Redhawks get chance to hand first loss to Racers

Monday, January 30, 2012

The vastly improved Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team will have an opportunity to make national sports headlines Thursday night in Murray, Ky.

Southeast gets a crack at the country's only undefeated squad in Division I men's hoops -- Murray State -- during an Ohio Valley Conference matchup that will be televised by ESPNU and expected to be played in front of a sellout crowd at 8,600-seat CFSB Arena.

Murray State, 21-0 overall and 9-0 in OVC play, moved up to ninth and 11th in the two major polls last week. The Racers could climb higher when the new rankings are released today

The Racers have tied the OVC's all-time longest winning streak. Former league member Western Kentucky posted 21 consecutive victories during the 1953-54 and 1966-67 seasons. 

Murray State's start has raised the possibility of the OVC getting two teams into the NCAA tournament if the Racers fail to win the OVC tournament. That has happened only once, in 1987 when Austin Peay nabbed the OVC's automatic NCAA bid and former league member Middle Tennessee State garnered an at-large berth.

What makes Murray State's performance more remarkable is that the defending OVC regular-season champion Racers weren't favored to repeat. The Racers were picked third in the conference's preseason poll voted on by the league's coaches and sports information directors, behind No. 1 Austin Peay and No. 2 Tennessee Tech.

I keep thinking that Murray State is going to lose one of these days -- based on the law of averages.

But the longer the Racers stay undefeated, the more I think that maybe they can make it through the regular season perfect.

Right now, I still would bet on the Racers dropping at least one game, either in league play or next month's BracketBuster that will have them facing another highly regarded mid-major squad. But I wouldn't bet a lot on it.

And wouldn't it be something if the Redhawks handed the Racers their first loss, either Thursday or when Murray State comes to Cape Girardeau in Southeast's final home game Feb. 15?

It's certainly not out of the question, considering how improved the Redhawks are this season. And remember, they did stun the Racers at the Show Me Center last year.

Southeast (11-9, 6-2) bounced back from a Jan. 21 loss at Tennessee Tech by beating Austin Peay at the Show Me Center on Thursday to continue the program's best OVC start in 12 years.

The Redhawks, who visit Eastern Illinois tonight before facing the Racers, are second in the 11-team league at the halfway point of the 16-game conference schedule. They already have surpassed their overall win total from last season and matched their OVC victory count from a year ago.

It wlll be a challenge for the Redhawks to continue their pace because they hit the road for five of their final eight league dates.

The names of Southeast's newest football recruits will be unveiled Wednesday during the first day of the national letter of intent signing period.

I anticipate Southeast will announce a recruiting class heavy on high school seniors along with a handful of junior college and FBS transfers.

Among the group will be FBS transfer quarterback Kyle Snyder, who was a redshirt freshman reserve at Ohio of the Mid-American Conference this year. Snyder already is enrolled at Southeast for the second semester and will participate in spring practice.

However, the other FBS transfer quarterback who reportedly had been headed to Southeast -- Trent Hurley from Bowling Green -- changed his mind and will play for Delaware.

Southeast will hold a signing party at Port Cape -- open to the public -- beginning at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. There will be free hors d'oeuvres. Southeast coach Tony Samuel will speak and show highlights of the new recruits.

I wrote last week about Southeast product Dan Connolly being headed to the Super Bowl as the starting center for the New England Patriots, which beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 in last week's AFC title game.

What I didn't realize was that another Southeast product, Edgar Jones, almost made it to football's biggest stage.

I've written plenty over the past few years about Jones, who had been a reserve linebacker and special teams performer for the Ravens since making the squad as an undrafted free agent in 2007.

But I lost track of Jones after he was let go by the Ravens following last year, then released by the Redskins before this season. I didn't realize that he was re-signed by Baltimore in early November.

Jones saw action against New England primarily on special teams last week.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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