NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The TranSouth Athletic Conference men's basketball battles will begin on Thursday, January 7 at 8 p.m. with four games TranSouth conference matchups. All four games on Thursday's opening night will feature competitive games.
One of the possible top match-ups will take place in Nashville where NAIA No.
13 Trevecca (8-4) will host Winston
Bennett's Mid-Continent University Cougars (7-7). The Trojans were unranked in the
preseason NAIA poll, but moved into the top 25 after a 8-1 start. The Cougars
were receiving votes in the preseason NAIA poll, but dropped out after going
7-7 in what anyone would consider a tough preconference schedule.
Another game of interest is the Bethel Wildcats (8-6) matchup at preseason favorite and No. 19 Union (9-5) in Jackson, Tenn. The host Bulldogs started the season 8-2 and were ranked No. 10 in the NAIA preseason top 25. Jeff Britt's Wildcats started the season 5-1.
Two teams looking to get an early jump in the conference race will meet in Batesville, Ark. The Cumberland Bulldogs (4-9) will travel to play the Lyon Scots (3-8).
The Blue Mountain Toppers (0-16) will make the drive up to Henderson, Tenn. to play Jason Shelton's Freed-Hardeman Lions (7-5). Jerry Connor's Toppers have been noticeably better, despite missing out on the desired break-through win. The Lions, picked second in the preseason TranSouth coaches poll, started 7-1 - have fallen in their last four outings. Freed-Hardeman has played one of the toughest schedules to date in the NAIA.
Martin Methodist, receiving votes for the top 25 and the best overall record heading into conference play, gets the night off before starting conference play. The 11-2 RedHawks will visit Union on Saturday.
The conference had five teams ranked or receiving votes in the NAIA Preseason Top 25, there are still four ranked or receiving votes in the latest poll.
Each member school submitted a review of their teams' pre-conference play heading into TranSouth play.
BETHEL UNIVERSITY WILDCATS
MCKENZIE, Tenn. The Bethel mens basketball team went 2-1 in their final three games before the Christmas break to go 8-6 in the first half of the season. The Wildcats are working toward some consistency as they enter conference play.
The Wildcats played a tough fall schedule with Murray State, Kentucky Wesleyan, Lambuth, Truett-McConnell, Bellevue and Bethel College of Indiana.
Bethel gains the eligibility of Marcus McElrath, a 6-6 forward from Atlanta Georgia. Erin Harris has been a very pleasant surprise in the fall
"I think the conference is very balanced this season more than in previous seasons," said Head Coach Jeff Britt.
Donald "Trey" Harris was named TranSouth player of Week in the last week of play for the Cats. Harris is currently ranked No. 50 in the nation in total scoring. Andre Crudup is No. 47 in total assists.
As a team the Wildcats are No. 11 in the nation in total steals, No. 17 in total rebounds, No. 19 in steals per game, No. 19 in total assists and No. 34 in total scoring offense.
BLUE MOUNTAIN COLLEGE TOPPERS
BLUE MOUNTAIN, Miss. - Admittedly, a 0-16 pre-conference record heading into Tuesday night's home game against Williams Baptist College is a bit short of ideal, but Blue Mountain College coach Jerry Conner still believes things are looking up for the Toppers as they prepare for another challenging TranSouth season.
"Obviously, we're not proud of our record," says Conner. "But we are much more athletic than we have been, and when we decide to play hard for forty minutes we're much more competitive than we have been."
A trio of junior college transfers - Lakendrick McCullum, Renell Collins and Josh McCalmon - are leading the Toppers. McCullum is averaging 16.2 ppg and 9.4 rebounds per game, and has had eight double-double games. Collins is scoring at a 14.4 ppg clip and McCalmon has scored 11.4 ppg.
"We'll be a team no one can take lightly this time around," Conner said. "There are times when we've played really well and there have been other times when, well, we could have done better. I guess that's what happens when there are a lot of young players who've had to grow up fast, but we've got to become more consistent when we get into TranSouth play. We've got a really strong conference again this year."
