By: Jack O’Keefe
Spread: Prairie View A&M -6
7:30 pm Central – Davey L. Whitney Complex
Prairie View A&M Panthers (1-4, 0-0)
Let it be known, I adore what many to perceive as “bad basketball” games. On Mondays, there tends to be a lot of “undesirable” matchups, with the bulk of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) playing on this day. Small schools from these conferences may not make national headlines, but that does not mean they should be ignored all together. Prairie View A&M will not win an NCAA Tournament game this season, should they be the SWAC representative. This team though was competitive against Arkansas Little Rock this season and Texas Christian, both games that saw the Panthers only fall by five points. The Panthers were 14-point underdogs to Little Rock and 20-point underdogs to TCU, so they certainly did their part covering in the game. The season was cut short to COVID-19 last season, but the Panthers were primed to represent the SWAC Conference for a second year in a row following their 19-13 season. The Panthers were 14-4 in conference play last season, and it would have been a second NCAA Tournament appearance in a row for PVAMU. For a team that had only one appearance prior to the 2018-19 season in their program history (dating back to 1977), it would have been huge for the Panthers.
Unfortunately, the Panthers lost some key players from their 2019-20 roster. Top scorer, Devonte Patterson, along with three other starters from the Panthers are gone. Lenell Henry, who only averaged 4.8 points per game last season, is the lone starter back for head coach Byron Smith this season. So who has stepped up this year to make up for all the lost production? Enter Cam Mack. Mack comes to Prairie View as a transfer from Nebraska. In his lone season at Nebraska, Mack averaged 12.5 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game and 6.4 assists per game. According to the Nebraska Athletics’ website, Mack was credited for recording the lone triple-double in Cornhusker history. I can hear you the reader asking already, “Why then would he leave a program like Nebraska to go to Prairie View A&M?” Perhaps it was a lack of maturity on Mack’s end. He was cited for a “hit and run” auto accident on campus, along with having a tendency to show up late to film sessions and/or practice. Mack and Nebraska mutually parted ways following his suspension for the last four games of the season. Mack has only played in two games so far with the Panthers, but he has made his presence felt by scoring 15.0 points per game and dishing out 6.5 assists per game. The talent is there, it is just a matter of if Mack can display the maturity and discipline throughout the duration of the season that remains uncertain. Alongside Mack, Jeremiah Gambrell (Western Kentucky transfer) has been a good fit for the Panthers, averaging 9.4 points per game this season. JUCO transfer, D’Rell Roberts, has been a nice scoring option for Prairie View the season as well, averaging 9.6 points per game. Last, but certainly not least, Jawaun Dainels has been a much improved scorer this season (9.8 points per game) following his time spent as a redshirt last season.
The Panthers are not great offensively (63.4 points per game this season; 315th in Division-I), but they do have a good ability to cause havoc on the defensive side of the ball. The Panthers are averaging 8.8 steals per game this season (24th in Division-I), so for teams that are careless with the basketball, they will make you pay. They have had a difficult time turning steals into points on the other end this season, given the pedigree of teams faced, but they should have an easier time scoring against SWAC opponents. Monday will be the first true test of just that.
Alcorn State Braves (0-5, 0-0)
Like their opponent tonight, Alcorn State has had an absolute bear of a non-conference schedule. As a means to make revenue for your program, I understand why Alcorn State did what they did in terms of a scheduling standpoint. From a fan standpoint, you would have liked to have seen the Braves matched up against more evenly matched opponents to get a more true gauge of where the teams stacks up. The Braves have played five opponents thus far, three of which are likely to head to the NCAA Tournament (Houston, Liberty and Baylor). Their averaged margin of defeat in the five games? 36.4 points. One of two things will happen Monday night: the Braves have been so badly decimated this season that they are losing their confidence by the day. That is option one. Option two would be the Braves are so jacked up to play a similar in rank opponent that they will play their hearts out and stomp that team. Personally, I think it might take a game or two under their belts before Alcorn State picks up their first victory this season. As we know though for 2020 (possibly 2021), “expect the unexpected”.
Troymain Crosby, a senior guard, who is averaging 18.7 points per game this season and 2.7 rebounds per game, leads the Braves in scoring this season. Tyree Corbett has been a nice addition in Alcorn State as well, following two seasons playing in the junior-college ranks. Corbett is averaging 12.2 points per game this season along with 6.8 rebounds per game. The one-time Coastal Carolina product, David Pierce, has emerged as a third scoring option for first year head coach Landon Bussie as well. Pierce is averaging 9.4 points per game this season.
The Braves do not have many high scorers this season, other than Crosby, because they do not score many points as a collective unit. The Braves are averaging only 61 points per game this season (308th in Division-I). Alcorn State has done a good job getting to the free-throw line this season (21.2 free-throw attempts per game; 101st in Division-I). The sad reality to that nice stat is the Braves have been less than stellar at the charity stripe this season (67.9%; 224th in Division-I). The Braves are extremely careless with the basketball as well, averaging 18.2 turnovers per game (324th in Division-I) this season. If Alcorn State looks to make some noise in the SWAC this season, valuing the ball and eliminating unforced errors will be of the essence.
Prairie View A&M is the better of the two teams. That is just a simple fact that they already have a win this season against Evansville, but they also were very much so in their games against TCU and Little Rock earlier in the season. I expect their havoc defense to cause fits for Alcorn State on the offensive side of the ball, which will not allow the Braves to get in a scoring rhythm. Alcorn State won their last outing against PVAMU, but the Panthers had previously won the last eight contests over Alcorn State. The Panthers are 4-1 ATS this season, whereas Alcorn State is 2-3. I think that Prairie View is one of the best teams in the SWAC this season, and Cam Mack will continue his dominant play for the Panthers. Monday will be their first test to display their talent and toughness. I am going to back Prairie View A&M -6 as my best bet.
Jack’s 2020 CBB picks: (6-13)