The Southern men’s basketball team faced a lot of uncertainty going into this season.

The team had just two returning starters from last season and no proven scorer in the frontcourt.

The biggest key to the team’s success, coach Roman Banks said, was going to be its ability to play defense. A road-heavy nonconference schedule against mostly more talented teams wasn’t the best gauge of whether this team would play defense the way Banks’ teams have customarily played it.

But four games into the Southwestern Athletic Conference schedule, the Jaguars (6-12, 3-1) are playing the best defense in the league as they prepare to host Arkansas-Pine Bluff (3-14, 0-3) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.

Southern leads the SWAC in scoring defense (55.0 points per game), field goal-percentage defense (36.5 percent) and blocked shots (4.8 per game).

“We’re going to play our style of play,” Banks said. “We’re going to be tenacious. We’re going to be a very tough-minded defensive team.”

The Jaguars have yet to allow 60 points in a conference game, beating Prairie View (68-56), Grambling (59-53) and Jackson State (60-52) and losing to Texas Southern (59-58).

“Every game that we play, defense comes first,” guard Trelun Banks said, “and our defense turns into our offense.”

Only Texas Southern (42 percent) has managed to hit 40 percent of its shots against Southern. Prairie View shot 36 percent, Grambling 33 percent and Jackson State 35 percent. Prairie View shot 33 percent on 3-pointers, but since the SWAC opener, Texas Southern shot 20 percent, Grambling 17 percent and Jackson State 28 percent.

“It gives us confidence knowing how good we can still be during this rebuilding time,” Roman Banks said. “At the end of the day, we might not be as talented in certain areas as we’d like to be, but we’re definitely hard-working.”

The Jaguars rank just seventh in the SWAC in scoring with an average of 61.2 points per game, but that’s good enough as long as they continue to play defense the way they have been. Southern is fourth in scoring margin at plus-6.2.

“Defense is our offense, especially when we can get in there and disrupt some guys and force some turnovers,” guard Cameron Monroe said. “Getting out and having fast breaks is definitely how we want to play — keep it up-tempo.”

Arkansas-Pine Bluff is last in the SWAC in free-throw shooting (45.5) and 3-point defense (47.7) and second-to-last in rebounding margin (minus-4.3). The Golden Lions lead the league in steals (9.7 per game) and turnover margin (plus-3.67).

UAPB junior swingman JoVaughn Love is second in the conference in both scoring (17.0 points) and rebounding (8.7).

The Golden Lions are coming off a 51-48 home loss to Alabama A&M that came when the Bulldogs made a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left.

The road team won both meetings last season: Southern won 60-56 in Pine Bluff, and UAPB won 64-58 in Baton Rouge.