Ranked Racers visit Show Me Center this week

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's hard to believe, but both Southeast Missouri State basketball teams play their final home games of the season this week.

Southeast's men square off against seventh-ranked Murray State on Wednesday night in front of what will be the Redhawks' biggest home crowd of the year. Less than 1,000 tickets remained for sale at last report.

It's not far-fetched to imagine a sellout at the 7,000-seat Show Me Center, considering how many of MSU's fans are likely to make the trip to Cape Girardeau. That hasn't happened since Southeast faced the Racers during its NCAA tournament season of 1999-2000.

There is a lot riding on the contest.

MSU, despite suffering its first loss of the season last week to Tennessee State, would lock up the undisputed Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title with a victory.

The Racers (24-1, 12-1), who already have clinched at least a share of their third consecutive OVC regular-season title, still need to continue racking up wins in order to feel safe about an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament if they fail to capture the OVC tournament.

Southeast is playing for the No. 2 seed for the eight-team conference tournament that rewards the top two finishers in the regular season with byes into the semifinals. That's a potential huge advantage.

The Redhawks (14-11, 9-4), having an impressive resurgence under third-year coach Dickey Nutt, enter the week third in the 11-team OVC but just one-half game behind second-place Tennessee State.

Southeast gave the Racers all they could handle in Murray, Ky., on Feb. 2. The Redhawks led by six points at halftime before falling 81-73. Standout MSU junior guard Isaiah Canaan poured in 24 of his 32 points in the second half.

There's no reason to think the Redhawks won't give the Racers a run for their money Wednesday. Southeast will be hosting its first ranked opponent on the Division I level and seeking to beat a ranked Division I foe for the first time.

Whether or not the Redhawks can pull off the upset remains to be seen, but it's going to be fun finding out.

Meanwhile, the Southeast women also close their home schedule against one of the OVC's top clubs when conference co-leader Tennessee-Martin visits Saturday night.

The Skyhawks (17-8, 11-1) already own a lopsided win over Southeast, pounding the Redhawks 88-47 on Jan. 28 in Martin, Tenn.

Southeast (6-19, 3-9) has improved steadily throughout the season under first-year coach Ty Margenthaler and has a solid shot to make the OVC tournament for first time in three years.

Southeast fans have a good opportunity not only to bid their teams' seniors farewell but also to help their squads pull off what would be significant upsets.

It should be an interesting season for one of the most consistently successful and popular teams at Southeast.

The baseball Redhawks face plenty of question marks as they open the 2012 campaign Friday at 2011 NCAA Super Regional qualifier Dallas Baptist.

Southeast lost 18 seniors from last year's squad that finished second in the OVC. The Redhawks have 21 newcomers among their 34 players.

The Redhawks were picked fourth in the 10-team OVC's preseason poll despite all that turnover. That's a show of respect for what the Redhawks have done under Mark Hogan, the program's winningest coach.

Kudos to prominent local businessman Earl Norman for recently being inducted into the St. Louis Cardinals Legends Camp Hall of Fame in Jupiter, Fla.

Norman, who has attended the camp for several years, is the fourth person to receive this honor.

I've been told that Norman, despite being in his mid-70s, still is among the most active and skilled participants at the camp each year.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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