Privateers, Lions, Colonels all in Southland men’s hoops contention
NEW ORLEANS – Conference play in nearing the halfway mark in this college basketball season, and three teams from southeast Louisiana find themselves in the midst of the race for a title.
And all of them are in the same conference.
Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls are among a group of three teams with one loss apiece in Southland Conference play. In a stalking position, just one game back in the loss column, are the defending conference champion University of New Orleans Privateers, who improved to 6-2 in league action with a 74-70 victory over Incarnate Word Saturday night at Lakefront Arena.
Saturday’s game – in front of a season-high crowd of 1,407 on the Lakefront – made a huge statement on the balance of the Southland.
A UIW team that had not won a conference game all year led for most of the night before the Privateers rallied in the final minutes.
“Every night’s a battle,” said UNO coach Mark Slessinger.
The good news for local basketball fans? The Privateers, Lions and Colonels still have home-and-home series to play against each other.
“They both have so many seniors,” Slessinger said of Southeastern and Nicholls. “They’re veteran teams that know how to win.”
Last year, that veteran team was UNO, with three senior guards and senior forward Erik Thomas, the Southland’s player of the year, who combined to lead the Privateers to their first conference regular-season title in two decades.
Now, with nine new players on the roster, Slessinger has to rely on his returnees to build on what was established 12 months ago.
“I think the culture of how we play and the guys’ pride and passion” has led to the solid league start, Slessinger said. “As hokey as it sounds, we believe in it.”
With each of the area schools having to play four games against the other, however, they might just knock each other off enough to give an advantage to the two Texas schools still in the title mix, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State.
The real advantage may lie with SFA, which has already faced the three Louisiana contenders. Sam Houston still has to face all three, beginning Wednesday when it hosts Southeastern. The two Texas contenders meet twice – next Saturday at SFA and March 3, the final day of the regular season, at Sam Houston.
As for the southeast Louisiana round-robin portion of the schedule, it starts next Saturday. Here are the matchups:
Saturday, Jan. 27 – Southeastern at Nicholls
Saturday, Feb. 3 – Nicholls at New Orleans
Wednesday, Feb. 14 – New Orleans at Southeastern
Saturday, Feb. 24 – New Orleans at Nicholls
Wednesday, Feb. 28 – Southeastern at New Orleans
Saturday, March 3 – Nicholls at Southeastern
If last season is any indication, no one is likely to run away with the title. The Privateers won the Southland with a 13-5 record, one game ahead of A&M-Corpus Christi, Houston Baptist and SFA. Twelve of the league’s 13 teams won seven or more conference games.
“I’ll be amazed,” Slessinger said, “if four or five losses doesn’t win it again.”
The Southland’s most improved teams appear to be Southeastern, which finished 9-9 in conference play last season; Nicholls, which was 7-11 in the league; and even McNeese, which was last at 4-14 last season but already has matched last season’s league win total after a victory at Houston Baptist Saturday night.
The Southland tournament is again in Katy, Texas, the second week of March, but the battle for the title may just have a southeast Louisiana feel to it.
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Lenny has been involved in college athletics since the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…