CUMBERLAND UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
LEBANON, Tenn. - Three times in pre-conference play, the Cumberland University men suffered a three-game losing streak and managed just three wins before TranSouth play begins. Preseason All-American Brandon Springer, the league's scoring leader (22.23 points per game), is the only returning Bulldog from last year and has eight double-doubles in 13 games. Freshmen Walter Simon and Adrian Williamson are also both averaging double figures.
Head coach Lonnie Thompson commented on his assessment of the Bulldogs pre-conference play, "I thought we'd be a little closer to .500, but I think the season is basically starting over. I think we have a shot, outside of about three teams I think the rest of us are about the same - a little young and inexperienced."
Coach Thompson adds a few new pieces to improve the teams run in conference play, "We lost Reggie Holding for the year with a shoulder injury, which hurts us as far as depth is concerned. We are adding two new players, who will be eligible for the second half of the season. Lindal Yarbrough played at Middle Tennessee and will be able to help us out immediately at the point guard position, while Gershom Jordan is a big man that will help us down the stretch."
Two players have caught Coach Thompson's eye already this year, "I have been pleased with the way Lamar Brinkley and Walter Simon have played so far. They've come in come in and played well right away."
FREED-HARDEMAN UNIVERSITY LIONS
- The Lions (7-5) got off to a hot start, winning seven of their first eight
games, before hitting a four-game skid heading into conference play. FHU's
schedule has been among the toughest in the NAIA, with seven games against
teams in the NAIA Top 25 and another against Florida Southern College, the No.
2 ranked team in NCAA Division II. The losing streak took FHU out of the top 25
after the Lions reached No. 16, but they remain in the receiving votes
"I think we have played a solid schedule of national tournament caliber teams," said fifth-year head coach Jason Shelton. "Hopefully, that will prepare us for what is always a tough conference schedule."
Freed-Hardeman was picked to finish second behind defending conference champion Union (Tenn.) University in the pre-season coaches' poll, but as conference play approaches it appears that the race is wide open with several teams looking to be in the mix. The Lions open with Blue Mountain on Thursday, Jan. 7, at home and travel to Cumberland on the following Saturday before matching up with Union on Jan. 16.
"Conference play always brings an excitement and also some familiarity with teams," Shelton said. "It should be a wide-open race with strong games every night for the next two months."
The Lions have been led by senior center Zack Frey, a second team NAIA All-American in 2009. Frey is averaging 19.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game while shooting 61.7 percent from the field. Junior transfer Ken Bingham, who will likely miss the first week of conference play, is averaging 14.7 ppg while freshman Kyle Teichmann has been the team's top reserve, scoring 12.7 ppg.
LYON COLLEGE SCOTS
BATESVILLE, Ark. - The Lyon College Scots stumbled through the non-conference portion of their schedule at 3-8 due to a myriad of injuries and inconsistent play.
Lyon saw starting forward Alex Kelly, freshman guard Mike Steele and freshman forward Aaron Farris all go down with leg injuries. Kelly and Steele are expected to return to action some time during the TranSouth Conference slate, but Farris is out for the season.
One of the Scots' lone first-half highlights was an impressive 86-85 home victory over a then ranked College of the Ozarks club at Becknell Gymnasium. The Scots' only other wins have come against Ecclesia College and Williams Baptist.
Scots head coach Kevin Jenkins is hoping for a better 2010, "The Scots performance was a below what was expected, but injuries and experience were big factors in how the Scots played. We are looking for a turnaround this semester."
The road in the TranSouth will be tough again according to Jenkins, "The TranSouth conference looks to be strong again this year. Many of our teams have played well against quality opponents. We seem to always have an exciting race and this year's finish looks as up in the air as any."
MARTIN METHODIST COLLEGE REDHAWKS
PULASKI, Tenn. - The first half of the 2009-2010 season has been marked with "character-revealing" adversity for the RedHawks according to MMC Men's Basketball Coach Andy Sharpe. Because if you listen to Coach Sharpe during practice or in the locker room, adversity doesn't build character, it reveals character.
