Mike Jarvis has done it three times before and he can do it again.
Florida Atlantic’s basketball team enters February with the goal of winning the Sun-Belt Conference Tournament and making it to the NCAA Tournament.
Many outsiders not around Sun-Belt basketball would think this task is almost impossible for a program that was 6-26 (2-16) last season. However, Mike Jarvis has put his young Owls in prime position to make a run into March Madness. FAU as of Tuesday is 12-10 (8-3) and riding a five-game win streak and is 7-1 in its last eight games.
Youth has been the key for Jarvis as the current lineup includes two freshman guards, Ray Taylor and Greg Gantt. Both Taylor and Gantt average over 30 minutes a game and have been steady staples to produce points and run a fast paced attack that likes to transition and shoot the three. Taylor is tied for third in the nation with 6.4 assists per game, while Gantt is averaging 15.8 points-per-game and shooting an impressive 40.4 percent from behind the arc.
Along with the freshman guard duo, Jarvis is using two other freshmen off the bench. Forward Jordan McCoy and Center DeMonte Simpson had been part of the starting lineups throughout the season but have found roles as bench players coming in for relief of the starters. The other starters include junior forward Brett Royster, junior guard Sanchez Hughley and sophomore guard Alex Tucker.
Every player has gelled in their new role which has allowed for the recent success of the team. Tucker, who was a starter all of last season now has to split point guard duties with the freshman Taylor, but that has given Tucker the opportunity to pass and move the ball better. Tucker finished with an FAU record 16 assists in last Saturday’s blowout win over rival Florida International.
Many players, including Tucker, have stated they have never seen such a buzz going around the team and they want to continue the chemistry through the conference tournament. The goal for the conference tournament has to be to get a first round bye, which is awarded to the top three teams in the Sun Belt. As of today, FAU would be sitting with a first round bye, but that can’t be taken for granted as it still has tough games ahead.
A two-game road trip this weekend to North Texas and Denver will be one of the most difficult tests for the young team. Having already played games at basketball power-houses Georgia and Maryland, Jarvis’ team is seeing the benefit of playing a difficult out-of-conference schedule. Going 1-1 this weekend would be very acceptable, but fans should get really excited if the Owls can grind both games out.
Following the road trip, FAU finishes with games at FIU and Troy and hosts Louisiana, Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State. Mike Jarvis should have the team fired up to finish strong, as the Owls could have a chance to finish as Sun-Belt East Regular Season Champions. A Sun-Belt East Championship will give FAU a first round bye and put them only 3-wins away from Jarvis taking his fourth different program to the NCAA Tournament.