The Jacksonville Dolphin (1-1) have a quick turnaround after the Rocky Mountain road trip, and face the challenge of three games in three days in Mobile, Alabama. Last year, JU dropped all three games in Greensboro, North Carolina in the Spartan Showcase, and will try to pick up the first neutral court win of the Tony Jasick era. Let’s take a look at how the Dolphins are looking going in to the tournament and a brief look at the opponents for Friday-Sunday.
Darien Fernandez was limited in the loss at Air Force by foul trouble after a quiet game at Denver, that did feature four critical free throws down the stretch to ice it. He is going to have to stay on the court and be more efficient with the basketball this weekend. Devin Harris has played a handful of places on the floor, and due to early season attrition has not handled the point much. Tanner Rubio will see plenty of action in Mobile one would imagine, and has had plenty of freshman moments alongside moments of brief greatness.
Marcel White did not play against Air Force with an injury and is day-to-day heading into the Showdown. If he cannot go, then Harris will see more time on the floor and will start. He is coming off of his best performance in his brief JU career. JR Holder dropped a career high 30 on Saturday, and might have to do something like that again this weekend to help JU get a win.
Cody Helgeland has been a consistent performer (when on the floor) through his first two games in Jacksonville. He is going to be counted on to be a big part of the offense again, and will have to play smart defense, so as not to get into foul trouble again. Darius Dawkins will see more time as well, so his stroke being on can help atone for some of the defensive struggles he will face, as he is still slowed a bit after last year’s injury.
Omar El Manasterly bounced back against Air Force, and if he and Demontrez Austin can form an effective tandem in the post, scoring some and grabbing a bunch of rebounds, that could be an X-factor for Jacksonville this weekend.
Andris Misters flashed some of his old self on the offensive end of the floor at Air Force, and JU needs him to keep that up. The bench is somewhat thin outside of Misters, Austin, Dawkins and Rubio, which was on display Monday night. Their contributions over the course of the three days will dictate a lot of how many wins JU manages this weekend.
Now a look at the opponents:
Youngstown State (1-1) of the Horizon League was not very good last year, but returns a lot of their pieces, and are poised to perhaps make a run in the league for the first time in a while. The Penguins won their opener over Akron and fell in OT to Toledo (that’s a lot of Northern Ohio basketball).
Youngstown State is averaging 89 ppg, and fly around on offense. Junior guard Cameron Morse averaged 20 ppg last year, a league high 23 in Horizon League play. A dynamic, athletic scorer that was Preseason All-Horizon League this year. He’s scoring at a 32.3 per game so far this year too, so he’s still killing it. They also feature sharp-shooter forward Matt Donlan (six three’s in Akron win) and seven-foot center Jorden Kaufman is a load for any team to deal with anytime.
Florida International (1-1) of the Conference USA has already played two future JU opponents, beating Florida Memorial in its opener, and losing on the road to Stetson. A good defensive team, they are fueled offensively by senior guard Donte McGill (16.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg last year) and senior forward Elmo Stephen (7.7 ppg on an inefficient 39% FG last year) and do not do anything spectacularly. The Panthers are incorparating a lot of new transfers this year, featuring Alabama graduate transfer forward Michael Kessens, who recorded a double-double in the loss to Stetson.
Host school South Alabama (2-0) of the Sun Belt Conference knocked off UNLV on the road and dispatched Blue Mountain (not the tv show school) to start the year, and has the advantage of being the host school for the tournament. USA is well received in the RPI rankings (#24) and should be the best team in the tournament. The two starting guards, Shaq Calhoun and Ken Williams, both are averaging double digit points per game so far, and six foot seven forward Don MuepoKelly posted his second career double-double against UNLV. The Jags are well-coached, head man Matthew Graves was the associate head coach under Brad Stevens for the Butler title game runs, and despite being picked to finish sixth in the league, have aspirations for its first postseason appearance since 2007.
Jacksonville plays Youngstown State at 5:30p Friday (1010 AM), FIU at 1:30p Saturday (92.5 FM) and South Alabama at 2:30p Sunday (mixlr.com/judolphins).