These are not easy days for the basketball teams of the schools of the SWAC. The schools in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas were used as fodder for others' pre-seasons. They entered their conference schedule battered and worn. Hell, who wouldn't be? We may never know because so often, the strong refuse to play the strong on anything less than their own home court. Why give ground and prove yourself? The "big schools" coast and do their thing until they lose in the NCAA's to a school from a small conference. Problem is, it won't be to one of these schools.
Conference leader Texas Southern promotes their athletic department with "experience the game!" That's what those in Houston are attempting to do, brushing aside their local competition from Houston and Rice. The football team has a promising future ahead, with a new stadium being built that will be shared by Houston's MLS team. The basketball team? It toils away at something called the HP&E Arena. But the team has won all their conference games there. It has yet to play at Reliant Stadium, which is apparently ready for an overflow crowd.
On Valentine's Day, the Tigers traveled to Louisiana to play at Grambling. The TSU Tigers (not the Grambling Tigers) hit a lay-up with 3 seconds to go to win the game. It was a close, exciting contest that nearly sent the ESPNU announcers to sleep! What do you expect - nearly everyone was either romancing their lady or getting a jump start on their drinking...and if the game is on TV, no need to show up. The Grambling Tigers are a common example of life in the SWAC: all but ONE non-conference game was on the road. Florida Gulf Coast will play anywhere (they lost a tough one at West Kentucky last night) so that explains that. They weren't all losses, either. But it's a long drive back to Louisiana when you're having to deal with a loss of 30 or more, which unfortunately happened 3 times. Don't worry, Grambling, the school got a hefty check. The home team announcers said how you play with pride as they shoot for 3 up 25 with 2 minutes to go.
The SWAC tournament was advertised on last night's game as being in "The Dallas Metroplex." Hmmm...well, American Airlines Arena (or Center, whichever one isn't the Miami arena) is out. Is Reunion Arena still around? Hold on...I don't think it's IN Dallas. Deep digging found that the game will be in Garland, TX. It also includes a list of restaurants to, you know, save time.
P.E. Squad, travelling men..."Home of the Torii Hunter Baseball and Softball Complex"...the students voted, we are the Lions
Make that Golden Lions, which sounds like a bar, or a fraternal organization, or a cigarette brand in the 1950s. But it's who they are, despite the dust-mite looking logo.
Pine Bluff has endured something also experienced by Mississippi Valley State this season: playing ALL non-conference games on the road. Spending that much time away from school presents a double edged sword for the student and the school. A good way to improve your ability is to play teams better than you. (This applies to college sports only) You learn, you see your weaknesses, and celebrate any success against these better teams.
As a result, Pine Bluff hit the endless black ribbon. But do they feel they have to without getting anyone (hell, Arkansas or Arkansas State) to come to them? Sure, the school gets the paycheck mentioned above, the guys get to see Chicago, Hawaii, San Francisco...they lose (in some cases by an obscene amount) and pack their bags. Could it be worse? You're showing them the country, and the students are ambassadors of a school many have never heard of beyond basketball losses.
But is that what they are playing for, free travel? Do the Golden Lions take the losses in stride and show everyone pictures? Do the fellow students look at it realistically? Does a player's Facebook album of the time leading up to the Hawaii game trump the final score? Maybe there isn't a better way to see the country for free, if you can fit the description. Or maybe it's just how basketball is in the SWAC.
Bad Days in Baton Rouge..."Or Mini-Dome for short"...the who-now?
The school that's having the toughest time is the one that didn't exactly have the hardest road. I'd like to highlight some of Southern's non-conference foes, and the result.
November 19th, 2010
Tougalou? The dance? Wait, hold on. Tougaloo College, in Tougaloo, Mississippi. The Bulldogs are NAIA (oh my). Their very minimal athletics page doesn't even mention the Southern game. Hey guys, YOU WON! Hell, Southern mentions the loss; they admit it. Their page features photos that may or may not be from the school. And yet, they took care of a D-I school on the road.
December 20th, 2010
Xavier (LA) 72
Being stupid, I though this was some sort of college out west I didn't know. I was wrong - it's the Xavier University in Louisiana, not Ohio. Did Southern think they were playing the boys from Cincy? Xavier calls their basketball arena "The Barn" which immediately gives them points. Xavier plays Tougaloo, and also lost to them, so maybe we should cut Southern some slack.
Consider those two losses and then note that Tulane, an actual D-1 school, visited and escaped with a 3 point win. Analyzing this would make your brain explode, so I'll stop here.
But, come March, someone from the SWAC is going to dance in madness. That dance itself will be tough, and likely not last very long. No matter which school, a SWAC representative will show up. The result, though anticipated, will be tough either way.