Is this the Year for Texas-Arlington?

2 Nov

Over the past six seasons the Sun Belt Conference tournament has been hit or miss for the conference’s top teams.  While the top four seeds have reached the semifinals the last four years, the top seed has only been able to seal the deal twice.

This season a familiar face has been tabbed to be atop the conference.  Scott Cross’ UT-Arlington Mavericks have won 51 games over the last two years.  In that time they have victories over the likes of Saint Mary’s, BYU, Texas, Ohio State and Memphis.  The Mavericks’ season culminated in a trip to the NIT Quarterfinals after being upended in the Sun Belt semifinals.

After winning 27 games cross did lose three starters in Jalen Jones, Drew Charles and Jorge Bilbao, a trio that averaged over 29 points and 13 rebounds per contest.   While that trio was important to UT-Arlington’s success, they do return an equally important trio in seniors Kevin Hervey and Erick Neal who combined for nearly a triple double per game last season with 27.7 points, 12 rebounds and 8.7 assists. The third member of the trio is Coach Cross who interviewed for the opening at New Mexico but didn’t get it. The Mavericks have some replacing to do but have no shortage of candidates to fill those spots.

Senior Kaelon Wilson is someone who was a spot starter for the Mavs last year and seen on the same level as the departed Charles and Jones by Cross who hopes Wilson can step into a starting role and help continue the recent success the Mavericks have enjoyed.  Another addition who could pay big dividends is a JuCo transfer from Hill College (Tx) Davion Turner.  The 6-9 forward averaged 12.9 points and 7.3 rebounds last season while shooting 49% from the field and 35% from 3.  Another guy who could fill another wing position is red-shirt junior Mairega Clarke whose best asset is his ability to finish in transition.  Cross’ most promising freshman would be 6-5 David Azore who averaged 25 and 8 at Houston’s Clear Brook High School last year.  In the middle the Mavs hope to get some help from a pair of 7-footers, senior Link Kabadyundi who Coach Cross says has made the biggest jump from the end of last year till now in terms of development and Grad transfer Johnny Hamilton who played in just three games at Virginia Tech last season.

Looking at the schedule the big resume building chances early on for Texas-Arlington are a pair of games in the Barclay’s Center Classic against BYU and Alabama and a mid-December match up at Creighton.

After the last two seasons, this is the year that Cross and the Mavericks need to break through and reach the NCAA Tournament because Scott Cross is a growing hot commodity in the coaching ranks and there is no telling how much longer he will be at the helm in Arlington.

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