Conference stands as true test for undefeated Bearkats

Year in and year out there is usually one program that shines above the rest, and for Sam Houston State, the Bearkat men’s basketball team has been the staple of consistency. From Bob Marlin’s team you can expect, at the very least, to compete for a conference championship every year.

With the second most wins in Texas, since the turn of the century, the program has claimed two conference championships (2000 and 2003), but of all the success they have had the past few years looks like it could be trumped by this year’s squad. This team could be the best squad this decade, starting 6-0 for the first time since 1980, for their most successful start to a season since joining the Southland Conference in 1987. The question remains, just how good is this team?

Nearly 5,000 Bearkat fans came out to see Bobby Knight and the Texas Tech Red Raiders play for the first time at Johnson Coliseum and after a 56-54 victory, sentiments were high towards Marlin’s squad. Though the Red Raiders may be a middle-of-the-road team in the Big 12, the Kats deserved the victory and were clearly the better team on the court that night. Then with a victory over Fresno State, an NIT participant last season, it gave more justification that this team may be a legitimate contender for a conference championship. Then there comes the game against Hardin-Simmons University, the Division III program.

Now in case you missed the game (and judging by the crowd, a lot of you did) let me describe the offense of the Cowboys. If you have seen the movie “Along Came Polly,” think of the scene where Philip Seymour Hoffman is playing basketball, thinking he can actually make a shot, asking for the ball and then proceeding to shout “let it rain” before firing a brick off the side of the backboard. Got that image in your head? That pretty much sums up Hardin-Simmons’ offense. They had no apparent plays or sets, just run up and down and fire shots off the side of the backboard. It’s tough to gauge the progression of a team against such an inept opponent.

But let’s not try to diminish any of the Bearkats’ victories; they are clearly better than the teams they are playing. But ultimately we won’t find out how good they are until conference play begins on January 9th. They haven’t been tested yet; the best two teams they have played so far (Fresno State and Texas Tech) have both been within their friendly confines in front of their home fans.

They have the talent and the coaching to win and their play justifies such assumptions. Ryan Bright is averaging a double-double (12.2 rebounds per game and 12.3 points per game), and seems poised to finish his career at Sam Houston State with “Southland Conference Player of the Year” to go along with his recognition as “Freshman of the Year” in 2005, while Shamir McDaniel is making all the big shots in the close games. They have played the way they should be, they are winning all the games they should be, but let’s not get caught up in talk of reaching the Sweet Sixteen just yet.

The season is still young and a lot can happen. Let’s see if their early season success can actually translate into something worthwhile later in the season. We’ll find out in ’08.

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