COLUMN: Bet on JBU Men, WBU Women in SAC Basketball in 2021

While the average student wouldn’t know it on the John Brown University campus, the Sooner Athletic Conference (SAC) has kicked off its college basketball season. Eight of the conference’s 11 basketball programs have started their seasons, with JBU being one of three schools, the others being Langston and Oklahoma City, which have opted out of play in 2020 and will start in January.

Honestly, seeing most of the conference playing while we’re waiting another 50 days to start feels like being placed in timeout at the playground by your parents while watching all of your friends having a good time and going down the slides. Fortunately, JBU will get 14 conference matchups across January and February that will count towards postseason eligiblity.

In October, SAC coaches ranked the programs in the conference by their projected performance this season. For the men’s side, Mid-America Christian was picked as the favorite to win the conference, receiving six first-place votes. JBU was a close second, with five first-place votes. On the women’s side, Wayland Baptist was the overwhelming favorite to win the conference, receiving 100 points, the maximum a team can receive, in the poll. JBU was picked to finish sixth, notably receiving one second-place vote.

In this column, I provide my own rankings of the conference’s basketball teams. This is just one man’s opinion, and I certainly think that I’ll get at least one of these two lists wrong. But without further ado, let’s begin with the men:

1.      John Brown University (JBU)

2.      Southwestern Assemblies of God (SAGU)

3.      Mid-America Christian (MACU)

4.      Texas Wesleyan

5.      USAO

6.      Southwestern Christian

7.      Wayland Baptist

8.      Oklahoma City

9.      Langston

10.    Central Christian

11.    Oklahoma Panhandle State

In my mind, JBU has to be the clear favorite to win the conference this year. The Golden Eagles bring back most of the key players from last season’s 28-win team, with Luke Harper and Densier Carnes leading the charge. They may have some rust to shake off coming back from break, but I don’t believe any other team in the conference has the same level of returning talent and depth that the Golden Eagles have.

Nykolas Mason and Joshua Kashila return for another year with the SAGU Lions, and I’ve picked them to finish second. Mason is the best player in the conference, and he will be a nightmare to game-plan around. MACU lost three of their top five scorers from last season’s team. With that said, they were still ranked second nationally in the NAIA’s Preseason Top 25 poll. The Evangels bring back Terrance Jones, who could potentially be an All-SAC First-Teamer this year.

I have Texas Wesleyan finishing fourth. Vydal Bradford, a transfer from Texas A&M-Commerce, could be one of the conference’s best pure shooters. USAO returns two of their top three leading scorers from last season, and it will be interesting to see what the Drovers can do with a healthy rotation this season.

Southwestern Christian is a safe bet to improve upon last season’s 14-15 record, and Charles Dickson and Khristien White are returning pieces that will lead the way. Meanwhile, I have Wayland Baptist and Oklahoma City taking the last two spots in the Sooner Athletic Conference tournament. Wayland has some big shoes to fill with J.J. Culver and Jack Nobles gone, while Oklahoma City’s new head coach, former JBU assistant Tim Kisner, will be going to Kealon Clayborne and Rashaun Coleman in their efforts to return to the SAC’s elite, when their season starts in January.

Langston, Central Christian and Oklahoma Panhandle State are the bottom three teams on the list. Langston doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence after losing many key pieces from a team that limped to only five conference wins last season. It is also hard to imagine Central Christian or Oklahoma Panhandle State making it out of the SAC cellar this season.

Now, here is my list for the women:

1.      Wayland Baptist

2.      Oklahoma City

3.      Mid-America Christian (MACU)

4.      USAO

5.      Southwestern Christian

6.      Southwestern Assemblies of God (SAGU)

7.      Texas Wesleyan

8.      John Brown University (JBU)

9.      Langston

10.    Central Christian

11.    Oklahoma Panhandle State

Wayland Baptist comes into this season as the clear favorite to win the SAC and, possibly, the National Championship. Their duo of Jenna Cooper and Kaylee Edgemon will be nearly impossible for most of the teams in the conference to contain, much less, stop. Perhaps the only team that holds a candle to the Flying Queens is Abby Selzer and the Oklahoma City Stars. While it is fair to wonder how the team will perform under a new coach, as Bo Overton left in the offseason, there’s enough talent on their roster that there likely won’t be any noticeable regression.

Just like the men, I’ve picked Mid-America Christian to finish third here. Lexi Hernandez returns, and NW Oklahoma State transfer McKenzi Lamer will be difficult to stop off the bench for the Evangels. USAO presents some intrigue as a team with a well-rounded rotation that could be a contender late in the season, and I’ve picked them to finish fourth.

Southwestern Christian returns a lot of talent from last season’s 20-win team, with four of the team’s top six scorers coming back. Thamires Andrade will be the player to watch for the Eagles. I think that the SAGU Lions are a very underrated team headed into this season, as Sydney Meador and Alexis Casher will be one of the tougher duos to stop, while we should see much-improved versions of Kiara Glenn and Tamera Derrough, two exciting guards that got bogged down by some lengthy cold streaks shooting the ball last year.

Texas Wesleyan takes the seventh spot in my rankings, as they bring back Hailee Walls, Makayla Coy and Alexus Brigham. However, there are a lot of questions that can be asked about this team after they suffered a 58-53 loss to Central Christian to open the season on Nov. 7.

It will be interesting to see how JBU answers the call this season after going through their worst season in over a decade in 2019-20. Tarrah Stephens was the conference’s Freshman of the Year, and she will lead the way alongside Taylor Fergen and Marta Matamala. If JBU can get off to a fast start in January, they could potentially crack the league’s top five. If it takes too long for them to hit their stride, it could be another rough season in Siloam Springs.

Langston, Central Christian and Oklahoma Panhandle State round out the list. Langston and Central Christian could potentially be in play for the last spot in the conference tournament. Oklahoma Panhandle State should be able to show improvement from last season’s winless conference slate, but it isn’t likely that they re-enter the SAC Tournament conversation this year.   

Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske