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OVC poll is mixed bag for Southeast Missouri State basketball teams
The Southeast men's basketball team was ranked second in the West Division, while the women were last
The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team is expected to continue its resurgence while Southeast's women again have no place to go but up.
That was the result of Tuesday's Ohio Valley Conference media day in Nashville, Tenn., where the preseason polls and all-conference squads were announced based on voting by the league's coaches and sports information directors.
This marks the first year for divisional play in the OVC, which includes 12 teams for the first time in league history.
Southeast's men were picked second in the OVC West Division -- behind three-time defending OVC regular-season champion Murray State -- while Southeast's women were selected last in the West Division.
"I think it's good recognition for our basketball program. It's a compliment to our program. It shows expectations are higher. It helps in recruiting, in building interest with our fans," fourth-year Southeast men's coach Dickey Nutt said. "But the first thing I will tell my team is it doesn't mean anything. It's all on paper. You have to go out and do it."
The Redhawks return three of their top four scorers and four players with significant starting experience among seven returning letterwinners from a squad that made a major breakthrough last season.
Southeast went 15-16 overall and 9-7 in OVC play a year ago. The Redhawks recorded their most victories since the 2004-05 team also won 15 games, and their fourth-place OVC tie was their highest conference finish since the 1999-2000 NCAA tournament squad earned a share of the regular-season title.
"I feel like we've made progress. We still have a long way to go, but we're excited about the direction we're headed," said Nutt, who inherited a program saddled with NCAA probation and coming off a 3-27 campaign that featured a winless OVC season.
Southeast had two representatives on the 10-player preseason all-OVC team, junior forward Tyler Stone and senior guard Marland Smith.
"I'm a big proponent of our players receiving all the accolades they can get. But I will also tell them it's only preseason," Nutt said. "But I'm proud of those guys. They're two of our leaders and two of our hardest workers."
Stone led the Redhawks in scoring and rebounding last year. He earned second-team all-OVC honors and arguably was the league's top newcomer after transferring from Missouri.
Stone averaged 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds to rank ninth and third in the conference, respectively. He also was fifth in blocks (34) and sixth in field-goal percentage (53.0).
"We feel he's one of the best players in the league. He's our go-to guy," Nutt said.
Smith, the only fourth-year senior on the team, has played in every game during his Southeast career.
Smith was Southeast's second-leading scorer last season at 12.3 points per game and top 3-point shooter with 39.9-percent accuracy that ranked sixth in the OVC. He was sixth in the league with 63 3-pointers. He ranked first on the squad with 28 steals and third with 76 assists.
Smith is 16th on the school's career scoring list (1,089 points) and third in career 3-pointers (188).
"Marland has been a tremendous student-athlete at Southeast, and he does things the right way," Nutt said. "You can always count on him. He's been our foundation guy."
Murray State led the West Division voting, picking up 22 of 24 first-place votes and 132 total points (coaches and sports information directors were not allowed to vote for their own squads).
Southeast earned the remaining two first-place votes and 108 points. Austin Peay (92), SIU Edwardsville (73), Eastern Illinois (49) and Tennessee-Martin (38) rounded out the West.
First-year OVC member Belmont garnered 21 of 24 first-place votes and 131 points as the East Division favorite.
Tennessee State received the other three first-place votes and 109 points, followed by Tennessee Tech (87), Morehead State (77) and Eastern Kentucky (56).
Due to an NCAA Academic Progress Rate penalty, Jacksonville State is ineligible for the OVC and NCAA tournaments this season and was not included in the preseason voting.
Murray State All-American senior guard Isaiah Canaan is the OVC preseason player of the year. He is the conference's reigning player of the year.
Second-year Southeast women's coach Ty Margenthaler, despite the OVC preseason poll, is optimistic as he continues the task of rebuilding a floundering program.
The Redhawks went 7-22 overall and 4-12 in OVC play last season, finishing 10th in what was an 11-team league and missing the conference tournament for the third straight year. They are a combined 22-64, including 12-40 in the OVC, during that stretch.
"Preseason polls are a bit of guesswork," Margenthaler said. "I believe in the team that we have, and I think we will show a tremendous amount of improvement from last year."
The Redhawks return three starters among six letterwinners, and they have added five newcomers.
Defending OVC regular-season and tournament champion Tennessee-Martin received 19 first-place votes and 129 points to top the West.
Eastern Illinois nabbed the other five first-place votes and 113 points, followed by SIU Edwardsville (86), Murray State (77), Austin Peay (47) and Southeast (39).
Tennessee Tech picked up 15 first-place votes and 121 points to lead the East. Eastern Kentucky received six first-place votes and 108 points. Belmont nabbed three first-place votes and 86 points.
Morehead State (69), Tennessee State (68) and Jacksonville State (40) rounded out the East.
Tennessee-Martin junior guard Heather Butler is the OVC preseason player of the year.
* Southeast's men will have their second public intrasquad scrimmage at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Show Me Center. There is no admission charge.