At long last, basketball season is here
Sunday, November 5, 2006
It's finally here.
Ready or not, this week the Southeast Missouri State basketball games start to count on the records.
Of course, the real seasons for both teams will come a little later down the road, when Ohio Valley Conference play begins.
But this week, two squads in transitional periods tip off campaigns that figure to be interesting on a variety of levels.
First for the men, who open Friday at Arkansas as the highly anticipated Scott Edgar era begins.
Edgar has introduced his "Fast and Furious" style to the Redhawks and their fans.
It has already been received well by the public during the two exhibition games -- and Edgar appears to have the athletes to fit his frenetic, up-tempo style -- but just how long it takes the Redhawks to successfully adapt to that style on a consistent basis is a question nobody knows the answer to right now.
In its two exhibitions, Southeast was a bit shaky during a closer-than-expected 88-79 win over Division III Westminster, then really got things rolling during a 103-72 rout of perennial Division II power Kentucky Wesleyan.
Edgar believes that once the system fully takes hold, the Redhawks will be an extremely dangerous team to play against.
Southeast fans no doubt hope that happens sooner rather than later as Edgar tries to resurrect the program.
His track record indicates he'll be able to do that, and it helps that he didn't step into the normal rebuilding situation with little talent to work with. The cupboard was not bare when Gary Garner was let go.
The Redhawks face a rugged schedule, with three "money" games -- at Arkansas, Purdue and Iowa State -- and no lower-division opponents to beat on.
If they can survive that nonconference slate in decent shape, it should prepare them well for the all-important OVC season.
Now for the women, who open Saturday at Tulsa as B.J. Smith begins his fifth season with fans probably wondering if he's rebuilding or simply reloading.
Smith lost six key seniors who accounted for most of the scoring from the most successful team in the program's Division I history, one that won OVC regular-season and tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA tournament.
With only two players returning who saw considerable action -- both averaged less than six points per game -- Smith definitely faces quite a challenge.
But he has had to reload before at Southeast, and he has always been successful, as evidenced by his 79-41 overall record and 51-17 OVC mark since coming to Cape Girardeau. Both figures are the best in the OVC during that period.
Like with Edgar, Smith's track record should give Southeast supporters plenty of hope that the Redhawks, while perhaps not quite as good as last season, won't miss too much of a beat.
The impressive performance by Smith's team in its lone exhibition game -- an 87-61 romp past NAIA Lambuth -- should also encourage fans.
And, like the men, Smith's squad faces a demanding schedule, with nonconference games at Tulsa and Baylor, and a home test against Florida State. All three qualified for the NCAA playoffs last season, and Baylor won the national title just two years ago.
All in all, both seasons should be interesting and exciting to follow -- and they begin in less than a week.
The early signing period for college basketball begins Wednesday.
If nobody leaves the program after this season, Southeast's men have only one available scholarship, and they aren't likely to sign anybody early.
On the other hand, Smith will have plenty of available scholarships next season and he said he expects to land as many as three or four players this week.
Here's wishing the Southeast women's soccer team all the best today as it chases the program's first NCAA tournament berth.
The Redhawks came up huge Friday night during the OVC tournament semifinals in Birmingham, Ala., rallying from two goals down to stun top-seeded and host Samford 3-2 in double-overtime.
All that stands in the way of the Redhawks reaching the NCAA playoffs is Morehead State, which Southeast will play today in the OVC tournament final.
Too bad for area Rams' fans that the team didn't sign former Southeast All-American Willie Ponder, who was in St. Louis early last week for a free-agent visit after he was recently released by the Seattle Seahawks.
Ponder, who last played for Southeast in 2002, has been among the NFL's better kickoff returners the past four years and the Rams sure could use plenty of help in that department.
I was really hoping the Rams would sign Ponder, who doesn't figure to be out of work for long.
Former Central High School basketball star Ron Jones' daughter plans to follow in her father's footsteps in playing for the University of Missouri.
Shakara Jones, a senior forward at Howell Central High School in the St. Louis area, recently gave Missouri a verbal commitment, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She is expected to sign Wednesday.
Shakara Jones, who was being courted by some of the nation's premier programs, averaged 25.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game as a junior.
Ron Jones played for Mizzou from 1980 to 1984.
Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.