Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team made strides in Nutt's second season

Monday, March 7, 2011

The 2010-11 Southeast Missouri State men's basketball season is in the books following Thursday's 76-60 Ohio Valley Conference tournament loss to Austin Peay.

You can't call the campaign a rousing success, but I think it's fair to say the Redhawks made decent progress, especially considering they were shorthanded all season and down to only eight players for the final few weeks.

The Redhawks (10-22) bettered their win total by three and their OVC finish by two spots from coach Dickey Nutt's first year, when he inherited a shambles of a program coming off a 3-27 season.

Notable accomplishments included making the OVC tournament for the first time since 2006-07, winning an OVC tournament game for the first time since 2004-05 and posting a rare victory over conference regular-season champion Murray State.

Southeast's 65-49 pounding of Eastern Kentucky in Wednesday's opening round of the tournament was impressive, as was the fact the Redhawks rebounded from an 0-10 start to play nearly .500 (10-12) the rest of the way.

There is no question considerably more progress will be expected next year as Southeast brings back many of its top players, gets several key players eligible, returns injured players who missed most of this season and adds significant recruits.

Who knows how things will look at this time in 2011-12, but for now I don't think fans should have many complaints about the way Nutt's rebuilding project is taking shape.

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I like the new format of the OVC tournament. All eight teams advance to Nashville, Tenn., the top two seeds get double byes into the semifinals and the next two seeds receive one bye.

The format was revised to give all qualifying teams a taste of a tournament at a neutral site -- instead of the lower seeds having to play on the road in the first round -- while also rewarding the squads that fared the best in the regular season.

The ultimate goal of most lower-level conferences is to send the most worthy representatives to the NCAA tournament in order to have the best chance of making a strong showing.

It's always a neat story when some huge underdog with a losing record sneaks into the NCAA tournament, but that conference doesn't look so good when the team gets beat by 50 points.

While rewarding the higher seeds, the OVC's new format also gives the lower seeds a better chance to at least win a first-round game because they're facing squads with similar resumes instead of playing at teams that had much better regular seasons.

Last week's tournament was a perfect example. The bottom two seeds -- No. 7 Southeast and No. 8 Tennessee-Martin -- both advanced through the opening round before falling in the quarterfinals.

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Although both of the top seeds failed to win OVC tournament titles, there weren't any major surprises as the No. 2 seeds -- Morehead State's men and Tennessee-Martin's women -- prevailed, beating Tennessee Tech in both championship contests.

I think Morehead's men probably give the league its best chance of an NCAA tournament upset due to the presence of rebounding machine Kenneth Faried and another high-level talent in wing player Demonte Harper.

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I wrote last week about how I like and respect Southeast women's basketball coach John Ishee, and that I wanted to see him be able to work with a relatively healthy roster for an entire season.

Still, I really can't criticize the university's decision to not renew Ishee's contract after five seasons.

Despite being plagued by numerous key injuries and illnesses the past two years, it's hard to make a strong case for Ishee after consecutive seasons that rank among the worst in program history.

Ishee deserves plenty of credit for his early run at Southeast. He took over a program in turmoil after all the NCAA violations and righted the ship, leading the Redhawks to consecutive OVC regular-season titles in 2006-07 and 2007-08 while earning an NCAA tournament berth and an OVC coach of the year award.

But there hasn't been much to cheer about in recent years.

The Redhawks are 30-57 over the past three seasons, including 15-42 the last two campaigns as Southeast tied the program record for most losses in a season (21) both years.

Southeast has compiled consecutive 4-14 OVC records, finishing ninth in the 10-team league this season and last a year ago in missing the eight-team conference tournament both times.

I was hoping Ishee would survive another dismal campaign, but I can't say I blame Southeast for making this move.

Here's wishing Ishee all the best in the future.

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The amazing story of Southeast senior pitcher Jordan Underwood was chronicled through a recent article in Baseball America.

Underwood lost his left eye after being struck by a batted ball during a junior college game in 2009.

There was some doubt whether he ever would be able to pitch again. And while several Division I programs that were recruiting him backed off, Southeast coach Mark Hogan offered him a scholarship.

Underwood had an impressive rookie Division I season for the Redhawks in 2010. He earned all-OVC preseason honors this year as the ace of Southeast's staff.

I've interviewed Underwood quite a bit since he's been at Southeast and he seems like a quality young man.

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Southeast football is in the market for another assistant coach.

Kenny Wilhite, who spent the past five seasons in charge of cornerbacks for the Redhawks, has taken a defensive backs position at Central Arkansas.

That comes on the heels of offensive coordinator Vincent White leaving several weeks ago to become an assistant at New Mexico.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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