Led by Erik Thomas (14), regular-season champion New Orleans inthe Southland Conference Tournament's team to beat. (Photo courtesy UNOPrivateers.com)

MARK MADNESS | Mark Adams previews the Southland Tournament

It's tournament time!

With all eyes on the conference tournaments this week, here's a look at the top contenders for the Southland's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Favorites

NEW ORLEANS

  • Key question: Can anyone guard Eric Thomas and then attack a defensive fortress in New Orleans?
  • Record: 13-5 18-11, 13-5 Southland (No. 1 seed).
  • Wins vs. Power 5 & Big East: Beat Washington State, 70-54.
  • Southland Tournament opener: Friday vs. Thursday's Houston Baptist-Central Arkansas/Sam Houston State winner.
  • NCAA ranks: No. 14 in turnovers forced (16.38).
  • Southland ranks: No. 1 in field-goal shooting (47.2%), 3-point defense ( 30.9%) and assists (16.1); No. 2 in scoring margin (3.5).

TEXAS A&M-CORPUS CHRISTI

  • Key question: Who can slow down the high-scoring tandem of Rashawn Thomas (21.7), Ehab Amin (17.5) and the red-hot Islanders?
  • Record: 19-10, 12-6 Southland (No. 2 seed).
  • Southland Tournament opener: Friday vs. Thursday's Stephen F. Austin-Lamar/Southeastern Louisiana winner.
  • NCAA ranks: Ehab Amin No. 1 in steals (3.38), Rashawn Thomas No. 13 in scoring 21.7 and TAMU-CC No. 8 in steals (9.1).
  • Southland ranks: No. 1 in field-goal shooting (47.2%) and steals (9.1); No. 2 in free-throw shooting (72.4%).

Contenders

STEPHEN F. AUSTIN

  • Key question: Can the Lumberjacks continue their conference domination?
  • Record: 17-13, 12-6 Southland (No. 3 seed).
  • Southland Tournament opener: Thursday vs. Wednesday's Lamar-Southeastern Louisiana winner.
  • NCAA ranks: No. 10 in turnovers forced (16.67).
  • Southland ranks: No. 1 in assist/turnover ration (1.1); No. 2 in scoring defense (68.7).

HOUSTON BAPTIST

  • Key question: Can anyone control the red hot and high scoring Huskies, winners of nine in a row and the Southland’s scoring leader?
  • Record: 17-12, 12-6 Southland (No. 4 seed).
  • Southland Tournament opener: Thursday vs. Wednesday's Sam Houston State-Central Arkansas winner.
  • Southland ranks: No. 1 in scoring offense (79.4) and rebound margin (6.2).

SAM HOUSTON STATE

  • Key question: Can any team defend the Bearkats' balanced attack — six players average between 7.0-10.3 points per game — and handle their pressure?
  • Record: 19-12, 10-8 Southland (No. 5 seed).
  • Southland Tournament opener: Thursday vs. Wednesday's Southeastern Louisiana-Lamar winner.
  • NCAA ranks: No. 8 in turnovers forced (16.77).
  • Southland ranks: No. 1 in field-goal defense (42.6%), turnover margin (2.7) and assist/turnover ratio (1.1); No. 2 in assists (15.2).

Longshot

LAMAR

  • Key question: Can anyone slow down the Cardinals' high-powered offense?
  • Record: 18-13, 10-8 Southland (No. 6 seed).
  • Southland Tournament opener: Wednesday vs. No. 7 Southeastern Louisiana.
  • Southland ranks: No. 1 in scoring margin (6.5) and assist/turnover ratio (1.1); No. 2 in socring offense (78.3), 3-point shooting (32.1%), steals (8.1) and turnover margin (2.65).

Other wins vs. Power 5 & Big East

  • Nicholls: Beat Boston College, 79-73.

Other NCAA leaders

  • Individual: Liam Thomas Nicholls — No. 1 in blocked shots (4.19); Jordan Howard Central Arkansas — No. 7 in 3-point shooting (45.3%) and T13 in 3-pointers made (3.26).
  • Team: Nicholls — T4 in blocked shot (6.1).

Tournament schedule

WEDNESDAY

  • No. 8 Central Arkansas vs. No. 5 Sam Houston State, 6 p.m. ET
  • No. 7 Southeastern Louisiana vs. No. 6 Lamar, 8:30 p.m.

THURSDAY

  • Central Arkansas-Sam Houston State winner vs. No. 4 Houston Baptist, 6 p.m. ET
  • Southeastern Louisiana-Lamar vs. No. 3 Stephen F. Austin, 8:30 p.m. ET

FRIDAY

  • Houston Baptist-Central Arkansas/Sam Houston State winner vs. No. 1 New Orleans, 6 p.m. ET
  • Stephen F. Austin-Southeastern Louisiana/Lamar vs. No. 2 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 8:30 p.m. ET

SATURDAY

  • Championship: 8:30 p.m. ET

Projected automatic bid

NEW ORLEANS


Mark Adams is ASN's lead basketball analyst. Follow him on Twitter at @EnthusiAdams.

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