Sam Houston State will wrap up the nonconference portion of its 2005-06 schedule today at 2 p.m. when the Bearkats play host to the Paul Quinn Tigers at Johnson Coliseum.

The Kats open Southland Conference play Saturday in Thibodaux, La., against Nicholls State at 5 p.m.

Sam Houston State was picked fourth in the 2006 Southland Conference Coaches’ preseason poll. Northwestern State is the league’s preseason favorite, followed by Lamar and Southeastern Louisiana.

The Bearkats have produced an impressive 8-3 record in nonconference action, which is the best season start since SHSU moved up to the NCAA Division I level in 1987.

Over the Christmas break, the Bearkats picked up another victory over a team from a major Division I conference when SHSU defeated Central Florida (Conference USA) 68-63 to finish third at the Fiesta Bowl Classic.

Ryan Bright, a sophomore forward from Deer Park, was selected to the Fiesta Bowl All-Tournament team. Bright leads the Bearkats with 13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds this season.

The best news for the Bearkats as they prepare to begin Southland action, however, is the return of their only senior, Chris Jordan, to the lineup. The 6-4 guard from Hitchcock strained his knee in SHSU’s victory over Texas College.

Jordan, who scored in double figures in SHSU’s first five games, including 22 in an overtime victory at New Mexico State, missed two games and saw limited playing time in losses at Houston and Arizona. But he returned to the starting lineup in the Central Florida victory, leading the Kats with 17 points. He scored 11 points in a 83-37 victory last Friday. Jordan is averaging 10.7 points and 3.3 rebounds.

“It is nice to see Chris Jordan healthy and playing hard. As our only senior, he is one of our leaders,” SHSU head coach Bob Marlin said.

“We’re working hard to get ready for conference play. We need to become more efficient on offense and do a better job shooting free throws.”

An important factor in SHSU’s 8-3 start also has been the play of the Bearkats’ two junior college transfers. Point guard 6-1 Jejuan Plair from McLennan Community College is averaging 10.2 points and 6.1 assists, while 6-7 center John Gardiner is adding 7.7 points and 5.8 rebounds.