LWOS continues its conference previews with the 2020-21 Southland Basketball Preview. Stephen F. Austin put the country on notice by upsetting Duke in Cameron Indoor last November. The Lumberjacks waltzed their way through the league as well, looking like a prime Cinderella candidate. However, the NCAA Tournament got cancelled. Then, the program got hit with an APR ban in the off-season. The school elected to take their postseason ban for the 2021-22 season, so they are putting all their chips on repeating this season. SFA has a real shot at it, but they will face some stiffer tests in league play.
2020-21 Southland Basketball Preview
13. Houston Baptist Huskies
Key Returners: Jason Thompson, Myles Pierre, Ty Dalton
Key Losses: Ian Dubose, Jalon Gates, Benjamin Uloko
Key Newcomers: Hunter Janacek (JUCO), Pedro Castro (JUCO), Cameron Hart (JUCO)
Houston Baptist would appear to have nowhere to go but up after being the worst team in the league in 2019-20. However, that is going to be a tough task after losing their top two players from last season. Dubose is a particularly big loss, as he could be a breakout scorer when needed. The Huskies are left with a young roster that is relying on incoming junior college transfers to make an immediate impact. Houston Baptist appears to be on track for yet another finish in the basement.
12. Incarnate Word Cardinals
Key Returners: Keaston Willis, Drew Lutz, Marcus Larsson
Key Losses: Dwight Murray Jr., Vincent Miszkiewicz
Key Newcomers: Bradley Akhile (JUCO)
Incarnate Word continues to take baby steps towards being competitive as a Division I program. The Cardinals were in the mix for a conference tournament berth towards the end of last season, but missed out. That is a positive sign for a team that was pretty young in 2019-20. That effort was led by freshman of the year Keaston Willis, who averaged 13.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game to earn that honor. He forms a promising sophomore core with Drew Lutz and Marcus Larsson. Incarnate Word should see some more improvement, and could push for a Southland Tournament spot once again.
11. Southeastern Louisiana Lions
Key Returners: Pape Diop, Brandon Gonzalez, Byron Smith
Key Losses: Tyron Brewer, Von Julien
Key Newcomers: Elijah Ifejeh (Louisiana-Monroe), Keon Clergeot (Massachusetts), Avery Wilson (Boston College)
Southeastern Louisiana entered back into a rebuilding mode under new coach David Kiefer last season. That rebuild might see a bit of setback after Ty Brewer elected to transfer to East Tennessee State. He averaged 14.9 points and 7.7 rebounds last season, and was the clear catalyst for the Lions. However, there is enough talent left in both the frontcourt and backcourt to try and replace his production. Jamon Kemp, a talented freshman from Washington, brings some excitement as well. Southeastern Louisiana should be able to stay out of last place this season.
10. New Orleans Privateers
Key Returners: Troy Green, Damion Rosser, Jahmel Myers
Key Losses: Bryson Robinson, Gerrale Gates, Jaylen Key
Key Newcomers: Derek St. Hilaire (Jacksonville State), LaDarius Marshall (JUCO), Bol Tong (JUCO)
New Orleans was a big disappointment last season. The Privateers were the preseason league favorite, but completely fell apart, finishing in 11th place. However, part of the reason for that was a season-ending injury to star Damion Rosser seven games into the season. This year’s team is looking to prove last year was an anomaly. They have the talent, especially in the backcourt, to certainly try. Rosser is joined by senior Troy Green at the guard position. The Privateers should be improved with a healthy Rosser, but they will have to prove they can climb up the standings.
9. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders
Key Returners: Myles Smith, Jordan Hairston, Nolan Bertain
Key Losses: Jashawn Talton-Thomas, Elijah Schmidt, Tony Lewis
Key Newcomers: De’Lazarus Keys (JUCO), Jalen Myers
Corpus Christi finished in the middle of the pack last season. The Islanders will have to lean on the strength of their guard play to try and return to that level again. Myles Smith can do a little bit of everything, averaging 13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game last season. However, this team will need people to step up in the paint. The frontcourt is young or has no experience at the Division I level. Corpus Christi should be able to hold their own, but will have to find a way to be a complete team to think about surprising anyone.
