CALGARY, Alta. — The Southland Conference has been one of the top conferences from outside of the power six in recent years, and it has been chalked full of talent with each passing year.
Heading into the 2017-18 season, the conference will look a tad bit different than it did a year ago.
Rashawn Thomas? Gone.
Christavious Gill, Erik Thomas, Tyler Singleton, Zeek Woodley, Colter Lasher, and Dakarai Henderson? You guessed it. Gone.
Despite the loss of several star-caliber players from across the conference, a ton of talent remains firmly in the Southland. The return of Jalan West will bolster the roster for the Northwestern State Demons with the loss of Woodley.
And, if you don’t know the name Jordan Howard, then you need to pay more attention to the conference, It’s as simple as that.
Outside of the bigger names in the conference, here are ten names you need to know from the Southland Conference heading into the 2017-18 season.
Travin Thibodeaux – New Orleans Privateers
2016-17 Stats: 8.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.3 apg; 51.7% FG
When a team loses four of its top five scorers from the previous year, a step or two backwards is expected. That’s the situation that the Privateers find themselves in heading into the 2017-18 season, as they lose their top three scorers and four of their top five overall from a year ago.
Fortunately for the Privateers, senior forward Travin Thibodeaux is back and ready to ascend into a starring role for the program. As his minutes have increased with each passing season at New Orleans, the product of Plaquemine, LA has increased his scoring, rebounding, and assist totals, while shooting above 50% from the floor in all three years as a Privateer.
As a junior, Thibodeaux averaged career-high marks with 8.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per contest while playing alongside fellow big man Erik Thomas, who took home Southland Conference Player of the Year. With Thomas now gone from New Orleans, the time is now for Thibodeaux to take a leading role with the program in the front court.
The 6’9” forward showed flashes of what he’s capable of last season, amassing four double-doubles on the year. He also recorded a triple-double back in November against Florida College, recording 10 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. That game also kick-started a four-game stretch where Thibodeaux scored in double figures.
Mathieu Kamba – Central Arkansas Bears
2016-17 Stats: 13.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.8 apg; 53.0% FG
We couldn’t pass up some top level Canadian talent in the Southland Conference, and it’s about time that people pay attention to Mathieu Kamba at Central Arkansas.
While the bulk of the attention goes to leading scorer Jordan Howard, and for good reason, Kamba will be an integral piece of the puzzle for the Bears this season. The native of Calgary, Alberta finished second on the team in both scoring and rebounding a year ago, finishing with an average of 13.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest.
From December 19th through to February 4th, the 6’5” Canadian put together 13 straight games with double-digit points. He had a three-game streak of 20+ point performances, including a 28-point performance against Abilene Christian.
Over the past two seasons, Kamba has been a model of consistency from the field, shooting above 50.0% as a sophomore and junior. With the Bears losing both Derreck Brooks and Jeff Lowery from last year’s team, expect more of the same from him this season as a senior.
Colton Weisbrod – Lamar Cardinals
2016-17 Stats: 15.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 0.9 apg; 52.2% FG
In his first season with the Cardinals, Weisbrod played a huge role in turning the Cardinals into conference contenders. He had a strong impact on the team, both on and off the court, and that will continue into his senior season in 2017-18.
After one season at New Orleans, Weisbrod transferred to Lamar State College Port Arthur, where he went on to become one of the top JUCO transfers in the entire country. He followed that up with a stellar year at Lamar, culminating with a spot on the All-Southland Conference First team.
Weisbrod was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 15.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest. He had a pair of 30-point efforts, including a season-high 34 points against Southeastern Louisiana in January.
To top it all off, Weisbrod got engaged to Allison Jacks, his longtime girlfriend, at mid court following a Cardinals’ win over Arlington Baptist on December 21st. It also happened to be Weisbrod’s 21st birthday.
It’ll be tough to top the 2016-17 season for Weisbrod on a personal level, but if the Cardinals are able to live up to the preseason hype and punch a ticket to the Big Dance, it’ll all be worth it.
Ehab Amin – Texas A&M-CC Islanders
2016-17 Stats: 16.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 3.4 spg; 46.2% FG
Ehab Amin had himself quite the breakout season in 2016-17, and he could be in for an even bigger year as the leader of one of the nation’s most underrated back court rotations. With the departure of forward Rashawn Thomas to the NBA, Amin will be looked upon to lead the team on both ends of the court.
In 2016-17, the native of Alexandria, Egypt led the nation in steals per game, averaging 3.4 thefts per contest. He amassed a total of 124 steals over the course of the year.
To make things even better, he improved in several other categories in a big way. Here’s a look at his averages as a sophomore, in comparison to his junior stat line:
2015-16 (SO): 8.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.8 spg
2016-17 (JR): 16.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 3.4 spg
Amin made a big jump last season as a junior, and while it’ll be tough to top those numbers, he’ll look to match them as he looks to lead the Islanders to a Southland crown. He is one of the nation’s top defensive players, and will undoubtedly get the national attention he deserves in 2017-18.
Kalob Ledoux – McNeese Cowboys
2016-17 Stats: 11.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.1 apg; 45.4% FG, 38.5% 3PT
The Southland Conference is filled with talented freshmen with a ton of potential year after year, and McNeese landed themselves a good one in the form of 6’3” guard Kalob Ledoux.
In his first season with the Cowboys, Ledoux led the Cowboys in scoring as a freshman, averaging 11.9 points per contest on 45.4% shooting from the floor. He was one of just four players to appear in all 29 games for McNeese in 2016-17.
Out of the gate, Ledoux showed no nerves with playing at the top level. Despite the Cowboys suffering a blowout loss to the Purdue Boilermakers, Ledoux made his debut with 16 points and a pair of rebounds in the loss. He followed that up with two more double-digit performances to open the season.
