Questions abound with start of Southeast basketball

Sunday, November 3, 2002

Although the games won't count on their records, Southeast Missouri State University's 2002-03 basketball teams will test themselves against outside competition -- as well as show themselves to the public -- for the first time this week.

Southeast hoop fans are probably curious to take a look at both squads in those home exhibition games that have the women playing St. Louis Goldstar Friday night and the men facing Missouri-Rolla Saturday night

On the men's side, fans are no doubt wondering just how much the Indians have done to improve themselves after the bottom fell out on coach Gary Garner's previously strong program last year with a 6-22 record and an eighth-place Ohio Valley Conference finish.

There figures to be solid improvement, although probably not nearly as much as the Indians' rabid fans would like.

But junior-college transfers Brandon Griffin and Reggie Golson -- who is still recovering from minor knee surgery and won't begin practicing for about another week -- should bolster the inside game and a year's experience should make all the returning players better.

With the OVC appearing to be balanced and wide open after the big three of Murray State, Tennessee Tech and Morehead State -- who look on paper like the class of the league -- there is a golden opportunity for any of a number of teams to slip into the all-important fourth spot that means a first-round game in the conference tournament.

While the Indians probably won't tear things up with their overall record -- they play a rugged non-conference schedule, and it's not often a team rises up from six wins to close to 20 in one year -- finishing fourth in the OVC is a very real possibility and would be quite an accomplishment, although it sure won't be easy.

On the women's side, fans have to be wondering if first-year coach B.J. Smith really will have the Otahkians challenging for -- and maybe even winning -- their initial OVC championship despite having an almost brand-new roster.

Smith seems to think that will be the case. And it's hard not to be infected by the young coach's genuine excitement and enthusiasm as he promises an up-tempo, in-your-face style of play.

Smith says the Otahkians will push the ball offensively and pressure full-court man-to-man defensively for only 40 minutes per game, unless the contest goes overtime. That's his humorous way of saying the Otahkians will put constant heat on the opposition with an entertaining style that he hopes will put plenty of fans in the stands.

Quite a few questions are sure to be answered during what looks to be, for a variety of reasons, an interesting season of Southeast basketball.

Congratulations to Southeast's women's soccer team for winning its second straight OVC regular-season title.

It can't be said enough just how tremendous a job coach Heather Nelson has done in building the program from scratch. In just four years, Southeast has become the OVC's premier women's soccer program.

Here's hoping the Otahkians will be able take one more step this year as they shoot for their first NCAA Tournament berth, which narrowly eluded them last season with an upset loss in the finals of the OVC Tournament.

For the second straight year, Southeast will host the four-team conference tourney Friday and Sunday.

Southeast held a classy reception and induction ceremony Saturday at the Show Me Center as the university honored the inaugural class of its new Athletic Hall of Fame that has been long overdue.

Personally, it was neat for me to mingle with and interview some of Southeast's all-time sports greats, many of whom I was meeting for the first time.

The regular season for area high school football teams is fast coming to a close, with the final games scheduled for this week.

Fittingly, a few local districts will feature winner-take-all games between squads that are 2-0 in their districts, which creates plenty of excitement.

One of those 2-0 teams is Fredericktown, which figures to be a big underdog against Dexter in the Class 3, District 1 finale.

But even if Fredericktown falls short, I don't think any coach in the area gets more out of his squad that Kent Gibbs, who year in and year out has the Black Cats defeating district teams that on paper they probably have no business beating.

With high school football winding down, that can only mean one thing.

Basketball practice begins Monday.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian

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