Normally, I’ve put my predictions at the end of these posts. But this time, I’m going to start off with one: The Redhawks will be one of the most improved teams in the OVC next season.
It’s a very bold claim for a team that has only 19 wins in their last 3 seasons combined. This past year, SEMO continued their rise from a 3 win campaign in the ’08-’09 season, to a 10-22 record, despite an 0-10 start. They doubled their OVC win total, made the tournament and pulled off a first round upset of Eastern Kentucky before falling the in quarterfinals to Austin Peay. I’d stop short of calling it a “successful” season, but it’s huge step up from where the team was when Dickey Nutt turned over the team two years ago.
So, why the optimism? First, SEMO graudates only two seniors. Returning for the Redhawks is leading scorer and standout forward Leon Powell. Powell was a 63% shooter last season who absorbed fouls…shooting 205 free throws. He also dished out quite a few fouls of his own, fouling out of 8 contests last season. His free throw shooting is lso in need of a tune-up, as Powell hit just 53% from the line. But he was 2nd in the league in rebounds, 8th in the OVC in scoring and 4th in blocks, while in the top 10 for minutes played per game. With Kenneth Faried gone, he has the potential to be the best post player in the conference next year.
He’ll be joined in the front court next season by Missouri transfer Tyler Stone. Stone, who will have 3 years of eligibility at SEMO, is a 6’7″ forward out of Memphis. He didn’t have much playing time while with the Tigers, but did play in 12 games his freshman year.
In the back court, Nick Niemczyk is recovering from a knee injury early this season, but averaged 13 points a game off the bench for the Redhawks in 5 games. He should be joined by rising freshman Lucas Nutt, who was 5th in the OVC in assists and 6th in 3-point percentage.
Much like the other teams at the bottom of the conference, scoring was a problem for the Redhawks last year, but not to the extent it was for EIU and Jax State. SEMO averaged 66 points a game, good for 8th in the conference. What really set SEMO apart, and not in a positive way, was their defense. The Redhawks allowed over 71 points a game, 2nd worst in the conference. They were also dead last in the conference in steals and turnover margin; while SEMO didn’t really turn the ball over too often, they only forced 12 a game, once again lowest in the OVC. If they are going to make the jump in the conference, their defense must perform better, plain and simple.
I already made one bold prediction, but I’ll go ahead an make two more about the 2011-12 season for SEMO. First, the Redhawks will be a 20-win team. Second, they will receive at least a bye in the 2012 OVC Tournament. All the pieces are there for SEMO to turn the corner, and with some defensive help, and barring another injury plagued campaign, SEMO could be a team to watch out for in the OVC next season.