Arkansas-Monticello men’s basketball coach Allen Sharpe is in a situation of which most coaches can only dream.
The Boll Weevils are riding a four-game winning streak into the Great American Conference tournament in Bartlesville, Okla., and Sharpe thinks they are playing their best basketball of the season.
“As a coach, that’s the position you dream about being in,” Sharpe said. “We’ve had convincing wins at home, plus a big win at Harding.
“You never know what will happen when you throw the ball up. But I don’t know if we’ve played much better on both ends of the floor.”
Third-seeded UAM will try to keep up the hot play when it opens the GAC tourney with a quarterfinal game against sixth-seeded Henderson State at noon Thursday in Bruin Fieldhouse.
The Reddies were one of three teams the Weevils swept during the regular season — the other two being Northwestern Oklahoma State and Ouachita Baptist.
UAM (19-9) edged Henderson State, 66-65, in Arkadelphia on Dec. 5, while the Weevils needed overtime to pick up a 75-72 win in Monticello on Jan. 25.
“They’re one of only a couple we swept,” Sharpe said. “The naysayers will say, ‘You can’t beat a team three times.’
“But I’d much rather have won the first two than lost them.”
Sharpe said he thinks his team will enter Thursday’s game with ample confidence having swept the Reddies (12-16).
“It gives you all the confidence in the world,” he said. “If we were on the other side of it, we’d be the ones questioning whether we can win it.
“I’ll say this, too, the two times we played them we weren’t where we are right now.”
One of the keys to the Weevils’ success this season has been the play of senior Brandon Wilson, who was named first-team All-GAC on Wednesday.
Wilson ranked second in the league in scoring with an average of 18.1 points per game. Southern Nazarene’s C.J. Smith, who was named Newcomer of the Year, led the GAC with 20.5 ppg.
In addition, Wilson ranked fourth in the league in rebounding (7.6 per game), sixth in field goal percentage (57.6) and fourth in blocked shots (1.7 per game). He led the league in offensive rebounds (3.3 per game).
Only once did the Rayville, La., native fail to reach double-digits in scoring during the regular season. Wilson was the only player in the league to earn multiple player of the week honors, getting the nod on Dec. 16, Feb. 3 and Feb. 24.
Wilson will try to keep his strong play going in Thursday’s game, which carries a lot of implications for Sharpe and the Weevils as a whole.
UAM has clinched its seventh straight winning season to extend the school record, but a win over Henderson State would give Sharpe his second 20-win season. The fourth-year head coach would be just the third Weevils coach to accomplish that feat joining his father, Gary, and Mike Newell.
UAM’s performance in the GAC tourney has bigger implications, though, as it fights for a spot in the NCAA Division II tournament.
The Weevils currently sit at No. 10 in the rankings for the Central Region. UAM is one of two GAC teams in the rankings with regular season-champion Arkansas Tech ranked seventh.
The top eight teams from each of eight regions make the national tournament.
“We need the teams ranked near the top to win their conference,” Sharpe said of Central Missouri and Minnesota State-Mankato. “We need them to win their tournaments so we can move up from 10th to ninth to eighth.”
UAM can put the issue to rest with a tournament championship this weekend. For the first time in its three-year existence, the GAC tourney winner will receive an automatic bid to the Division II tournament.
“We’re debating whether or not to talk to them about it,” Sharpe said about the implications. “… We’re really close here.
“We have the banquet (Wednesday) and them we’re going to come back and talk about our gameplan. We may bring it up just so the guys understand what’s at stake.
“If we can do well here, we could stretch this thing on out for a while.”