Next season looms large for Edgar, Redhawks

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball program has had plenty of down seasons over the years, including several recent campaigns.

After all, that's why a new coach was hired before the 2006-07 season. The program was reeling.

But it's hard to imagine a more epic collapse in the history of Southeast hoops than what transpired this year.

After a 6-0 Ohio Valley Conference start, the Redhawks lost 13 of their final 14 OVC games and failed to qualify for the league tournament.

Southeast (12-19, 7-13) finished ninth in the 11-team conference. Only the top eight finishers make the tournament.

There is no doubt that some of the Redhawks' struggles over the past two months were due to injuries.

You can't discount the importance of Brandon Foust, who missed the last 13 games -- 12 of them losses -- and some of the other players who missed time.

But you can't blame it all on injuries, because even with them, the Redhawks appeared to have sufficient talent to at least push for a top-four OVC finish.

Now the question that Southeast fans are burning to know:

Is the program on the upswing?

The Redhawks made strides during coach Scott Edgar's first season last year, improving to 11-20 overall and a sixth-place 9-11 in the OVC, following a 2005-06 campaign that ended 7-20 and a 10th-place 4-16 in the conference.

Despite this season's sizzling start, the result was no tangible improvement even though the majority of the players had another year to digest Edgar's system.

Edgar has been getting roasted on the Internet over the past several weeks, but in trying to be as fair as possible, I say two seasons is way too quick for fans to give up on a coach who took over a down program.

But there is no question next year will loom especially large for Edgar in the eyes of Southeast's fan base, which has steadily dwindled over the past several seasons.

Next year, most of the players on the Redhawks' roster will have been recruited and signed since Edgar took over the program.

I like Edgar and hope he is the coach that can return Southeast men's basketball to the type of success it had for a while under coach Gary Garner, including an NCAA tournament appearance in 1999-2000.

Nobody knows whether Edgar will be able to get the job done, but next season should begin to offer a pretty good indication.

The Southeast women's basketball team will enter this week's OVC tournament as the No. 1 seed after winning the program's third straight regular-season conference title.

The Redhawks (22-7, 17-3), who set an OVC record for most conference wins, have been remarkably consistent in recent years, posting at least 20 victories the past four seasons.

Previously, Southeast's women had not won more than 19 games since moving to Division I during the 1990-91 season.

Southeast begins OVC tournament play Tuesday night at home against Jacksonville State, the same squad it destroyed 85-42 in Saturday's regular-season finale.

It won't be easy for the Redhawks to claim their third consecutive OVC tournament title and NCAA tournament berth, because potentially big challenges lie ahead.

But Southeast has shown the ability to thrive under pressure in recent years. There is no reason to expect anything different this week.

By the way, even if the Redhawks fail to win the OVC tournament, their season won't be over.

Any Division I college basketball squad -- men or women -- that captures its regular-season conference title but loses in its league tournament automatically receives an NIT or WNIT berth.

So that's a decent consolation prize if things don't go the Redhawks' way this week.

But they're sure not thinking about that right now.

I almost couldn't believe it when I heard that the Notre Dame boys basketball team had scored the first 39 points during Wednesday's Class 4 sectional matchup with De Soto.

De Soto has been down in recent years and came out of a weak district, but I'd be willing to bet that there has never been another state playoff basketball game during which a squad built a 39-0 lead.

Incredible, and the Bulldogs were nearly as dominant when they routed St. Clair in Saturday's quarterfinals.

Good luck to the Bulldogs as they head to the state's final four later this week in search of the championship.

Also good luck to all the small-school area teams that captured district titles and continue in the playoffs this week.

Particularly notable should be the Class 1 sectional matchup between powers Bell City and Scott County Central.

Also notable is Delta's girls capturing their eighth straight district crown under coach Randy White. That's quite an accomplishment.

I covered Wednesday's Class 5 sectional at Farmington in which Webster Groves beat Jackson 65-44.

The Indians actually played a respectable game, but the Statesmen are really good -- they're headed to the final four -- and it would have taken just about a perfect performance for Jackson to have a chance at the upset.

I get sick and tired of certain Internet posters criticizing Jackson coach Darrin Scott's ability on the sidelines.

For my money, Scott is as good as just about any coach in the area -- he's also a classy person -- and I didn't see anything that suggested the Indians weren't totally prepared for the sectional.

Sometimes you just run into a better team, and that's what happened to Jackson. Two straight district titles is still an impressive feat.

Fans often have a tendency to overrate their team's talent.

While Jackson has several solid players -- and a couple very good ones -- I haven't seen Division I recruiters beating down the doors at Indians' games.

It takes loads of talent to compete for a state championship in Class 5, and the Indians certainly don't have that.

I'd say Scott produced a pretty good product for what he had to work with.

Here's wishing Van Hitt all the best as he takes over as head coach of the Jackson football program.

Hitt, the Indians' defensive coordinator the past 19 years and a Jackson assistant since 1979, has long been regarded as one of the top defensive minds in the area.

I've known Hitt well from my years covering Jackson after starting at the Missourian in 1984 and I can honestly say he's as good a person as he is a coach.

Look for the tradition-rich Jackson program to not miss a beat under Hitt.

The OVC has not exactly been known for turning out high NFL draft picks, but that could change this year.

Tennessee State cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie earned rave reviews during senior all-star games and at the recent NFL scouting combine.

Some reports have Rodgers-Cromartie rated as a potential first-round selection or second round at worst.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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