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South Alabama Mens Basketball

South Alabama Brightens the Sun Belt Conference

On March 7th Western Kentucky, the Sun Belt Conference’s Eastern Division winner (12-2 SUNBELT, 23-7 overall), took on the University of South Alabama (12-3 SUNBELT, 24-6 overall), the Sun Belt Conference’s Western Division Conference champions. From early in the game the outcome was never in doubt, with the Jaguars taking a commanding lead (28-14) when Richard Law hit a 3-pointer at the 11:23 mark of the first half. Going into the locker room between halves, South Alabama led by 19 over the Hilltoppers.

At the final buzzer the rout was complete with South Alabama scoring 95 points and recording a 25-point victory and a spread cover for Maddux Sports basketball members. During the game, the Jags’ second squad outscored the Hilltoppers’ replacements by 51-19.

That conference championship means that the Jaguars will be going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. This marks the seventh time this team has secured a post-season NCAA berth in what has been their best season since 1980-81 when they won 25 and lost 6.

Although the Jaguars have never come close to winning it all in the Big Dance, this is a team that has certainly shown vast improvement over last year’s 12-16 squad. Many pundits had picked them to finish third in the West and out of the running for the conference championship. So what’s going on with the South Alabama Jaguars?

Five players who lettered last season, including three starters, returned this year and then there were seven new players, including two transfers, guards Jeffrey Collins (UAB) and Stephen Cowherd (Mississippi State). The experience on this team has been a big plus.

For the Jaguars it has been a team effort, featuring accurate 3-point shooters, a defense that can shut down opponents, and solid team passing. In the Sun Belt Conference South Alabama had four of the most accurate 3-point makers in the league, with conference leader Richard Law hitting 46.6% of his shots from downtown. Three other members of the team finished in the top ten—Carlos Smith (42.0%), Isaac Wells (41.5%), and Yual Banks (41.2%) and one other player—Demetric Bennett (39.1%)—placing in the top fifteen.

The Jaguars were first in the Sun Belt in defense, with opponents scoring an average of 65.1 PPG while they dumped in 73.7 PPG. Although South Alabama was fourth in scoring, they were +8.7 overall, giving them the best plus/minus in the Sun Belt. Their defense features three adept ball stealers—Dereke Tipler (second with 2.62 steals per game), Mario Jointer (9th, 1.69 SPG), and Jim Jones (10th, 1.50 SPG). The team finished second in steals and assist/turnover ratio and first in turnover margin at +3.83.

For South Alabama to go deep, they’ll have to play on these strengths and hope that they can compensate for a weak inside game on both defense and offense. This will be especially difficult for this club, since so many of the top teams feature big players who can mix it up inside on both ends of the court. In the tournament, this team will live and die by the three-pointer. Vastly improved from last year, the tournament will be a true proving ground for the University of South Alabama Jaguars.

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