Though the RedHawks stand at 11-2 going into conference play, roster changes, injuries, and just some tough luck have played a major role in where this Martin Methodist College team is and where they are heading.
RedHawk head coach Andy Sharpe elaborated on the hurdles his team has faced, "To this point in the season we have experienced quite a bit of adversity. A couple of the guys we signed and had major roles designated for didn't pan out and then we lost two more major impact guys to injury. Luckily, we will get Chris Goodwin back here in January from a broken foot. We are also excited about starting the TranSouth slate and seeing our hard work and perseverance pay off."
"Tripp Howell, Jason Simon, and Marques Washington really elevated their games when we needed them to step up," commented coach Sharpe. "Without those three stepping up into more important roles, we'd be in a heap of trouble. Now that we've seen what these guys can do in expanded roles, it will only help our depth throughout the remainder of the year."
New faces will dot the RedHawks roster in January according to coach Sharpe, "The RedHawks have brought in a couple of new players to join the team through the conference schedule and post season. James Whitely, a 6-8 junior from Skyline College in San Francisco, Calif. will add depth and length to the RedHawk post game. Cory Perkins, a speedy 5-10 point guard, will make a major contribution to the RedHawk backcourt the remainder of the season."
MID-CONTINENT UNIVERSITY COUGARS
MAYFIELD, Ky. - Mid-Continent University head coach Winston Bennett planned the Cougars' pre-conference schedule just about right. "Our schedule is tough enough to prepare us for the TranSouth season," says Bennett, whose Cougars posted a 7-7 pre-conference record.
This season, MCU is 2-3 against nationally-ranked NAIA Division I teams (Dec. 14 poll), with a win and a loss against No. 9 Cumberlands, a narrow loss to No. 8 Pikeville, a loss to No. 18 Georgetown, and a win over Campbellsville (Ky.), which received votes toward the top 25. MCU also lost twice against Indiana-Southeast which ranks 7th in the NAIA Division II.
Last season through the first 14 games, which included four TSAC games, MCU went 5-9 after a 1-7 start. After a 5-2 start this season, MCU lost five consecutive games and then defeated Mount Vernon Nazarene and Ohio Dominican and won MVNU's Tournament to take positive momentum into the holidays.
"The top group of the TranSouth is as tough as ever," acknowledges Bennett, who knows there is no guarantee of repeating last season's 10-6 TSAC record and fourth-place finish, even with most of its roster returning. Trevecca Nazarene and Union University rank 13th and 19th respectively in the latest NAIA national poll, and Freed-Hardeman and Martin Methodist received votes for the top 25.
MCU begins the TSAC schedule, January 7, at Trevecca Nazarene and hosts Lyon College at the Mayfield High School Sports Arena, January 9, at 4:00 p.m.
Mid-Continent gains the services of senior forward Keiran Nunley (6-5, 210), who now is eligible to play in the second semester. Nunley averaged 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds with 42 steals in 2008-09, and was MCU's second-leading offensive rebounder and one of its most tenacious defenders.
Senior All-TSAC post player Kenny Thomas averages 15.5 ppg and 5.6 rpg with 15 blocked shots, and senior guard Donovan Willis averages 12.8 ppg and gives MCU considerable athleticism. Senior guard Aaron Pearson, the TSAC's steals leader last season, has 38 steals in 14 games this season and averages 7.7 ppg and 3.6 rpg with 33 assists. MCU's only sophomore, 6-8 forward Chris Ferguson averages 7.9 ppg and a team-best 8.7 rpg with 33 blocked shots, three double-doubles, and had a sensational 14-point, 26-rebound performance against Indiana-Southeast, November 24.
TREVECCA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - NAIA Number-13 Trevecca is 8-4 on the season will open the TranSouth Athletic Conference portion of its schedule on Thursday, January 7 at 8 p.m. when former University of Kentucky and NBA star Winston Bennett brings his Mid-Continent University Cougars to Moore Gym. The Cougars were picked third in the TranSouth Preseason Coaches' Poll and received one first place vote. Trevecca was picked sixth, but have the second best non-conference record.
