"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Jackson State Preview, 2021-22

Jackson State Tigers

November 30, 8:00 pm, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Wayne Brent (107-136)

Three-Year NET Average: 289.7

Three-Year Kenpom Average: 288.3

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 181

Jayveous McKinnis averaged a double-double for the Tigers last season

Photo courtesy of JSU Athletics

Projected Starters: PG Jonas James (6'0" Sr), SG Gabe Watson (6'2" Sr), SF Cainan McClelland (6'4" Sr),  PF Terence Lewis II (6'7" Sr), C Jayveous McKinnis (6'7" Sr)

If you're ever looking for the definition of the perfect "Successful SWAC team" schedule, 2020-21 Jackson State epitomized it. The Tigers went 0-5 in non-conference play, losing by an average 24.6 ppg, before running the table in league play, going a perfect 11-0 before falling to eventual tournament champions Texas Southern. Leading the way was SWAC player of the year Tristan Jarrett and two-time SWAC defensive player of the year Jayveous McKinnis, who posted 12.5 ppg/13.2 rpg. Jarrett is gone, but McKinnis is one of three starters back for Wayne Brent as his team eyes a second straight SWAC title.

McKinnis is joined by an experienced team around him. James and McClelland played in every game for the Tigers last year and combined for 33 starts. Watson is a transfer from Tulane who should show out better against SWAC competition (he scored 13.0 ppg for Southern Miss in C-USA) and Lewis is a high-efficiency big that couldn't get minutes behind North Texas' three-headed front court monster. Both should be even more productive at this level. Brent also has an experienced bench as Ken Evans and Hezekiah Quinlan were both spot starters last year and Chris Freeman transfers in after earning starts for Texas-Rio Grand Valley each of the past two years.

Everything at Jackson State under Wayne Brent starts on the defensive end. Statistically, in 8 years as a head coach he has had a top-4 defense in the SWAC every single year while never having an offense ranked better than 5th in league play. Nationally, he has never had an offense ranked better than #318 while his defenses have been top-200 6/8 years, peaking at #92 last season. The Tigers used to do that with pressure, but have moved to more man defense, denying the wings and instead of gambling on steals, taking advantage when the opponent makes mistakes. Inside, McKinnis is a monster, blocking shots and absolutely dominating the glass (32.1% defensive rebounding rate). Offensively, they thrive at turning defense into offense. This is where they stand to make the most improvement, as both James and McClelland shot over 35% from deep last year so it will be interesting to see if this team can be better in the half court as well with the additional experience.

Jarrett was a big loss, but Brent has started to bring in the talent to allow his team to continue thriving. McKinnis is going to dominate his league again while Lewis and Watson are both the kind of players who can immediately upgrade the talent level. What's interesting is the disparity in computer rankings. T-Rank places the Tigers as the only top-200 SWAC team and league favorites while Pomeroy has them #295 and closer to the middle of the league. Considering their experience and the success of Brent's system, expect this team to be competing for the league title again and don't be surprised to see them dancing in March. That said, Brent has never beat a high-major opponent and has only 3 combined Division I non-con victories the past 4 years. The talent level may be high for the SWAC, but it simply won't be enough to keep up when they come to Milwaukee.

Marquette Connection: Jackson State has only traveled to Milwaukee once before when they took on Marquette at the Bradley Center in 2015. That game left fans singing the praises of Haanif Cheatham, who posted 24 points on 7/12 shooting, including 4/4 from deep, in an 80-61 victory. While it was just his sixth game in a Marquette uniform, it was the highest scoring total he ever reached in his time here. Cheatham would transfer early in his junior year, spending time at Florida-Gulf Coast and Nebraska before graduating. He only once bested that 2015 scoring total, when he tallied 26 for the Cornhuskers in a non-conference game against South Florida in 2019.

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