COLUMBUS, Ga. - The task for the Augusta State men's basketball team is very familiar: Win the Peach Belt Tournament and advance to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
For the past two seasons, the Jaguars have turned in tournament titles. Today, Peach Belt North Division champion Augusta State (17-10) looks to win its third straight tournament when it opens quarterfinal play at 1 p.m. against North Florida (15-13).
"Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown," said Jaguars coach Gary Tuell, paraphrasing Shakespeare. "People want to beat us. Columbus and Kennesaw are probably the two favorites. Armstrong is probably the hottest team. But we're probably the team people want to knock off, because we're the one that's won it the past two years."
Augusta State, which has won five consecutive division titles, has put together one of the best runs of any team in tournament play the past four seasons. The Jaguars have won six straight tournament games with three tournament championship appearances and a 9-2 record.
"It's not easy to win a tournament, and when you've proven you can win it two years in a row, people will begin to get a little nervous especially if we win that first game," Tuell said. "There's nobody in this league we can't beat if we play well."
Augusta State didn't play well at home when it lost to North Florida, 79-69, on Feb. 26. The Jaguars defeated the Ospreys on the road, 62-54 on Dec. 4.
"I didn't do a very good job our last game with them," Tuell said. "I don't think our players played very well. I didn't coach very well. I think all of us as a group would like to play North Florida again."
Senior forward David Siebrands led the conference in field-goal percentage (61 percent) and leads the Jaguars in scoring (13.9 points a game). Junior point guard Jermale Wilkerson, who has the worst field-goal percentage among regular players (37 percent), is the only other Jaguar averaging in double figures (10.8 points).
"I told my guys that the NCAA tournament begins (today) for us," Tuell said. "It's one loss and you're out. As long as you keep winning, you keep playing. This is the way we've always approached it. This is the NCAA tournament. This is the first round. If you win, you get to play the next day. We've always approached this tournament like an NCAA tournament."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 114.