Local college basketball teams tipped off the 2015-16 season last week, including the University of South Alabama’s (USA) 98-43 win over the University of Mobile (UM) in men’s exhibition action. A glance at these two schools, along with Spring Hill College (SHC), follows.

USA men: The USA men’s basketball team is coming off an up-and-down campaign. Despite a 12-21 overall record, the Jaguars managed to go 9-11 in Sun Belt Conference (SBC) action that was good for a sixth-place tie.

“Last year, we accomplished one of our goals we set, and that was to make the conference tournament,” said Matthew Graves, who is starting his third year as head coach. “Throughout the course of league play, I thought there was great balance and parity.”

(Photos/ Courtesy of USA Athletics and UM Athletics) Six-foot sophomore guard Taishaun Johnson returns after setting a USA record for points scored by a freshman last season.

(Photos/ Courtesy of USA Athletics and UM Athletics) Six-foot sophomore guard Taishaun Johnson returns after setting a USA record for points scored by a freshman last season.

Junior Ken Williams has been selected to the All-SBC preseason squad. Last season, the 6-foot-3-inch guard was eighth in the Sun Belt in scoring average (15.7 ppg) and 3-point percentage (.370), second in 3-pointers (2.6 pg) and ninth in free-throw percentage (.791).

Other returning starters are 5-foot-11-inch senior guard Barrington Stevens III (7.4 ppg, 3.2 apg) and 6-foot sophomore guard Taishaun Johnson (12.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg). Johnson set a USA record for points scored by a freshman (414). Also back are 6-foot-4-inch senior guard John Brown, 6-foot-8-inch junior forward Tafari Whittingham, 6-foot-7-inch junior forward Georgi Boyanov and 5-foot-11-inch sophomore guard Devin Epps.

In the game against the Rams, Johnson had 22 points and Williams added 20, while Boyanov had 12 rebounds. The Jaguars host Auburn-Montgomery on Friday.

USA women: The Lady Jaguars are also looking for a turnaround. USA went 5-24 overall and 2-18 in Sun Belt action in 2014-15.

“Last year was a disappointing season for us,” head coach Terry Fowler said. “We thought we would be able to make some strides from the previous season.  Unfortunately for us, that didn’t happen.”

Hoping to lead the way will be 6-foot-3-inch sophomore center Chyna Ellis, who has been selected to the preseason all-SBC third-team roster. She started 23 games as a freshman, averaging eight points and 7.8 rebounds. Ellis led the conference with two blocks per game.

Marquita Daniels, a 5-foot-7-inch sophomore guard, was second on the team in scoring (10.4 ppg) and led in assists (47) and steals (53). Others earning varsity letters were guards Colby Davis, Juliann Miller and Genesis Perrymond, plus forwards LaNeetra Guillory and Taylor Jenkins.

USA opens its regular season Nov. 17, hosting Spring Hill.

UM women: Last year was a disappointment for the Lady Rams. Coming off a trip to the NAIA National Tournament, head coach Billy Evans’ team went 15-13 overall and 10-9 in the Southern States Athletic Conference.

This campaign has gotten off to a much faster start. The Lady Rams defeated Southern-New Orleans 59-51 in their opener, before knocking off Selma 75-45. Their next home action is Nov. 17 against Thomas University.

The top returning player is 5-foot-6-inch junior guard Kali Koenig, who averaged 12 points and 3.2 rebounds last year. She earned second-team all-conference honors.

Molly Speed, a 6-foot senior forward, is the Lady Rams’ all-time leader in 3-pointers. She has 169 in her career, including 66 as a junior.

(Photos/ Courtesy of UM Athletics) Five-foot, 11-inch junior guard Starla Daggan has been a points leader for the Lady Rams in opening season play.

(Photos/ Courtesy of UM Athletics) Five-foot, 11-inch junior guard Starla Daggan has been a points leader for the Lady Rams in opening season play.

In the season opener, Starla Daggan, a 5-foot-11-inch junior guard, led the Lady Rams with 13 points. Alicia Curry, a 6-foot-5-inch junior center, added 11 points and 10 rebounds. In her collegiate debut, 6-foot-5-inch freshman Nandi Jorden had eight points and 12 rebounds. In their second win, Koenig led with 19 points while Daggan added 15.

UM men: The UM men’s basketball team is looking for better results this season. They wrapped up the last campaign with a 11-18 overall record and 6-12 mark in Southern States Athletic Conference play.

Head coach Joe Niland has five veterans to call on during his 17th season at the helm. The list includes 6-foot-9-inch senior center Daouda Soumaoro (10.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg), 6-foot senior guard Will Hornsby (7.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg), 6-foot-3-inch sophomore guard James Davis (6.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg), 6-foot-7-inch junior center Dillon Pollard (4.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg) and 6-foot-4-inch senior guard Lawrence Pierce (4.7 ppg, 1.1 rpg). Hornsby had 10 points, four rebounds and two assists against the Jaguars.

The competition will remain tough for the Rams, as they currently have 11 games set against teams ranked or receiving votes in the NAIA preseason poll. One highlight is the return of crosstown rival Spring Hill after a one-year absence. Mobile’s next home game will be Saturday against Point University.

SHC women: SHC continues its journey into the realm of NCAA Division II athletics. All SHC teams remain in the membership process, with the goal of attaining full status for the 2017-18 academic year.

After leaving the NAIA, SHC joined the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC). The women’s basketball team found some success, going 14-12 overall and 11-7 in conference play.

“This preseason I have been stressing the need for our players to have toughness,” head coach Karen McConico said. “I learned last year that this conference is much more physical than we were used to and that means we have to have physical and mental toughness.”

Four returning starters are 5-foot-7-inch junior guard Natalie Harper (4.9 ppg), 5-foot-7-inch senior guard Armanee Broussard (3.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg), 5-foot-11-inch junior center Leah Washington (6.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and 5-foot-9-inch junior forward Camry Johnson (3.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg).
After starting on the road, the Lady Badgers play at USA Nov. 17. Their first home game will be Nov. 20 against West Alabama.

SHC men: The Badgers did not find quite as much success in their initial NCAA campaign. SHC men were 10-18 overall and 9-10 in the league action.

“The SIAC was just as athletic as we thought it would be last year, but they had much bigger players then we had faced in our old conference,” head coach Aaron Niven said. “That being said, we found out that we can compete in the SIAC and compete at a good level.”

The top returning players are 6-foot-1-inch senior guard Jarrett Calhoun (8.3 ppg, 2.5 apg, 2.0 rpg), 6-foot-1-inch sophomore guard James Clarke (7.1 ppg, 2.6 apg, 3.8 rgp) and 6-foot-10-inch junior center Dejan Stefanovic (6.5 ppg, 3.3 rgp).

Local fans will soon find out what kind of team SHC will have, as the Badgers open with three home games: Shorter University on Friday, Nov. 13, Union University on Saturday, Nov. 14, and Mississippi College on Tuesday, Nov. 17.