Trevecca has produced quality wins over No. 14 Southern Nazarene, then No. 22 MidAmerica Nazarene, Point Loma Nazarene, and Webber International. Trevecca has four losses, all on the road - NAIA D2 No. 16 Warner, NAIA D2 No. 8 Cedarville, #RV Belhaven, No. 20 Tougaloo - to teams ranked or receiving votes for their respective top 25.
Trevecca coach Sam Harris is pleased with his teams play in the first semester.
"We are where I hoped we'd be. With the youthful nature of our roster and the high number of minutes they are playing, I don't think we could have expected much more this semester." Coach Harris continued, "I thought we had four good wins, three of those at home and all four of our losses were to teams ranked or receiving votes in their respective top 25 polls."
Trevecca's lone senior is Matthew Elliott. The TranSouth Preseason All-Conference selection is leading the team with 15.9 points per game and is approaching the 1000 career scoring mark. Michael France, the 2008-2009 TranSouth Freshman of the Year, is second on the team with a career-high 14.8 points per game average. France is just a few points shy of the 500 point career scoring mark. Keith Morris, a sophomore transfer from Lambuth University, has had an immediate impact with 11.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
Coach Harris was asked who on the team surprised him with their level of play during the pre-conference schedule.
"We had a lot of players provide some memorable moments, but freshmen Peyton Henry, Marquise Rudolph, and JP Nyadaro all made consistent plays on offense and defense that were helpful to the team. I wouldn't say that surprised me, but when you get the kind of quality minutes we did from those three freshmen I guess you'd have to be a little surprised."
Rudolph is averaging 8.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. The Clarksville product is second on the team with 38 assists. Henry has started all 12 games and has hit all seven free throw attempts while shooting 45% from beyond the three-point arc. Nyadaro leads the team with 6.5 rpg and is averaging 8.7 ppg.
Sam Harris, the dean of TranSouth coaches, believes this year will be no different in the conference race.
"Every game is going to be tough. You look at Coach Bennett's Mid-Continent team, they have played a lethal schedule and have some losses, but they might be the best in our league right now." Harris continued, "There are four to five teams that are good enough to be in the NAIA top 20 and another 2-3 teams that might make it into that group with an addition or two for the second semester. We saw Blue Mountain at the Belhaven Classic and they are much improved. It is going to be a dog fight every night in conference play. We feel like the schedule we played will help us for the rigors of the second semester."
As a team the Trojans rank highly in two NAIA shooting categories. The team is No. 4 in three-point percentage (44%) and No. 23 in field goal percentage (48%). The team is No. 13 in three-point field goal defense (28%) and No. 14 in field goal defense (39%).
Trevecca now has five international players. JP Nyadaro and Anthony Oduor from Kenya. Milos Macura and Srdjan Skundric from Serbia. Elija Brice from Haiti. All five have made an impact on the team this season. Nyadaro leads the team in rebounding and blocks while Macura has shown shot blocking and shooting skills at 6-11.
Trevecca has one addition to its roster for the spring semester. It's Srdjan Skundric, a 6-3 guard from Serbia. He played two years previously for American junior colleges, but didn't play collegiately a year ago as he attempted to make the Serbian Olympic team.
UNION UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
JACKSON, Tenn. - Coach David Niven, in his first season as Union's head coach, has continued to keep the Union Bulldogs as a presence in the national rankings and a contender for their second straight conference title.
After starting the season 4-3, Union is 5-2 in their last seven games heading into conference play. Union is 3-2 versus teams that are ranked. Union is 6-5 against teams that have been ranked or receiving votes as some point this year.
Niven recapped the early season play of the Bulldogs, "Our consistency has not been where we want. We've played quite well in stretches and poorly in others. That is something we must improve upon."
"I feel like it will be a very close conference race and there are a number of teams that could win it. For the first time since I can remember, we probably have about five teams that are capable of winning our league. For us to be in that group we'll certainly have to improve."