By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
The stretch run of regular-season college basketball is underway, and two of the bigger surprises in mid-major men’s basketball are an hour’s drive from Shreveport-Bossier.
The men’s teams at Grambling and Northwestern State are very much in contention for their league crowns with a handful of games left before conference tournaments.
Grambling was picked sixth among 12 teams in the preseason Southwestern Athletic Conference coaches’ poll. NSU was also sixth in the 10-team Southland coaches’ predictions.
The Tigers (17-8 overall, 10-3 in the SWAC) stand one game behind league-leading Alcorn State with five games to go, two at home and one at a neutral site, Salt Lake City this Saturday against Southern in the NBA HBCU Classic.
Northwestern (18-8, 10-3) is tied for first with preseason favorite and 2022 NCAA Tournament entry Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and must visit the Islanders next Saturday. But the Demons have three of their final five games in Prather Coliseum, two this week.
No other area college Division I teams are in position to chase a regular-season title, but all seem destined to have spots in conference tournaments. Only the tournament champions will reach the NCAA Tournament as Conference USA, the Southland and the SWAC are all one-bid leagues, but other postseason options might be on the table for the Demons and Tigers, especially if they top the 20-win plateau.
LOUISIANA TECH: Best win so far for the Bulldogs (13-12, 6-8, seventh in the 10-team CUSA standings)? Sweeping fourth-place Rice. But Tech just took league-leading Florida Atlantic into overtime on the road last Saturday and could be a threat in the CUSA Tournament next month. The Bulldogs also played second-place North Texas to a two-point game last month. Isaiah Crawford scored a career-best 25 for Tech at FAU as the Bulldogs shot 52 percent from the field.
Next game: North Texas, in Ruston, at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Mean Green escaped 67-65 in the first meeting.
NORTHWESTERN STATE: DeMarcus Sharp is making his case for Southland Player of the Year. In NSU’s eight-game win streak, its longest since a nine-game run from Jan. 19-Feb. 19, 2013, Sharp has averaged a team-best 23.8 points per game while adding six assists, 5.4 rebounds, 2.4 steals and nearly a block per contest. A 6-foot-3 point guard, Sharp has a 4.36 assist-to-turnover ratio (48:11) in the run and is shooting 54.8 percent from the floor, including a 9-for-11 stretch from 3-point range.
Next game: Thursday at home, 8 p.m. against Southeastern Louisiana, who the Demons topped in OT last month in Hammond.
GRAMBLING: The Tigers have won four in a row behind their consistently stout defense. Monday night at home, Grambling shot 53 percent while holding Prairie View to 37 percent aim in a 68-64 victory. The G-Men have held opponents to 39 percent aim this season, and continue to rank among the top 10 in the nation in field goal percentage defense.
Next game: Saturday in Salt Lake City against arch-rival Southern, who handled the G-Men last month in Baton Rouge.
NORTHWESTERN STATE: The Lady Demons (10-13, 6-7 for a three-way tie for fifth in the 10-team Southland) notched their most impressive win of the season at home last Saturday. It wasn’t just that NSU knocked off third-place Texas A&M-Commerce, but the Lady Demons recovered from a 67-47 smothering at Commerce less than 48 hours earlier. The turnaround came despite 36 percent shooting aim, but senior Candice Parramore poured in 26 points to set the pace for NSU.
Next game: Thursday at home, 5:30 against second-place Southeastern Louisiana, which dominated NSU in Hammond last month.
LOUISIANA TECH: The Lady Techsters (14-10, 7-7, fifth in the 10-team CUSA race) put their best foot forward early in the league race by winning at fourth-place Rice. But down the stretch, they’ll be tested with four road games in the last six outings.
Next game: At North Texas, Thursday at 6:30.
GRAMBLING: The most impressive win for the Lady Tigers (7-17, 6-7 for eighth in the 12-team SWAC) is a 52-51 triumph a couple of weeks ago at second-place Alabama A&M. They have three home games in their last five contests. Last Saturday, the program retired the No. 14 jersey of the late Mary Currie, who set the program’s career scoring standard with 2,256 points from 1983-87.
Next game: Saturday at home, 1 p.m. against Southern.
Contact Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org