Prairie View A&M Panthers: 22-12, 17-1 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference
Head coach: Byron Smith (3rd season)
Players to watch: Gary Blackston (15.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.7 SPG); Devonte Patterson (13.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 49.3 FG%); Dennis Jones (8.9 PPG, 4.4 APG, 2.1 SPG);
Season recap: Prairie View A&M will appear in the NCAA tournament for the second time in program’s history after dominating conference play and squeaking out a 92-86 victory in the SWAC championship against rival Texas Southern.
After dropping 11 straight nonconference contests—all on the road—the Panthers relied on an aggressive defense ranking second in the country in turnover margin as well as an opportunistic offense that lives at the free-throw line. Prairie View A&M does not have much size, with its tallest two players standing at just 6-foot-7, and will likely struggle with size in its first-round matchup.
The Panthers counter with a veteran backcourt made up of seniors Dennis Jones and Gary Blackston that forces a lot of turnovers. The pressure Blackston and Jones apply usually makes up for Prairie View A&M’s lack of an inside presence, as it swats less than two shots a game.
How they make a run: The Panthers feed off their opponent’s miscues, get out in transition, and notch a UMBC-like shocker in their first-round game after getting through the First Four.
How they falter: Prairie View A&M’s lack of size is exposed and it cannot shoot itself back into its first contest.