With the departure of Jamaya Burr, McNeese will rely on a heavy dose of sophomores and juniors this season. Look for Ledoux to have a bigger impact on the team this season as they look to climb in the Southland standings.
Kalob and his brother Jacob suited up for the Cowboys last season.
Jalone Friday – Abilene Christian Wildcats
2016-17 Stats: 13.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg; 52.3% FG, 45.6% 3PT
Abilene Christian has produced some talented freshmen over the past couple of seasons, with Jaylen Franklin bursting onto the scene in 2015-16 and Friday last year as a redshirt frosh.
Coming in at 6’9” and 250 pounds, the native of Oklahoma City showcased all of his talents a season ago. He showed his ability to play down low and finish around the rim, while also showcasing his shooting ability that stretches beyond the three point line. He finished the year shooting 52.3% from the field, and 45.6% from three point range.
Friday also finished the year tied for the team lead in scoring, with 13.7 points per game, and second in rebounding, pulling down 5.5 boards per contest. Add in his 1.3 blocks per contest, and Friday showed high potential on both ends of the court.
With the emergence of Friday, it will take eyes off the back court and force teams to focus on the entire lineup on the floor for the Wildcats. With his shooting range and effectiveness across the floor, opposing teams will need to be aware of where Friday is on the floor at all times, as he can hurt you in several different ways.
Friday opened his NCAA career with an 11-point, seven rebound performance against Schreiner, and had 19 double-digit scoring games across the entire year.
He was also one of the final four freshmen in our annual Freshman of the Year Fan Vote contest, so fans across the country are already becoming aware of his talents.
Ivan Canete – Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
2016-17 Stats: 10.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.4 spg; 45.3% FG, 38.8% 3PT
With Stephen F. Austin returning the bulk of their production from last season, it was tough to pick just one player on the roster to keep an eye on for next season. You’ve got TJ Holyfield, Ty Charles, Leon Gilmore III, and even more. This trio is well known when people talk about the Lumberjacks, but Ivan Canete is going to be a big piece this season.
In his first season with the Lumberjacks, Canete wasted little time in making a strong impression with his Lumberjack fans across the country. In just his fourth game with Stephen F. Austin, Canete went for 28 points, on 10-of-15 shooting from the floor and 6-of-8 from beyond the arc, against the UL-Monroe Warhawks in a five-point road loss.
Despite the loss, Lumberjack fans knew they had another star talent in Canete.
Canete transferred to Nacogdoches after playing JUCO ball with the Palm Beach State Panthers, and he made a seamless transition. He finished second on the team in scoring as a junior, averaging 10.6 points per contest.
Jalin Hart – Incarnate Word Cardinals
2016-17 Stats: 15.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.4 spg; 51.7% FG
Incarnate Word is arguably the biggest mystery team in the Southland Conference heading into the 2017-18 season, and the team that doesn’t get the attention they deserve. They lose guard Tyler Singleton on the transfer market, but return their top three scorers, all of whom averaged more than 14 points per game on a team that went 12-17 overall.
Jalin Hart was the team’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 15.9 points per contest, on 51.7% shooting from the field, to go along with his team-best 4.7 assists per game. The product of Houston enjoyed early success in his first year at the Division I level, and is looking to build off that as a senior in 2017-18.
Hart put up 28 points in just his second NCAA game, and then one-upped himself in conference play when he put up 34 points on the road against Stephen F. Austin. In total, Hart put together 23 games with double-digit points, and he scored 20 or more in nine of them.
For his efforts, Hart took home Newcomer of the Year accolades in the conference.
Is this the year that the Cardinals contend for a Southland crown? The talent is there, led by Jalin Hart, Simi Socks, and Shawn Johnson, but can that translate into results?
Jahvaughn Powell – Nicholls Colonels
2016-17 Stats: 11.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.0 spg; 38.2% FG
If we were to tell you that the Nicholls Colonels had five players average double-digit points per game last season, would you believe us? You better, because that’s exactly what they had on their roster a season ago.
Their top three scorers are gone, but the duo of Jahvaughn Powell and Lafayette Rutledge are back and ready to take on a leading role with the team.
Powell, a native of Tallahassee, Florida, put together a strong stat line that showcased his all-round game. He averaged 11.9 points per contest, which was good for the fourth-best mark on the Colonels last season. He led the team in assists (5.0 apg) and steals (2.0 spg), while shooting above 40% from the field.
The addition of three graduate transfers, two of which are big men who will clog up the middle, will take eyes off Powell, thus opening up more opportunities for the senior to go about his business and stuff the stat sheet once more.
Marlain Veal – Southeastern Louisiana Lions
2016-17 Stats: 14.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.8 spg; 47.7% FG, 40.0% 3PT
Marlain Veal is listed at 5’9” and 145 pounds, but the native of New Orleans has never let that stop him from being an impact player on both ends of the floor.
Known as one of the most athletic guards in the conference, let alone the country, Veal and the Southeastern Louisiana Lions are poised for a breakout season in 2017-18. A healthy lineup that features the vast majority of production from last season has the team poised for big things, but they are flying under the radar.
With the exception of Jordan Capps, who only played two games due to injury a year ago, Veal led the Lions in scoring, averaging 14.5 points per contest. Despite giving up height and weight on almost everyone in the country, he finished tied for third on the team in rebounding, and he dished out a team-best 4.5 dimes per game.
Oh, did we mention that he’s only a junior in 2017-18?
Marlain Veal is one of the top guards in the country that nobody is taking about. From his scoring ability and work ethic, to his court vision and freakish athletic ability, you won’t want to miss him play over the next two seasons.
The next John Jordan, perhaps? Watch Veal and the Lions this season and see for yourself.
– T. Bennett