The SWAC is one of the early winners in men's college basketball in 2022

The SWAC is one of the early winners in men’s college basketball in 2022

One week down in college basketball, and here’s something a lot of bright-light teams have learned already:

Fear the SWAC.

You know the SWAC. The conference that routinely provides bigger fish with early-season opponents, traveling hither and yon and then back to hither, with flight schedules that should get them in the premier-plus mileage club. Last season the 12-team league combined to play only eight home games against Division I non-conference opponents. Eight. No wonder the results are often not pleasant. But one week in November 2022 has suggested things are changing.

Which brings us to the many televisions that are always on each night in the home of Dr. Charles McClelland. He’s vice chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. He’s also the commissioner of the SWAC. “I’m watching a lot of games,” he said over the phone Monday. “Including mine.”

And has he ever been having fun?

Start with last Monday. A veteran TCU team took its home floor with a No 14 ranking to face Arkansas-Pine Bluff, picked to finish 11th in the SWAC this season. The Horned Frogs had played 41 games against the SWAC in their history and won 40 of them.

They looked up at the scoreboard 10 minutes into this game and were behind 29-9. The Golden Lions’ blitz included hitting 11 of their first 17 3-pointers. So much for opening night jitters. They cooled and TCU rallied to win 73-72, needing a basket from Mike Miles Jr. in the final minute, but Arkansas-Pine Bluff had killed any idea of ​​a nice, cushy season-opening blowout.

The Golden Lions would do it again four nights later at Oklahoma, down only two points with 2:36 left before giving way to the Sooners 66-58.

That was the same Friday night Colorado became the first Power Five team to ever play a basketball game at Grambling. The Buffaloes found out why possibly nobody else has done that, trailing by as many as 19 and losing 83-74. They had been 13-0 all-time against the SWAC. “There’s nothing like playing in front of your family and friends and being able to compete at a high level,” Grambling coach Donte Jackson said afterward.

Alcorn State had been 1-23 against the teams of the American conference. Not anymore. The Braves visited Wichita State Saturday and rolled 66-57. The same day, Jackson State cut a 14-point deficit with five minutes left to two before falling back 85-79 at Tulsa. The league was causing considerable anxiety in lots of places.

Sunday, too. Texas Southern hosted a Pac-12 member for the first time in 29 years. The Tigers welcomed in Arizona State – then beat the Sun Devils 67-66 in overtime on a Zytarious Mortle tip-in in the final seconds. Texas Southern pulled that off despite missing 12 of 19 free throws.

“We’ve put a lot of energy into our basketball, a lot of resources, bringing up all the things that we needed to bring up as far as recruiting budgets and facilities,” McClelland said. “It’s just good to see that starting to pay off with some wins.”

So what’s happening? Besides the efforts of his conference’s basketball programs coaches and players, McClelland offers gratitude to a couple of other places.

Thank you, Deion Sanders. Well, not just Sanders, but SWAC football in general. Still, it is Sanders’ accomplishments at Jackson State that have put a lot of eyes on the league.

“I really think our basketball is riding the wave and the momentum from our football,” McClelland said. “We’ve seen an uptick in fan participation and seen an uptick in recruits. Because of that popularity, we’ve started to see the same things in basketball.”

And thank you, Pac-12. That league has connected with the SWAC for the Legacy Series as a part of an effort to give wider exposure to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. And that’s why Pac-12 teams started showing up in SWAC arenas.

“I would like to tip my hat to the Pac-12 for doing something that has never been done before,” McClelland said. “They were up to it. They understood there could possibly be some upsets but they wanted to do something significant. They wanted to be able to highlight what the Historically Black College culture was all about. They were the one that committed and followed through with that commitment.”

So now SWAC teams are not spending all of November and December on the road, running up miles like Amazon. “We play good basketball in the Southwestern Athletic Conference but it’s tough when you’re on the road seven or eight games in a row. That travel starts to wear you down,” McClelland said. “I think you get an opportunity now to see a more true fashion of what SWAC basketball is all about.”

While McClelland’s league was flexing such unexpected muscle after one week, he has seen some intrigue come of his TV screens from elsewhere.

No. 1 North Carolina started 2-0 against UNC Wilmington and Charleston but was beyondbounded by both. That only happened three times to the Tar Heels all last season. A program that was third in the nation in rebound margin a year ago is currently tied for 276th.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Michigan State’s Malik Hall and Mady Sissoko defend against Julian Strawther at the Armed Forces Classic.

