In recent history, the Sun Belt has been Ron Hunter’s league. In eight seasons with Georgia State, Hunter managed to make three NCAA Tournaments, including the previous two. However, Hunter is now gone, having moved down to New Orleans to take over at Tulane.
Given Hunter’s departure, the time is ripe for fresh faces to rise and dominate in the Deep South.
That’s where the South Alabama Jaguars come in.
Richie Riley could already expect to have a good, competitive team coming into this season. After all, he’s getting back his two leading scorers from last year’s squad, which finished 17-17 and tied the mark for most wins by a South Alabama team since the 2008-09 Jaguars hit the 20-win total.
However, it’s who is being added to the obvious boon provided by the return of Josh Ajayi and Trhae Mitchell that is getting fans in Mobile excited.
Fans of mid-major basketball are already familiar with the PAC-12, meaning that the name Don Coleman will likely ring a bell. The former California Golden Bear sat out last season after posting quality numbers during the 2017-18 season, leading the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game during that span.
Somehow, those numbers belie how talented Coleman truly is, as he’s a skilled ball handler with a great ability to knock down shots off the dribble. Just take a look at his highlights from the 2017 Maui Invitational, in which he scored 35 points in a 92-82 loss to the Wichita State Shockers:
Those games in Hawaii weren’t flukes. Coleman’s hot shooting followed him onto the mainland for PAC-12 play:
Of course, that skilled ball handling has come in handy in the post as well, as it has allowed Coleman to become a one-man highlight reel, rattling off one dazzling finish after another:
It’ll be interesting to watch Coleman shake off the rust against real competition after a season off, but as a player with the talent level to lead a PAC-12 team in scoring, he’ll likely have a field day against the a Sun Belt conference that might not be as deep as it has been in recent years. Add that to the 20-game schedule that the conference adopted, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities replicate his Cal scoring totals.
However, the fresh faces don’t end with Coleman. Another name added to the mix this year is Andre Fox, another guard who sat out last season after spending the preceding three years with the High Point Panthers.
Fox’s profile is similar to Coleman’s in that they were both integral offensive weapons for their respective teams. Yet Fox’s efficiency as a shooter makes him such a valued asset.
In the last season he played for High Point, he shot 42.6% from the perimeter and 47.5% from the field, making his 15.7 points per game all the more impressive. Those numbers demonstrate Fox was the rare high-usage, high-accuracy player for Panthers; his wise shot-selection will undoubtedly be important for the Jaguars.
Such offensive prowess was on display Sunday night as South Alabama went toe-to-toe with a ferocious Mississippi State team. With Coleman absent from the lineup, Fox put on a clinic against Ben Howland’s Bulldogs:
Mississippi State over South Alabama 78-75 in a Charity Exhibition, per release.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) October 27, 2019
Don Coleman (South Alabama) and Nick Weatherspoon (MSU) both DNP.
30 for High Point transfer Andre Fox.
Just getting those two transfers on the court would be enough to make any mid-major program bullish on their chances in the upcoming season. But the embarrassment of riches doesn’t end there for South Alabama, as they bring in yet another experienced double-digit transfer this year.
When playing with a scorer as prolific as RJ Cole, it’s easy to be a guy who is overlooked by onlookers. But Chad Lott was able to make an impact on a guard-heavy Howard Bison team that finished last season with a respectable 17-17 record.
This year, Lott is gearing up for South Alabama as a grad transfer, lending an added layer of experience to a team that is already laden with seniors. Similar to Fox, Lott is an efficient scorer who showed himself to wield a rebounding ability that would make most collegiate guards envious.
Last season, Lott managed to average 14.3 points per game, which is especially significant considering how talented his teammates were:
Still, the good news doesn’t stop there for the Jaguars, as Riley could very well get multiple years of play out of Lott, as pointed out by AL.com’s Creg Stephenson:
“Because Lott took a medical redshirt his freshman year at Rice, he could apply for an NCAA waiver to get a year of eligibility back. If granted, he’d have two years to play two seasons at South Alabama.”
It will be interesting to see how Riley is able to fit together so many skilled players, many of whom play the same position. Managing their minutes and shots will require top-notch coaching acumen, but guys with this much experience and aptitude for success should be able to put it together anyway.
It shouldn’t be very difficult to see why South Alabama is the team to beat in the conference. When looking at the landscape of the the Sun Belt and the chips that the Jaguars are putting down on the table, it’s reasonable to say Riley and co. can not only easily hurdle the 17-win bar from last year, but also secure the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2008.