ASUN play begins in Jacksonville this Saturday night when North Florida (5-12) travels across town to face off with rival Jacksonville (12-5) in the first edition of the River City Rumble in 2017. UNF has dominated the rivalry as of late, winning the last six meetings, but this year Jacksonville comes in with the better record and gets the Ospreys at home in the new and improved Swisher Gym.
Jacksonville leads the regular season series 15-10 all time; they have split their two postseason meetings.
Last year, the Ospreys were the ASUN regular season champions for the second year in a row and lost in the conference tournament semifinals to eventual champions Florida Gulf Coast at home. They earned a trip to the NIT for the first time in program history and fell to Florida at home in the first round. UNF was picked to finish second in the league in the preseason.
The Dolphins finished tied for second in the league and drew the number four seed in the tournament in which they lost to Lipscomb at home in the first round. Jacksonville was picked to finish sixth in the league this year.
Senior wingman JR Holder has taken the leap in his final campaign. From averaging 9.9 points last year to 16.9 points per game this season, and is scoring at an efficient 53 percent from the field. Holder exploded for 23 in the regular season finale at home vs. North Florida last year, and helped fuel a second half comeback that fell just short. Holder is getting to the rim without turning it over as much as of late, which has helped his efficiency. Will he be able to score against the Osprey bigs?
It is an easy pick to say Dallas Moore has to continue his amazing play with at least 22 points per game. He went over 2,000 career points on Monday night, and Moore is the heartbeat of the Ospreys. If he slows, they do too. But if last year’s ASUN Player of the Year is rocking, watch out because he becomes another Human Highlight Reel. Saturday’s game has potential for incredible moments and one of the best games in this crosstown series.
Image courtesy of the University of North Florida athletic department.
Darien Fernandez and Devin Harris will continue to make up the backcourt, as they have in every game since the opener. Holder will be on the wing and Omar El Manasterly will start in the post. The only question is to whether or not Cody Helgeland will return to stretch the floor as a forward after suffering a lower body injury in the waning moments of the Dolphins New Years Eve victory. If not, expect Antwon Clayton to earn his second straight start.
After a short illness earlier this week, Romelo Banks will be back in the starting lineup. Chris Davenport will move back to his sixth man role. The Ospreys will trot out: Dallas Moore (#14), Aaron Bodager (12), Garrett Sams (11), Wajid Aminu (2) and Banks (33).
JU getting to the line at home where they have converted at a 74 percent rate this season, best in the league, could separate these two teams. UNF, despite having shot the second most free throws in the ASUN to this point, are making only 66 percent, sixth best in the league.
The Ospreys dealt with turnovers throughout non-conference play. It has improved over the past three weeks, but if it returns it could really hurt in the ASUN opener.
Newcomers to the Rumble to Watch
Devin Harris is the only player on JU’s roster who has beaten UNF, back when he was a freshman at East Tennessee State and the Bucs swept the Ospreys that season. Granted, Harris only played five minutes with one rebound as his lone stat in the matchups, so he is probably looking for a much bigger impact this time out. For JU, Harris is third in scoring, first in rebounds, second in assists, second in blocks and second in steals. That is statsheet stuffing.
UNF has two freshmen in their starting lineup with Garrett Sams and Wajid Aminu. Sams has shown flashes of being a young copy of Beau Beech while Aminu is one of the best offensive rebounders. They’ve had to play like juniors during a difficult stretch for UNF basketball.
How JU Can Win
If the Dolphins are better behind the arc, since both teams shoot so many threes, they keep turnovers low but more importantly force plenty and turn them into points and can make a good amount of the aforementioned free throws, Jacksonville should have as good a shot as any to snap its six game losing streak to the cross town rivals.
How UNF Can Win
Stay calm and try to play as fast as they can. The Ospreys are as deep as they’ve ever been. Can the bench provide good production? Last year in this first game the role players gave UNF the boost to victory.
For an even deeper preview, check out the latest edition of “Manze & Miller on Sports.”
North Florida at Jacksonville tips off at 7 p.m. Saturday night. The game can be seen on ESPN3 and heard on 1010 AM (UNF feed) and 92.5 FM (JU feed) starting at 6:45 p.m.