Gonzaga’s streak continued on water as well as land. When the Zags rallied to edge Michigan State 64-63 on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, it was their 71st consecutive win over an unranked opponent. He also made Drew Timme 92-7 in his career.

Duke turned up the defense in beginning the post-Mike Krzyzewski era, throttling Jacksonville 71-44 and South Carolina Upstate 84-38. The 82 points allowed in their first two games were the fewest for the Blue Devils since 1946.

When Kentucky whisked past Howard 95-63 and Duquesne 77-52, it continued a startling John Calipari feat that often gets missed. He is 84-0 when his Wildcats allow 55 points or under, and 204-9 when the opponent scores 63 or under.

West Virginia’s 81-56 mashing of Pittsburgh was the biggest rout of its neighborhood rival since 1968. Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins was a high school freshman then. Now he has 918 wins.

Temple beat Villanova 68-64 for the first time in 10 years, taking the lead on two Damian Dunn free throws with 1.1 seconds left. The Wildcats picked the wrong Owl to foul. After two games Dunn was 22-for-22 from the free throw line.

Eight months removed from his magical NCAA Tournament run at Saint Peter’s, Shaheen Holloway is now coaching Seton Hall. For his second game of the season, the Pirates faced. . . St. Peter’s. Holloway’s new team rolled over his old one, 80-44.

James Madison blasted off the launch pad like a NASA rocket headed for Pluto, with wins of 103-38, 106-58 and 97-62, the first time in school history the Dukes had started with three games over 90. The 97-62 romp at Buffalo was their biggest road victory in nearly 47 years.

Notre Dame’s 2-0 record was a testament to experience. The Irish have six graduate students on the roster.

Illinois State’s 69-67 win at Northwestern State brightened a trip any road warrior could appreciate — including SWAC teams. The Redbirds were supposed to fly to Northwestern State in Louisiana Friday for Saturday’s game, but a canceled flight and other complications kept them in the St. Louis airport for 12 hours, and they eventually had to find a hotel for the night. They flew to Houston the next morning, hopped on a four-hour bus ride to Natchitoches and arrived at 4:20 pm for a 7 o’clock game. They grabbed a quick dinner, then went to the arena and won by two points. Which is another reason home games are so nice.

Ranked teams breezed through the first week 47-3, the only losers including Villanova to Temple, Oregon to UC Irvine and Tennessee to Colorado. The same Colorado, by the way, that was whipped at Grambling. The NCAA committee vice chair has had a highly entertaining start to the season, and so has his conference.

When Kentucky whisked past Howard 95-63 and Duquesne 77-52, it continued a startling John Calipari feat that often gets missed. He is 84-0 when his Wildcats allow 55 points or under, and 204-9 when the opponent scores 63 or under.

West Virginia’s 81-56 mashing of Pittsburgh was the biggest rout of its neighborhood rival since 1968. Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins was a high school freshman then. Now he has 918 wins.

Temple beat Villanova 68-64 for the first time in 10 years, taking the lead on two Damian Dunn free throws with 1.1 seconds left. The Wildcats picked the wrong Owl to foul. After two games Dunn was 22-for-22 from the free throw line.

Eight months removed from his magical NCAA tournament run at Saint Peter’s, Shaheen Holloway is now coaching Seton Hall. For his second game of the season, the Pirates faced. . . St. Peter’s. Holloway’s new team rolled over his old one, 80-44.

James Madison blasted off the launch pad like a NASA rocket headed for Pluto, with wins of 103-38, 106-58 and 97-62, the first time in school history the Dukes had started with three games over 90. The 97-62 romp at Buffalo was their biggest road victory in nearly 47 years.

Notre Dame’s 2-0 record was a testament to experience. The Irish have six graduate students on the roster.

Illinois State’s 69-67 win at Northwestern State brightened a trip any road warrior could appreciate. The Redbirds were supposed to fly to Northwestern State in Louisiana Friday for Saturday’s game, but a canceled flight and other complications kept them in the St. Louis airport for 12 hours, and they eventually had to find a hotel for the night. They flew to Houston the next morning, hopped on a four-hour bus ride to Natchitoches and arrived at 4:20 pm for a 7 pm They grabbed a quick dinner, then went to the arena and won by two points. Which is another reason home games are so nice.

Ranked teams breezed through the first week 47-3, the only losers Villanova to Temple, Oregon to UC Irvine and Tennessee to Colorado. The same Colorado, by the way, that was whipped at Grambling. So among the messages of the first week: A road team can run into a lot of trouble playing at a SWAC school, or flying through St. Louis.

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