As a penalty for having low Academic Progress Rating scores, the Arkansas-Pine Bluff men’s basketball team faces a one-year ban from any kind of postseason play.
Judging by their strong start in Southwestern Athletic Conference action, the Golden Lions still plan to make the regular season count.
UAPB rolls into the F.G. Clark Activity Center on Saturday as one of only two SWAC teams with an unblemished mark in league play. The Lions (4-11, 3-0) will face the other — Southern — in their first road game of the conference slate.
“They can’t go to postseason play, so I’m sure their goal is to win this conference,” Southern coach Roman Banks said. “We just have to make sure we’re ready, we’re prepared and we know it’s going to be a long game for 40 minutes.”
UAPB’s SWAC wins came against Mississippi Valley State, Alabama State and Alabama A&M. All three were by 15 points or more.
But now the Lions are on the road for the first time in league play, and they face a Southern squad that has emerged as the SWAC’s team to beat in the early going.
Off to their fastest start in SWAC play since beginning 5-0 in 2005-06, the first-place Jaguars (10-6, 4-0) lead the conference in scoring offense, scoring defense, free throw percentage, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, 3-point percentage defense, offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding and turnover margin.
Southern has a scoring differential of plus-8.8 points. Every other team in the SWAC is in the negative.
Much of Southern’s success has come on the strength of Malcolm Miller’s smooth outside jumper. Miller enters Saturday averaging 22.8 points in four SWAC games. He is shooting 33 of 55 (60.0 percent) from the field, 16 of 28 (57.1 percent) from 3-point range and 9 of 11 (81.8 percent) from the free throw line in those games.
No wonder he took home SWAC Player of the Week honors.
As much as he has enjoyed Miller’s contributions, Banks said his teammates can’t become too dependent on him. Everyone has to do their part.
“I’d love to continue getting that kind of production from him, but I have to be realistic,” he said. “He’s helped us win several ballgames. We have to make sure we get other people to help him.”
Southern again will be without senior point guard Jameel Grace, who suffered a sprained shoulder in the SWAC opener Jan. 2 against Texas Southern and has not played since. Banks said Grace is probably still a week away from returning.
Senior forward Terrell Kennedy averages 13.1 points to lead UAPB. He scored a game-high 18 points Tuesday against Alabama A&M.
Southern is looking to avoid its second straight home loss to UAPB. The Lions surprised the Jaguars 64-58 in Baton Rouge last season, overcoming a six-point deficit at halftime to end Southern’s five-game winning streak.
“This is not an I’m-going-to-get-you-back kind of game,” Banks said. “This is just our next opponent, so we’re preparing the best we can to beat our next opponent. We’re very well aware they’re capable of playing winning basketball.”