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Southeast's next two games may be indicator of OVC standing

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The early portion of the Ohio Valley Conference men's basketball schedule has demonstrated just how balanced and wide open things appear to be.

Southeast Missouri State hopes it can be a factor in the race -- and the next few days at the Show Me Center will tell us a lot about the Redhawks' chances.

Losing at Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech last week didn't really set the Redhawks back, because the games were on the road against what are expected to be two of the OVC's premier teams.

But, if the Redhawks have realistic designs on challenging for an upper-division OVC finish -- preferably in the top four, which means a first-round home game for the conference tournament -- then protecting their home court virtually every time out is a must.

Southeast, which is 3-7 overall and 1-2 in league play, did that in its OVC opener by rallying from a 14-point second-half deficit to beat Tennessee-Martin.

It's also probably imperative that the Redhawks sweep their two-game OVC homestand that begins today against Jacksonville State and ends Tuesday against preseason league favorite Samford.

While losing to either the Gamecocks or Bulldogs would not be crippling -- after all, the conference schedule features 20 games -- it probably isn't wise to fall too far off track early in the season, particularly if a top-four finish is the goal.

With seemingly half the OVC games going down to the wire so far -- there have already been numerous buzzer-beating finishes -- and with so many teams having already posted precious road wins, the time has probably never been more ripe for an upstart team like Southeast to make major noise.

The next few days should give us more of an indication as to whether the Redhawks will at least have an opportunity to break through.

Just how balanced from top to bottom does the OVC look right now?

With no team having yet played more than three conference games, only two of the 11 squads are still undefeated, which is almost unheard of for this early.

Tennessee State at 2-0 and Samford at 1-0 are the lone league squads to have emerged unscathed so far.

It certainly looks like OVC fans are in for a wild and crazy ride.

The same apparently will hold true for OVC women's basketball, where also just two team have not yet lost a conference game.

Murray State at 2-0 and preseason favorite Samford at 1-0 lead the early pack, but just like on the men's side, many of the other squads appear to be potential contenders.

That includes Southeast, which is 1-1 in league play heading into home dates today against Jacksonville State and Tuesday against Samford.

One example of just how unpredictable OVC women's hoops might be this year:

Tennessee State broke a 21-game conference losing streak recently by beating Eastern Illinois -- just two days after the Panthers won by 19 points at defending OVC co-champion Tennessee Tech.

Crazy indeed.

A few more thoughts on Southeast men's basketball, as the Redhawks continue to try to find their way under first-year coach Scott Edgar.

First, fans continue to debate whether the Redhawks are as talented as many of them were led to believe before Edgar was hired, whether the talent was overhyped, whether it's simply going to take time -- perhaps even into next year -- to adjust to Edgar's system, or whether Edgar even has enough of the type of players he needs to make his system work.

I'm still at the point where I have no idea which of the above theories -- if any -- is close to being the truth, although I suspect it may be a combination of all four. But it makes for some interesting conversation.

Second, there is no question that the Redhawks' two touted transfers -- junior forward Brandon Foust and junior center Mike Rembert -- have not yet been the type of dominant players most Southeast fans thought they would.

Whether that's because they're still shaking off rust after sitting out all of last year and not playing much at their previous schools or whether they're still adapting to Edgar's system after practicing in a different system last season, who knows?

But, in my opinion, for Southeast to contend for an upper-division OVC finish this year, Foust and Rembert have to be among the premier players in the conference at their positions.

Right now they're not at that level, but there is still the majority of the season left for them to get there.

Southeast fans can only hope that, sooner rather than later, Foust and Rembert are able to have the type of consistent production that matches their considerable talents.

Third, the type of high-speed basketball Edgar has brought to Southeast is plenty fun to watch, but to have any chance of being an upper-level OVC team this year, the Redhawks must improve considerably on the defensive end.

Congratulations to Southeast football players Edgar Jones and David Simonhoff for making various Division I-AA All-America teams.

Jones, a senior defensive end who led the nation in quarterback sacks, was a first-team selection by The Associated Press, while senior punter Simonhoff was an AP second-team pick and also made the Walter Camp squad after ranking second nationally in his specialty.

Jones was the only OVC player to make the AP first team, while Simonhoff was the only OVC player selected to the Walter Camp squad. That's impressive, especially considering the Redhawks won just two conference games and finished toward the bottom of the standings.

Also kudos to Jones for being invited to play in Saturday's Magnolia Gridiron Classic in Jackson, Miss.

The all-star contest pits a team made up primarily of Division I-AA players against a squad primarily comprised of Division I-A players whose teams were not invited to a bowl game.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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