8. Central Arkansas Bears
Key Returners: Rylan Bergersen, Deandre Jones, Eddy Kayouloud
Key Losses: Hayden Koval
Key Newcomers: Samson George (Pittsburgh)
Central Arkansas made the rare mid-season coaching change last season, and that seemed to spark them. The Bears made a late push for the final spot in the Southland Tournament, but just missed out in the end. Now, they will have to move on without seven-footer Hayden Koval, who transferred to UNC Greensboro. However, almost everyone else is back, providing a good mix of veteran leadership and youth. Central Arkansas should remain competitive and attain that goal of a conference tournament appearance.
7. Lamar Cardinals
Key Returners: Davion Buster, Avery Sullivan, Anderson Kopp
Key Losses: T.J. Atwood, V.J. Holmes
Key Newcomers: Lincoln Smith (JUCO), Quinlan Bennett Jr. (JUCO), Tarig Eisa (JUCO)
Lamar finished in sixth-place last season behind fairly balanced production. However, that balance shifts slightly as Atwood and Holmes move on from the program. Davion Buster seems like the most likely candidate to step up after averaging 14.6 points, 2.4 assists, and 1.8 steals per game in 2019-20. There is decent experience returning, and the Cardinals could tip the scales slightly if the junior college transfers adjust quickly. However, Lamar should have no problems finishing in the top eight again.
6. Northwestern State Demons
Key Returners: Jairus Roberson, Trenton Massner, Nikos Chougkaz
Key Losses: Chudier Bile
Key Newcomers: Jordan Potts (JUCO)
Northwestern State finished just above .500 in league play last season, good enough for a solid fourth-place finish. The Demons lose second-teamer Chudier Bile, who dominated in the paint. The team will have to replace his 14.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game from last season. Nikos Chougkaz should be the guy to take his place after having a solid freshman season. Northwestern State’s returning experience, especially in the backcourt, should keep them towards the top half of the league.
5. Sam Houston State Bearkats
Key Returners: Zach Nutall, Demarkus Lampley
Key Losses: Kai Mitchell, Chad Bowie, R.J. Smith
Key Newcomers: Immanuel Crump (JUCO), Tristan Ikpe (JUCO), Dylan Robertson (JUCO)
Sam Houston State took a step back last season after blasting through the league in 2018-19. The Bearkats are slowly trying to climb their way back towards the top of the Southland. That journey starts this year with Zach Nutall. Nutall was a first-team selection last season and will be in the mix for the player of the year award this season. However, he is just one of the many talented guards this team has. The frontcourt will be relying on the incoming junior college transfers to contribute. Until that rotation gets figured out, Sam Houston State will be relying on guard play to carry them.
4. Nicholls State Colonels
Key Returners: Andre Jones, Kevin Johnson
Key Losses: Dexter McClanahan, Elvis Harvey, Warith Alatishe
Key Newcomers: Shawn Williams (New Mexico State), Jaylen Fornes (UNC Wilmington), Isaac Johnson (Western Illinois)
Nicholls State surprised many by finishing in second place and winning 21 games. The loss of McClanahan in the backcourt will hurt, but Andre Jones and Kevin Johnson are more than capable of picking up the slack. The trio of transfers create depth with the guards, and come with their own prior D-I experiences. The frontcourt is a little more inexperienced, but only at this level of college basketball. Nicholls State has enough in the tank to try and push back towards the top of the league again this season.
3. Abilene Christian Wildcats
Key Returners: Joe Pleasant, Kolton Kohl, Coryon Mason
Key Losses: Payten Ricks
Key Newcomers: Immanuel Allen (JUCO)
Abilene Christian loses just one starter on a team that quietly won 20 games for a second-straight season. Granted, losing a player like Payten Ricks is a tough pill to swallow. However, the Wildcats return plenty of experience, and Joe Pleasant looks like the guy who can step into the leadership role for this team. Abilene Christian is only two years removed from playing in the NCAA Tournament, their first appearance in school history. They will be fighting for that right once again in 2020-21.
