Tennessee State coach Cy Alexander realizes how unusual it is for a team to be absolutely awful one season -- and two years later be picked as one of the Ohio Valley Conference's premier squads.
But that's the situation the Tigers found themselves in to begin the 2004-05 campaign --and he's not sure they were quite ready to handle the hype.
"One of the things that has been a problem for our team, I think they bought in to too much of the hype," Alexander said. "It's OK and great to have these high expectations and predictions, but that's all they are.
"To make them come true, a reality, it's all about hard work. It's not going to happen because somebody voted you that way. It's not a birthright."
A TSU (6-10, 1-1 OVC) team that Alexander believes has been inconsistent so far this season hosts Southeast Missouri State (6-8, 1-2) tonight in a 7:30 tipoff in Nashville, Tenn.
"We've been like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, up and down," Alexander said. "I don't know what team will show up from game to game.
"When we bring it from a mental and physical standpoint, we've been fairly decent. When we don't bring both pieces of the puzzle, we're just an ordinary team."
There is, however, no doubting the talent of TSU, which returned two of the OVC's top five scorers from last season and added three transfers from high-profile programs.
"They are a very talented team, one of the most talented in the league without question," Southeast coach Gary Garner said.
TSU went 2-25 overall and 0-16 in the OVC during a tumultuous 2002-03 season that saw coach Nolan Richardson III fired at the midway point for off-the-court problems.
Alexander, who had considerable success at South Carolina State, took over TSU's program last year and immediately improved the Tigers, as they went 7-21 overall, including a 6-10 OVC mark that netted them eighth place in the 11-team league.
And this year, TSU was the OVC's preseason No. 2 pick based on voting by the conference's coaches and sports information directors. Despite possibly placing some undue pressure on his team, Alexander likes that respect and where his program is headed.
"We're definitely making strides. Just in the fact we were picked second, tells you what kind of strides we're making," he said.
The Tigers, whose so-so overall record is partly because of a brutal schedule that featured games against Louisville, Alabama, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Iowa State and Western Kentucky, opened OVC play with an impressive 93-69 win at Jacksonville State before being upset 79-68 at Samford.
"We're hoping that game was a wakeup call, but Samford is going to beat a lot of teams at home," Alexander said.
What has hampered TSU's recent play, said Alexander, is the absence of Cincinnati transfer Rod Flowers, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound senior center who averages 15.7 points and an OVC-best 9.5 rebounds per game. Flowers has missed the past four contests with an ankle injury and he remains questionable for tonight.
"He's a big key for us," Alexander said.
TSU's two other high-profile transfers are 6-7, 230-pound junior forward Eric King from St. John's and 6-4 junior guard Wayne Arnold from Georgia. Arnold averages 10.5 points, while King delivers 9.3 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Add that trio to 6-3 sophomore guard Bruce Price (14.5 ppg) and 6-6 senior forward Roshaun Bowens (8.9 ppg) -- who ranked third and fifth in OVC scoring last year with average of 17.6 and 16.9 -- and it's no wonder TSU is so highly regarded.
"I think their starting five is the best in the league," Garner said.
But Garner believes that if Southeast plays well -- as it did during Tuesday's 79-60 home rout of Eastern Illinois -- and TSU is a bit off its game, then an upset is possible.
"Coming off a 19-point win, we'll go down there with a lot of confidence," Garner said. "They've had a funny season, kind of up and down, and maybe we can catch them when they're down."