southland champion Texas-San Antonio left for the WAC and conference tournament winner Lamar graduated four starters, but there are a couple teams capable of challenging Oral Roberts.
Stephen F. Austin returns standout guard Antonio Bostic and breakout candidate Taylor Smith from a team that won 20 games last season. And Southeastern Louisiana returns last year's solid backcourt and adds fifth-year senior Brandon Fortenberry, an all-conference guard who missed most of last season after suffering a foot injury in December.
MAKING A LIST
Best shooter: Daron Populist, Southeastern Louisiana
Best playmaker: Darius Gatson, Sam Houston State
Best defender: LaQuentin Miles, Central Arkansas
Coach on the rise: Pat Knight, Lamar
Coach on the hot seat: Jason Hooten, Sam Houston State
Three must-see games: 1. Oklahoma at Oral Roberts, Nov. 28 (Rare visit from the Sooners) 2. Tulsa at Oral Roberts, Dec. 22 (Tulsa has won last three meetings between the city rivals) 3. Stephen F Austin at Oral Roberts, Jan. 12 (How does ORU stack up against the best of the Southland? We'll get a midseason gauge.)
FACTS AND FIGURES
New coaches: None
Regular-season winner last season: Texas Arlington
Tourney winner last season: Lamar
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2011-12: 28th; 2010-11: 29th, 2009-10: 26th
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2011, UT San Antonio as a No. 16 seed in a "First Four" game
More conference previews from Yahoo! Sports:
Big South (No. 27): Unwanted in high school, guards Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper are now powering Charleston Southern's resurgence; Coastal Carolina hopes home is sweet this March
Southland Conference (No. 28): Pat Knight's epic rant had unintended benefits for Lamar; Oral Roberts assumes the role of instant favorite in its new league
America East (No. 29): Stony Brook basketball draws inspiration from baseball team's College World Series run; Early departures drain league of some of its top talent
MEAC (No. 30): Rush of publicity from Missouri win has long-lasting impact at Norfolk State; Savannah State seeks NCAA bid to cap remarkable turnaround
SWAC (No. 31): Mike Davis prefers challenge of winning at Texas Southern to torture of taking a year off; Balanced league will crown new champ this year
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