Both North Alabama basketball teams received some good news Wednesday when the first Division II regional rankings were released.
The UNA men and women each are ranked No. 4 in the South region. The rankings determine which teams qualify for the postseason with the top eight teams earning berths in the NCAA South Regional tournament.
UNA will play at Shorter tonight as the Lions try to maintain their spot or perhaps even move up in the poll.
Florida Southern is the No. 1 team in the men’s region poll, followed by Alabama-Huntsville and Saint Leo. Christian Brothers is the No. 8 team in the region.
“If this were the week after the conference tournament I would be really happy,” men’s coach Bobby Champagne said. “It’s good to be in this position, but we’ve got to hang on to it. This week’s games will go a long way toward deciding it.”
UNA (17-5, 10-4) dropped out of the national poll after Saturday’s loss at Union. The Lions will face another tough road test tonight against Shorter (14-9, 8-7). The Hawks defeated UNA 80-73 at Flowers Hall on Jan. 17.
“We’ve played well on the road, but Shorter at one time had a streak of over 20 consecutive home wins, so obviously they are tough to beat at home,” Champagne said. “It’s crucial for us to get off to a good start.
“We have to defend better than we did in our first game against them. They got hot in the final 10 minutes and we went on a three or four-minute drought. We have to be able to finish games out.”
Meanwhile, women’s coach Terry Fowler said the No. 4 regional ranking gave his team a boost at practice Wednesday.
“Our kids definitely had more energy at practice,” Fowler said. “Being ranked in the region was not something we talked about when we started this year. It shows that our hard work has paid off.
“It is nice to be in the rankings, but we just have to keep playing hard. If we do that then all of the region stuff will take care of itself.”
Florida Tech is ranked No. 1 in the region, followed by Nova Southeastern, Tuskegee and UNA. Delta State is No. 5 and Valdosta State is No. 7.
Like the men, UNA’s women will try to avenge a loss tonight against Shorter (8-7, 13-10). The Hawks defeated the Lions 61-60 in the first meeting.
“It will be Shorter’s senior night, so they will be ready to play,” Fowler said. “We have to come out focused. How we start this game will be a good indication of where we are as a team.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.