Team preview: Alcorn State

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

Alcorn State made a stride forward in the SWAC last season.

Granted, it wasn't much of a step ahead, considering the murky depths to which the program had fallen. After missing the eight-team conference tournament for the first time ever in 2005, the Braves climbed back on the bracket a season ago to claim a No. 8 seeding. All told, there was very little about an 8-20 season that could adequately cheer up sunny Sammy West, who has come to be known as one of the more glass-half-full characters in the league.

"During pre-conference, we played Florida State, UAB, USC," West said. "We played them all tough. In every game, it was a four- or five-point ball game with two or three minutes left. Then we started the season 3-0 in the conference. We just didn't handle the success well, didn't know how to translate all that hard work into confidence, and we weren't prepared mentally to be 3-0."

The losses came in bunches for the 2005-06 Braves: nine straight non-conference losses to open the season 0-9, then after three straight SWAC wins, four more losses in a row. After another four-game losing streak in February, Alcorn's eighth-place finish earned it the right to be the first to be eliminated by No. 1 seed and eventual champion Southern.

"This just isn't good enough for us," West said. "We want to go back to winning championships, just like the old days."

Indeed, Alcorn State and the SWAC basketball championship once went together like red beans and rice. It's easily the most successful program in the league's 26-year Division I era, boasting a league-high seven titles and advancing in the NCAA Tournament three times back in the 1980s under the tutelage of Davey Whitney. "The Wiz" compiled a 509-292 record in 27 years at Alcorn (566 SWAC wins overall), making him by far the winningest coach in conference history. For seven seasons, West sat by his side as an assistant, before Whitney finally retired and handed over the keys in 2003.

The good news at "The Reservation" is that the 2006-07 version comes back as the most experienced team in the league. It's a fact that's not lost on the other coaches in the league, all of whom spoke highly of Alcorn's chances at making a re-run at the SWAC championship.