Southeast gives basketball fans sneak peek this week

Sunday, November 2, 2003

The games won't count on their records, but Southeast Missouri State University's basketball teams will face outside competition -- and put themselves on public display -- for the first time this week.

I'm sure Southeast fans are anxious -- I know I am -- to get a look at both squads in Thursday's home exhibition games when the men play Truman State and the women face Union University.

On the men's side, fans are no doubt excited as the Indians have finally upgraded their talent level considerably following a pair of down years.

Coming off an 11-19 season that featured a seventh-place Ohio Valley Conference tie, most people are expecting considerable improvement. The Indians have been picked anywhere from third to fifth in preseason polls, including fourth in the league's official predictions based on voting by coaches and sports information directors.

With all five starters returning and with five key newcomers expected to either start or play a lot -- competition in practice has been and will continue to be intense -- the Indians appear to again have the talent to match up with most of the teams on their schedule. That couldn't be said the past two years.

Defending co-champions Austin Peay and Morehead State, along with Murray State, are widely regarded as the OVC's top three teams, and it will be difficult, although not impossible, for any of the remaining eight squads to crack that group.

But there is an opportunity for several teams to slip into the important fourth slot for a first-round home game in the conference tournament. Coach Gary Garner's squad appears as equipped as any to do that.

For Southeast's women, their supporters must be downright giddy. After the Otahkians' most successful Division I season last year under rookie coach B.J. Smith, they have been picked to win their first OVC title.

With four returning starters and heralded recruits, the Otahkians appear poised to surpass last year's 19-11 record and second-place league finish, thrilling fans along the way with their aggressive, up-tempo style.

Make no mistake about it -- hoop season is almost here, and it's already giving me goosebumps.

In this strangest of OVC football seasons, Southeast -- despite an up-and-down campaign -- is still very much in the running for their first OVC championship.

Saturday's 20-7 win at Tennessee-Martin kept the Indians one game on the loss side out of first place heading into the final three contests of the season.

Next Saturday's home game against fellow contender Tennessee State looms particularly large because another defeat would basically end the Indians' title hopes.

It's great that there is finally a weekly Southeast football coach's television show after an absence of several years, and a Southeast basketball coach's show also will air this season.

The football show, hosted by Steve Sotak, has been very well done, but I've got one complaint -- and others have mentioned this to me as well.

During the highlights of the previous game, only good plays involving Southeast are shown. Sure, most people who watch are Southeast supporters, but if you're really a sports fan, you want to see all the key plays from a game -- not just the ones that favored the Indians.

Major props to Central High School's boys soccer team, which finished the regular season with a perfect record.

The Tigers will take a 22-0 mark into district play, and no matter what happens the rest of the way, that undefeated, untied regular season is something they can cherish the rest of their lives.

I don't care who you're playing: Winning every game is quite an accomplishment. And the Tigers competed against a quality schedule, owning three wins over a Carbondale squad that qualified for the Illinois Class A state tournament.

This Central team appears strong enough to advance far into the playoffs, and it will be interesting to see how the Tigers fare.

Sure, LeBron James is probably going to have rocky times during his first NBA season.

But at least for the opening two games of his professional career, the 18-year-old phenom lived up to all his substantial hype.

Boy, did he ever. First came a 25-point, nine-assist, six-rebound performance against the Kings, followed by a 21-point, 12-rebound, eight-assist showing against the Suns.

Barring a major injury, there doesn't appear to be any way James isn't headed toward a spectacular career. And he appears to have a winning personality to match.

That was an impressive performance by the Rams in Pittsburgh last Sunday, particularly the play of quarterback Marc Bulger.

Today the Rams face another road test at San Francisco, but the 49ers could be particularly vulnerable because quarterback Jeff Garcia is not expected to play because of an injury.

Former Austin Peay basketball star Trenton Hassell, waived prior to the NBA season by the Bulls, recently was signed by the Timberwolves, who reportedly will pay him in the $600,000 range on a one-year deal.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian

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