South Alabama had a cruel end to its 2019-20 season — with a victory. Eight of them in fact. The Jaguars had found what was working for them and it was, indeed, working. They ended the regular season with an eight-game win streak and many considered them the hottest team, perhaps even the team to beat, at the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
But that’s when the NCAA stopped play across the country because of COVID-19 concerns. Suddenly, the run was over; the season was over.
All Richie Riley and his team could do was look ahead to the 2020-21 season. And while COVID-19 concerns are still at the forefront for all programs, the season is scheduled to begin Wednesday at the Mitchell Center on the South Alabama campus in the four-team, four-day Goldie and Herman Unger Memorial Tournament.
The Jags will be joined by Jacksonville State, Florida Atlantic and the University of Mobile in the round-robin format. On Wednesday, Nov. 25, South Alabama will face FAU at 6 p.m. On Friday, Nov. 27, FAU and Jacksonville State will play at 1 p.m., with South Alabama taking on Mobile at 4 p.m. On Sunday, Nov. 29, Mobile and FAU will play at 1 p.m., with South Alabama taking on Jacksonville State at 4 p.m. On Monday at 6 p.m., FAU and Jacksonville State will play.
It serves as a good opening for the Jags, who will add a fourth straight game on its home floor on Tuesday, Dec. 1, when it entertains Emmanuel College. On Friday, Dec. 4, South Alabama travels to face the Auburn Tigers in a rematch of a year ago. Last season, Isaac Okoro, who was the No. 5 overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the recent NBA Draft, sank a shot at the buzzer to give Auburn a 70-69 win over the Jags in front of a sellout crowd of more than 10,000 at the Mitchell Center.
Other non-conference opponents for South Alabama include William Carey (Dec. 8), Southern Miss (Dec. 12), Flagler (Dec. 16) and Alabama A&M (Dec. 19).
Looking to pick up where they left off a season ago, if the Jags accomplish the feat they will do so with a team that features a lot of new faces. Gone from last year’s team are the top five scorers and top five rebounders, accounting for the vast majority of production in those two areas.
Returning players include John Pettway, Tyreke Locure, A.C. Kelly, Adam Sizemore and KK Curry. Joining them are transfers Howard Washington (Syracuse), Michael Flowers (Western Michigan), Deaundrae Ballard (Florida), Terrence Lewis (Iowa State), David Walker (Casper, Wyo. C.C.), Sam Iorio (American University) and Kayo Goncalves (Southeastern Oklahoma State) and freshmen signees Andrew Anderson, Zondrick Garrett and Jamal West.
The newness of the South Alabama roster is not being viewed as a drawback. In the preseason coaches’ poll, the Jags were picked to finish second behind Georgia State in the East Division. What is interesting about the upcoming season is conference play will begin on New Year’s Day and teams will only play teams within their division, 18 games in all. What’s more, the schedule will feature Friday and Saturday games against the same team throughout the season (with one exception for South Alabama).
The Jags open the conference season at Georgia Southern on Friday, Jan. 1 and Saturday, Jan. 2, then travel to Coastal Carolina on Jan. 9 and 10. South Alabama’s first conference home series will be Jan. 15-16 against Appalachian State. The Friday night games for all South Alabama Sun Belt home games will begin at 6 p.m., with the Saturday games set to begin at 4 p.m.
South remains at home Jan. 22-23 to face Georgia Southern, with a trip to Georgia State set Jan. 29-30. Coastal Carolina visits Mobile Feb. 5-6, with the Jags traveling to Troy on Thursday, Feb. 11 and entertaining Troy on Saturday, Feb. 13. They head to Appalachian State Feb. 19-20 and are at home against Georgia State, which according to the preseason poll could be an important series, on Feb. 26-27.
The Sun Belt Conference tournament is slated to be played in Pensacola this year, March 5-8.
The approach to conference scheduling is an attempt to minimize travel amid COVID-19 concerns and will certainly be different for all concerned, playing back-to-back games against the same opponent.
In all, South Alabama has a 27-game schedule and high expectations following the success of a year ago in which the Jags recorded a 20-11 overall record and a 13-7 mark in Sun Belt Conference action.
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