The schedule has to make them better.
The schedule has to teach them lessons.
That’s what Roman Banks is hoping for.
Banks and the Southern men’s basketball team dropped their first two games of this season, both of them respectable road losses at Iowa State and Nebraska.
Now, the next leg of the road trip begins.
The Jaguars (0-2) face South Dakota (0-0) at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Laramie, Wyo., as part of the three-day, four-team Global Sports Hoops Showcase.
Even though Southern surprised everyone last season, rocketing from the bottom of the Southwestern Athletic Conference to second place in Banks’ first year, the coach has tried to tone down expectations.
One reason for that: The Jaguars lost quite a few players from last year’s squad. As a result, they’re breaking in a collection of freshmen and junior-college newcomers, not to mention one player, center Javan Mitchell, who sat out last season after transferring from Louisiana-Lafayette.
Translation: Among the players, there’s still a lot of learning going on.
“So we want to learn how to play these types of games, and how to be in these games, and even win some of these games, if possible,” Banks said. “The schedule is set up (for us) to go out and fight, and be competitive, and come back in a week’s time or so and evaluate ourselves to get better.”
During Sunday’s game against the Cornhuskers, Southern pulled to within three points early in the second half, but eventually fell behind by double digits and never closed the gap in a 66-55 defeat.
Mitchell, a 6-foot-9 junior, scored eight points in each of Southern’s first two games, but he also fouled out in both.
That hasn’t helped the undersized Jaguars near the goal. So far, they’re shooting 37 percent from the floor, and opponents have grabbed 34 more rebounds.
“(Mitchell) has an important role on this team,” Banks said. “That is one thing about these games: I think as time goes by, he will catch up to the speed of the game, and he will be better, probably by Game 6 or 7.”
Other encouraging news comes in the form of Derick Beltran. Last year’s leading scorer has shown he’s again capable of heating up on short notice; he had 26 points at Iowa State and 17 at Nebraska.
Banks said that although Southern isn’t particularly deep, he’d like to see Beltran trust his teammates a little more. Banks also said he hopes his team — which intends to rebound, run and score in transition — better understand when to push the tempo and when to set up for a smart halfcourt shot.
Wednesday, the Jaguars will face a South Dakota team that’s playing its season opener.
The Coyotes, in their 25th year under coach Dave Boots, are replacing four starters from last year’s 10-18 team.
Boots said last month he believes this season’s team will likely be a bit deeper and more athletic. If that’s true, they’ll probably present Southern with one more tough road test.
“For ... the way we’ve played — I am not happy, because we lost,” Banks said. “But I do see where we have a chance to get better. If this team accepts the responsibility, we can get better.”
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