Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Jackson State (SWAC)
Williams Athletic Center - Jackson, MS
8:30 PM EST
Tonight in the Swickity, a battle between two 6-2 teams looking up at defending regular season champion Alabama State. If either were to win the conference's coveted ticket to the Big Dance, they would undoubtedly be headed to Dayton's play-in game thanks to their similar status as teams that only won a single game in nonconference play (UAPB pulled a Red Line Upset at Southern Methodist
; Jackson State beat fledgeling D-I entry North Carolina Central on a neutral court
). We are dealing on a small scale, but it's a big game.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff ranks among the most surprising success stories of the season, having won its last four games and five of six. First of all, not many expected anything out of a team that had its head coach resign
in March, saying that progress was not quite at the pace he anticipated. UAPB, a child of the Morrill Act
, was the Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College during its first stint in the SWAC; since the Golden Lions returned to the conference in 1997, they have never had a winning record in the league, much less made the NCAA Tournament (the only such bannerless SWAC team other than Grambling). So it would be one of those stories we love if they broke through and succeeded in their quest. The Golden Lions are doing it with defense, leading the league in rebounds (34.8 rpg), turnovers forced (19.9 per conference game) and defensive efficiency (0.849 points allowed per opponents' possessions). And they're going to need a lot of it on a three-game road trip that begins... now.
Jackson State, since leaving behind the annual sad parade of guarantee games, have won six of seven league games after taking a season-opening loss
to those Alabama State Hornets. They won't get another shot at the frontrunners until the final homestand of the season (Mar. 7), and have spent the last few weeks honing their glass-cleaning skills. The Tigers have outrebounded six of eight SWAC opponents, and are getting big-time performances from 6-3 senior Darrion Griffin
, who notched a 18 and 11 double-double in Saturday's win
over 2008 tourney champs Mississippi Valley State. Along with a long, limber front line of Jeremy Caldwell
and Grant Maxey
, there likely isn't a black college team in Division I with as much talent. How far will that take the Tigers this year?Basketball State Preview/Box