SWAC Preview: Balanced league will crown a new champ this year

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. 31 league, the SWAC.

The only certainty in the SWAC this season is there will be a new league champion.

Mississippi Valley State, 17-1 in the league a year ago, is ineligible for the postseason next season due to substandard APR scores. Worse yet, the Delta Devils lost head coach Sean Woods and almost every rotation player from last year's NCAA tournament team.

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Whichever team supplants Mississippi Valley State as SWAC champ doesn't figure to be nearly as dominant. The league looks balanced and wide open with a handful of middle-of-the-pack teams from last year counting on returning talent to elevate them in the standings.

Prairie View A&M, fourth in the league last season, returns all five starters from a balanced team that only had one player average double figures. Alcorn State, which won only six league games last year, returns guards Anthony Nieves and Twann Oakley and gets all-conference guard Marquiz Baker back from a broken foot. And Texas Southern and Jackson State will lean on stars Omar Strong and Kelsey Howard, respectively, to propel them into contention.

No matter who emerges from that group to capture the SWAC's NCAA tournament bid, it's a safe bet what seed they'll be. The SWAC, perennially last in conference RPI, typically produces a No. 16 seed destined for one of the play-in games.

Best shooter: Omar Strong, Texas Southern
Best playmaker: Jameel Grace, Southern
Best defender: Demarquelle Tabb, Alabama A&M
Coach on the rise: Roman Banks, Southern
Coach on the hot seat: None
Three must-see games: 1. Alcorn State at Mississippi State, Nov. 27 (The rebuilding Bulldogs are more vulnerable than usual this year); 2. Prairie View A&M at UCLA, Dec. 15 (Panthers visit one of the nation's most storied programs) 3. Texas Southern at Houston, Dec. 8 (Tigers hope to upset their city rivals)


New coaches: Joseph Price, Grambling State (had been Lamar assistant); Chico Potts, Mississippi Valley State (promoted from assistant); Mike Davis, Texas Southern (Fired as UAB coach)
Regular-season winner last season: Mississippi Valley State
Tourney winner last season: Mississippi Valley State
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2011-12: 31st; 2010-11: 31st, 2009-10: 31st
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2010, Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the play-in game

More conference previews from Yahoo! Sports:

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