Redhawks need wins, help to host first round

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Southeast Missouri State's men no longer control their own destiny regarding a home game for the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

But the Redhawks (13-12, 8-6) still figure to have a decent chance at it if they can win their final two regular-season games, Thursday night against Murray State (15-10, 9-5) and Saturday night against Tennessee-Martin (6-19, 3-11).

The top four finishers in the 11-team OVC play at home March 1 in the opening round of the eight-team conference tournament.

Southeast is in sixth place, but just one game out of second place behind four squads tied for that spot. Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky, Murray State and Samford are all 9-5, while first-place Tennessee Tech is 10-4.

"It'd say it's probably about 50-50," Southeast coach Gary Garner said of getting a tournament home game if the Redhawks post two victories this week.

In potential tie-breaker situations with the teams just ahead of the Redhawks in the standings, they lost their only meeting to Eastern Kentucky, split with Austin Peay (although the Govs would hold the next tie-breaker by virtue of their win over Tennessee Tech), won their only meeting with Samford and won their first meeting with Murray State.

Eastern Kentucky appears to have the best chance of the current 9-5 squads at finishing 11-5, since the Colonels figure to be favored Tuesday at Morehead State and Saturday at home against Austin Peay.

Austin Peay will likely be the underdog Tuesday at Tennessee Tech and Saturday at Eastern Kentucky.

Samford will be favored Tuesday to beat Jacksonville State, but figures to be an underdog Thursday at Tennessee State.

Murray State, after visiting Southeast Thursday, plays at Eastern Illinois Saturday. Thursday's contest likely rates as close to a tossup, while the Racers will probably be slightly favored Saturday.

The bottom line for the Redhawks -- who will be favored over Tennessee-Martin -- is that they must win both games this week and then hope for a little bit of help, but the good news is that they don't need all that much help.

The best scenario for Southeast would be for Tennessee Tech and Eastern Kentucky to finish in the top two spots, both beating Austin Peay along the way, which would put the Govs at 9-7.

Even if the Govs pull off an upset or two, and finish either 10-6 or 11-5, Southeast would still only have to fend off Murray State or Samford for a tournament home game. The Redhawks could take care of that on their own by beating the Racers, meaning the best Murray State could then finish would be 10-6, but Southeast would own the tie-breaker if it also gets to 10-6.

And if Southeast does finish 10-6, then as long as Samford loses at least once more to end up 10-6, the Redhawks also own the tie-breaker with the Bulldogs.

So, despite suffering two straight losses -- which came immediately after a seven-game winning streak -- the situation for a coveted tournament home date is not as hopeless as it might first have appeared, especially following Saturday night's surprisingly lopsided 88-66 defeat at Morehead State that still had Garner shaking his head on Monday.

"That was really a disappointing game," Garner said. "The only thing I could think, after losing Thursday night [at Eastern Kentucky], it kind of took the sails out of us.

"But if you've been around college basketball long enough, you know these things happen. You can't get caught up in one game. We've still got a good basketball team and we'll play well this week."

Whether or not that gets the Redhawks a home game for the tournament remains to be seen. But at least they're still very much in the running.

Women also need help

Southeast's women (18-7, 12-2) are already assured of being at home for the first round of the tournament, but they also need help in order to gain at least a share of their first OVC regular-season title.

The Redhawks are in second place, one game behind 13-1 Eastern Kentucky, which defeated Southeast 66-62 Thursday in Richmond, Ky.

Southeast will be heavily favored to beat Murray State Thursday and Tennessee-Martin Saturday, but Eastern Kentucky will also be heavily favored to win at Morehead State Tuesday and at home against Austin Peay Saturday.

"You never know, but it will be a pretty big upset if Eastern Kentucky loses one of those games," Southeast coach B.J. Smith said. "But no matter what happens, we just want to finish strong, win these last two, and get to 20 wins going into the tournament."

Southeast's women have never won 20 games in a season since moving up to the Division I level in 1991-92. Smith's first Redhawks team in 2002-03 went 19-11, while Southeast went 19-9 in 1998-99 under former longtime and highly successful coach Ed Arnzen.

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