Tough opponents are testing Southeast, fans

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Who knows whether Southeast Missouri State University's men's basketball team will have a fourth straight dismal season, do well and surprise a lot of people this year, or fall somewhere in the middle? It's still way too early to call.

But it's a shame that so many fans already appear to have written the squad off during its 3-4 start.

Those four defeats, three on the road, came against Bradley, Western Kentucky, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Montana -- teams with a combined 18-6 record entering the weekend.

And two of those squads -- Bradley and Western Kentucky -- each paid Southeast about $40,000 for the visit, meaning they fully expected to win.

Southeast was blown out at undefeated Western Kentucky, which has been ripping a lot of teams so far, fell at Bradley and Wisconsin-Green Bay by just four points each, and lost at home to Montana by three points -- all while still not being nearly at full strength because of injuries.

Those are hardly embarrassing defeats, and even in an "up" year, Southeast would probably be hard pressed to beat Western Kentucky, Bradley and Wisconsin-Green Bay on the road.

My point is not to defend Southeast's program, which probably deserves its share of criticism for three straight down seasons after things appeared to be rolling so well.

My point is simply to be fair about what has happened so far, since probably only the Montana game was one that entering the season Southeast might have realistically been favored in, although anybody who witnessed the contest knows the Grizzlies are no slouch.

Like I said earlier, who knows what this season will hold for Southeast?

But people should at least let things run their course before making judgments.

The crowds at the Show Me Center have been fairly mediocre so far this season, which is not surprising considering Southeast's struggles over the last few years.

But Southeast could certainly use a big home-court boost Saturday when Missouri Valley Conference power Southern Illinois comes to town, because Southeast will need every advantage it can muster to pull off what would be a major upset.

And anyway, it would be kind of embarrassing if Southeast's fans were overshadowed by the large following that the Salukis figure to bring to Cape Girardeau.

Kudos to Southeast sports information director Ron Hines, who has worked 702 consecutive Southeast men's basketball games -- the longest SID streak in the nation.

Hines, who has not missed a Southeast contest 1980, is truly the Cal Ripken of sports information directors.

It's still very early in the season for Southeast's track and field program -- but you've got to believe coach Joey Haines is simply licking his chops at every opportunity.

Haines, who has been at Southeast since the early 1980s, has over the years fielded one of the top track programs in the Ohio Valley Conference, along with one of Southeast's premier programs in any sport.

But through just two meets of the indoor schedule, Southeast athletes have already turned in some of the top times and distances in school history, which seems to indicate that some particularly special things could be in the making.

Particularly impressive so far has been sensational freshman Kathy Coleman, who already owns the school indoor triple jump record, is second all-time in the long jump and third in the 55-meters.

This should definitely be an exciting team to follow all season long.

Brian Roth, who ranks as one of Southeast's biggest fans for all sports, has put together quite a lineup of high school basketball Saturday as the Perry Park Center in Perryville hosts The Bank of Missouri 2004 Heartland Hoopfest.

There will be seven games -- including the feature matchup at 8 p.m. between Charleston and nationally ranked Vashon -- with several area squads represented.

Action begins at 11 a.m. with Meadow Heights facing Shawnee, Ill., followed by Jackson vs. DuQuoin, Ill., at 12:30 p.m.; Vianney vs. Osceola, Ark., at 2 p.m.; St. Vincent vs. Oak Ridge at 3:30 p.m.; Saxony Lutheran vs. St. Pius at 5 p.m.; and Notre Dame vs. Perryville at 6:30 p.m.

Admission is $3 for high school age and younger, and $5 for adults, which allows fans to attend all seven games. For information, call Brian at the Perry Park Center at 547-7275.

About the only downside to the event as far as Brian goes is that he'll have to miss Saturday's Southeast vs. SIU basketball game -- a contest that he basically lives for each year.

Area high school wrestling fans are no doubt gearing up for the annual Tiger Classic hosted by Cape Girardeau Central Friday and Saturday.

The event always features some of the top talent in the region and generally winds up being nearly as competitive, if not moreso, than the state meet.

You've got to love all the Seinfeld trivia contests that the Sports Huddle -- KGIR's great sports talk show that runs from 9-10 a.m. Monday through Friday -- has been running lately.

And I hear that hosts Erik Sean and Jess Bolen now have a Festivus pole to spruce up their studio, courtesy of Jess's wife Mary.

Awesome!

Sure it's a shame Auburn got left out of the BCS picture as far as getting a shot at the national championship for college football.

But somebody was guaranteed to get shortchanged among the top three that went undefeated -- and that's not even taking account Utah and Boise State, who also put together perfect seasons.

My personal opinion is that USC and Oklahoma are the nation's top two teams, and I'm looking forward to them squaring off in the Orange Bowl.

Still, that doesn't change the fact that Auburn should have a chance to prove on the field that it is just as good as USC or Oklahoma.

Can anybody say playoff?

Still on the subject of college football, it's ridiculous how many bowl games there are these days -- way too many to fill them all with quality squads.

Mediocre to bad teams will be playing in bowls all over the place. In fact, you've got to be pretty awful these days to not get invited to a bowl.

Only in the pitiful NFC West could the Rams still be tied for the lead. And even if they don't wind up winning the title, they're also still very much alive for a wild card in that watered-down NFC that appears to contain one really good team (the Eagles) and a bunch of mediocre to bad squads.

Meanwhile, the AFC appears to be loaded with several dominant clubs, led by the Patriots and Steelers.

Individually, what a year Colts' quarterback Peyton Manning is putting together. Barring injury, he's not only going to break Dan Marino's single-season record for touchdown passes, he's probably going to demolish it.

The recent NBA brawl has grabbed most of that league's attention, but there is at least one really neat "feel-good" story taking place so far this season.

Grant Hill, after missing just about all of the past several years because of multiple ankle surgeries, has made a remarkable comeback. He seems healthy and is playing extremely well so far.

By all accounts Hill is one of the NBA's truly class acts and here's hoping he continues to thrive on the court.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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