Oct. 21, 2008
The Lamar basketball team was picked to finish second in the Southland Conference West Division in a vote of the league's head coaches as announced at the SLC Media Day in Katy.
UTA picked up nine of the 12 first place votes, while Stephen F. Austin earned 10 votes in the East, followed by Northwestern State and Southeastern Louisiana with one vote each.
Lamar totaled 54 points and had the other three first-place votes in the coaches' poll, while Steve Roccaforte's Cardinals got 56 points and three first-place votes from the SIDs. Lamar, which finished 19-11 overall, returns two starters including Kenny Dawkins, the 2008 Southland Newcomer of the Year, from a team that won the East Division last season with a 13-3 record, tying SFA for the regular-season championship. It was the first league title for Lamar since 1984 and was their 12th conference title.
The coaches picked Sam Houston State to finish third, followed by UTSA, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Texas State, but in the SID poll, Sam Houston State and UTSA tied for third with the Roadrunners getting the final two first-place votes. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Texas State were picked fifth and sixth, respectively.
Sam Houston State finished second in the West Division last year with a 10-6 record and was 23-8 overall, but returns just five letterwinners and two starters from that team. Bob Marlin's Bearkats have won 20 or more games each of the past three seasons and own the second longest home-court winning streak at 44 games. UTSA returns its top three scorers from a 13-17 team that tied for third in the West Division at 7-9. Coach Brooks Thompson and the Roadrunners return three starters, including Devin Gibson, the 2008 Southland Freshman of the Year.
After winning the Southland regular-season and tournament titles in 2007, its first year in the conference, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi tied for fifth in the West Division last season with a 6-10 record. The Islanders were 9-20 overall, but return four starters and seven letterwinners in coach Perry Clark's second season at the helm. Texas State also was 6-10 in conference play and was 13-16 overall, but also returns four starters and nine letterwinners, which account for 70 percent of its offensive production from a season ago.
Behind Stephen F. Austin in the East Division, the coaches and SIDs were in agreement with Northwestern State as the second-best team, followed by Southeastern Louisiana third and McNeese State fourth. The coaches gave one first-place vote to Northwestern and another to Southeastern, and picked Nicholls State and Central Arkansas fifth and sixth, respectively. The Demons got the final two first-place votes from the SIDs, which voted Central Arkansas fifth and Nicholls State sixth.
Northwestern State finished 15-18 overall and tied for second in the East Division with a Southeastern Louisiana at 9-7. The Demons advanced to the Southland tournament championship for the fourth consecutive season and the sixth time in coach Mike McConathy's nine seasons. To make an unprecedented fifth consecutive appearance, the Demons must replace three of its top five scorers and top four rebounders from last season's squad. The Lions finished with a 17-13 overall record in a second-place tie in the East Division and are the only Division I school in the state of Louisiana to post a winning season each of the past five seasons. Jim Yarbrough's squad returns just two starters among five letterwinners.
McNeese State was fourth in the East last season with a 7-9 record. Dave Simmons' squad finished 13-16 overall and returns two starters and eight letterwinners and has qualified for the Southland tournament in each of his first two seasons. Nicholls State finished fifth in the East with a 5-11 conference record. J.P. Piper's club finished 10-21 overall and returns four starters and nine letterwinners from a squad that lost just one senior. The Colonels are looking for their first Southland tournament appearance since the 2001 season. In just two seasons in the conference, Central Arkansas are in search of its first tournament appearance. Rand Chappell's Bears return three starters and nine letterwinners from a squad that finished 14-16 overall and 4-12 in the conference.
The top two teams in each division automatically qualify for the 2009 State Farm Southland Conference Basketball Tournament March 12-15 at the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas. The four teams with the best winning percentages round out the tournament's field of eight. However, Central Arkansas is ineligible for tournament consideration because of its transition from NCAA Division II to Division I.
Senior guard Kenny Dawkins was named the preseason first team All-SLC squad, along with Josh Alexander and Matt Kingsley of SFA, SLU's Kevyn Green and UTSA'a Devin Gibson.
Dawkins is third among returning scorers after averaging 14.6 points to pace Lamar a season ago. The 5-foot-9, 155-pound guard from Holly Springs, Miss., was among the Southland leaders several stat categories. He was third in assists, second in steals, third in assists-to-turnover ratio, second in minutes, second in free throw percentage and third in three-point field goal percentage.