Sure, it’s a surprise.
Sure, there’s much to be improved.
But for sure, someone misinterpreted the ceiling of this Southern’s women’s basketball team.
The opening month of Southwestern Athletic Conference play is completed. If anything, January taught us a few things about this youthful, athletic bunch as the month, which is essentially the first half of SWAC play, closed Saturday with a win against Alcorn State, Southern’s seventh win in a row.
The surprise: Picked to finish fourth in a preseason poll conducted by the SWAC's coaches and sports information directors, Southern is 9-9 overall and at 8-1 in first place in the SWAC. The Jaguars haven't lost since Jan. 3.
What we learned: Behind Briana Green, Southern’s star senior forward who was first-team preseason All-SWAC, the Jaguars are a real contender certainly capable of making a run at capturing the SWAC's crown.
What’s unproven: Is this fiery start sustainable?
Behind a chaotic defense, it appears possible. But there’s a heaping amount of work to be done, regardless of the superb — and to them, unsurprising — start for Southern’s confident crew.
“Of course it’s what I expected,” Green said. “I said from the beginning, when I first had a (news) conference or when I first talked to the media, I said we’re going to shock a lot of people and shock a lot of teams.”
A look back before the season proves Green thought the same way then.
“I know what’s going to happen at the end of the season,” Green said in October. “That’s all I’m going to say … It should be a very, very, very exciting season.”
Exciting? So far for Southern, without a doubt.
The Jaguars, however, are a ways from they want to be. They had plenty of defensive busts throughout Saturday’s 64-56 win over Alcorn. They’ve been without starting forward Sarai Blissett (knee) for the past six games, most of the monster winning streak.
They have flaws, and some were glaring even in a win Saturday.
When asked if it’s promising that her club has won seven in a row even with some blemishes, Pugh did not withhold any punches.
“As a coach, you want your kids to get better every time they hit the floor,” the 18th-year coach said. “They've got to execute. They've got to do all the little things well. When they're not seeing that on a consistent basis, it's cause for concern.
"I will tell you right now, in spite of the wins, I'm concerned. I'm concerned about our interest. In terms of, we can't get bored on the floor. You can’t get discouraged. You can’t get your head down because something didn’t go your way. You have to show a level of maturity. We have way too many games of basketball the way a couple of times I saw those kids playing … I just saw a whole lot of things that just wasn’t good basketball.”
Sure, Southern has untapped growth yet to be seen.
Sure, Southern has matured and redirected previous expectation from fourth in the SWAC to a potential postseason run.
Sure, there are still plenty of unknowns. There are games to be played, but as Pugh said before the season, this team could have real promise.
"I think when it’s all set and done, this team has potential to go down as one of my best teams ever," Pugh said then.
The collaboration of complementing talents — in size, skill and speed — is why Southern’s on fire lately. And it’s why the Jaguars’ developing future appears to be brighter than it has in past seasons.
Southern's for real.
How? Southern’s captain, leading scorer and leading rebounder has an answer.
“Defense,” Green said. “Defense wins championships. I’ve heard that through my whole career. That’s something that we’ve talked about a lot. For me being here, now for the past three and a half going on four years, this is probably the most that we’ve been focused on defense.
“We’re more athletic right now. This is probably the most athletic team I’ve been on since I’ve been at Southern.”