2. McNeese State Cowboys
Key Returners: A.J. Lawson, Dru Kuxhausen
Key Losses: Shamarkus Kennedy, Roydell Brown
Key Newcomers: KeyShawn Feazell (Mississippi State), Ra’Shawn Langston (Louisiana Tech), Carlos Rosario (JUCO)
McNeese State takes a big loss in Shamarkus Kennedy, who was the Cowboys’ playmaker and league defensive player of the year last season. He averaged 18.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game in 2019-20. It falls on the shoulders of Lawson and Kuxhausen to replace his presence, but from the backcourt. The approval of KeyShawn Feazell’s transfer waiver from Mississippi State may be the biggest news in the league. He should sure the frontcourt up along with junior college transfer Rosario. McNeese State has what it takes to try and win the league.
1. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
Key Returners: Gavin Kensmil, Cameron Johnson, Roti Ware
Key Losses: Kevon Harris, John Comeaux, Nathan Bain
Key Newcomers: Nigel Hawkins (UTEP), Demiere Brown (JUCO; Redshirted last season), DeAndre Heckard (JUCO)
Stephen F. Austin had a historic season, winning 28 games for just the second time ever. That includes the aforementioned upset of then top-ranked Duke and going 19-1 in conference play. The Lumberjacks will have to replace some key players from last season, including Kevon Harris, who was the Southland Player of the Year. However, newcomer of the year Kensmil returns, along with two other senior leaders in Johnson and Ware. Those three will have to lead the way while the younger players gain experience in reserve roles. Stephen F. Austin can defend their title, but it will probably be a little closer than last season.
2020-21 Southland Basketball Preview Award Projections
Player of the Year: Zach Nutall, Sam Houston State
Nutall is poised to become one of the best players in Bearkats history. He averaged 15.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game on his way to a first-team spot. Nutall will be a big reason why Sam Houston State can push for a conference title. However, entering just his junior season, he should also find a way to improve upon last season’s numbers, which is a scary thought.
Defensive Player of the Year: Gavin Kensmil, Stephen F. Austin
Kensmil shined in his first season with the Lumberjacks after transferring from Iona and sitting out a year. He earned newcomer of the year after averaging 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while also shooting a shade under 61 percent from the field. However, he was also a solid defender, averaging 1.2 steals per game. Furthermore, he finished in the top five in defensive rating and defensive win shares. Kensmil appears to be the top returning defender in the league for 2020-21.
Freshman of the Year: Jamon Kemp, Southeastern Louisiana
Kemp joins the Lions as a highly-touted recruit for a mid-major league. He was rated as a three-start recruit by ESPN and as a top 200 recruit overall by 247 Sports. Kemp should benefit from a year from prep ball at Woodstock Academy in Connecticut after playing high school basketball in Seattle. He should figure to see decent minutes as Southeastern Louisiana continues its rebuild and looks for players to step up. Kemp should be able to make an impact right away.
Newcomer of the Year: KeyShawn Feazell, McNeese State
Feazell never played as much as he would have liked while at Mississippi State, so he brings his talent to the Cowboys. He should boost the team inside immediately, especially with the loss of Shamarkus Kennedy. That should allow him to step right in and be a key piece of a McNeese State team looking to capture its first league title in ten years.
Coach of the Year: Kyle Keller, Stephen F. Austin
Repeating is a tough thing to do, especially when you have the type of season the Lumberjacks did last year. However, Kyle Keller is more than up for the task. He has guided this program to its two best seasons in school history, proving his coaching capability. If he can get this program to win back-to-back titles, he should be honored as the top coach once more. Of course, that means he will be in high demand by power schools for vacancies next season.
All-Conference First-Team Projection: Zach Nutall (Sam Houston State), Rylan Bergersen (Central Arkansas), A.J. Lawson (McNeese State), Myles Smith (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi), Gavin Kensmil (Stephen F. Austin)