Mike Graham: FAU tested, ready for Sun Belt defense

First-year football coach Carl Pelini has a new stadium to pitch as he begins luring recruits to rebuild Florida Atlantic University's program.

Meanwhile, coach Mike Jarvis says his men's basketball team is content to wait for a new 10,000 seat, multi-purpose arena — part of FAU's Innovation Village master plan.

FAU Stadium opened on Oct. 15 during coach Howard Schnellenberger's final season as football coach. And despite a 1-11 finish in 2011, that 30,000 seat, on-campus stadium will be a big selling point for Pelini.

The men's basketball team plays at "The Burrow," a cozy, on-campus arena that seats just 2,950.

FAU (4-8) will host Siena (4-7) at 7 p.m.. Wednesday, then travels to Louisiana-Lafayette (6-8) on Saturday to begin Sun Belt Conference play.

"A new arena (proposed to be built just west of FAU Stadium) down the road would be nice, but it would be more important for us at this time if we were to maintain the nice place that we have and enhance it," Jarvis said prior to Monday's practice. "We need to put in some new visitor's locker rooms, plus spend some money on promotions and marketing our team.

"What I would like to have happen is for our building to be like a great restaurant, where you can't get a seat, then it will be time to build a new one. Until we do that night in and night out, I don't think a new building would be as important as the other pieces I mentioned."

Jarvis also knows that repeating as regular-season conference champion and earning an NCAA tournament bid would help speed up the process.

FAU has improved each year — 2008-09 (6 wins), 2009-10 (14 wins), 2010-11 (21 wins) — under Jarvis' watch and despite a losing record this season, FAU has played well in a demanding non-conference schedule that included road games against Top 25 teams Kansas, Mississippi State and Harvard.

"Records don't mean everything," Jarvis said. "Who you play and how well you play is more important most of the time than your record. We play one of the most competitive non-league schedules in the country and there were just two games where we really didn't play as well as I would like — at Kansas (L, 77-54) and at South Florida (L, 68-55). Against Mississippi State, Harvard, Washington, George Mason and Miami, we played great.

"We are getting there .. but we have to learn to finish games."

Jarvis also said these Owls are only going to get better.

All five starters in a 63-51 loss at No. 24 Harvard on Dec. 22 — Raymond Taylor (5-foot-6 junior), Dennis Mavin (6-3 sophomore), Pablo Bertone (6-3 sophomore), Omari Grier (6-3 freshman) and Kore White (6-8 junior) — were underclassmen, and Dragan Sekelja, a 7-0 center transfer from Baylor, will join the team next season and have two years of eligibility left.

"Once we start winning this season, I think we will probably continue to win," Jarvis said. "We are probably a year away from being a really, really, really good Division I team."

And that's when finding an open seat in "The Burrow" could be tough to do.

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