TSU controls own destiny,

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 16, 2000

must finish up on the road


Sports Editor

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The jockeying for conference position has begun in earnest and the Troy State Trojans find themselves in an unfamiliar position at the top of the heap.

Since week one of the Trans America Athletic Conference schedule the Trojans have been on top. They rattled off six straight TAAC wins to start the season before losing to Georgia State, then held off all comers before dropping two more, this time in a row. Those two losses gave the teams just under them in the TAAC race a chance.

Now the talk has begun. Questions like – What does this team and that team have to do to come away with the regular-season championship? Which team has the momentum going into the TAAC Tournament?

Most of that talk centers around Troy State and wether or not they will falter down the home stretch giving some other team the chance to pounce on the lead. That kind of fall is definitely a possibility with the kind of schedule the Trojans must face.

Troy State must take to the road in its final three games to finish out their season. They must face Mercer this Saturday, then they face Jacksonville State who is second in the conference and Samford who is tied for third.

Ask TSU head coach Don Maestri and he won’t feed you any lines about how hard it’s going to be on his squad. He just wants to use that age old adage of taking it one game at a time. And why not? His team isn’t chasing anyone, they’re just trying to do what they’ve done all year – win.

"I haven’t thought about it a whole heck of a lot because when you’re in our position I think you can think about it to much," Maestri said. "It’s in our hands and we don’t have to depend on anyone else. The best thing to do is think about just winning our next game. If we can just continue just looking at the next game like we’ve done all year, we’ll be okay. Right now the Mercer game is so important because it keeps us in this position if we play well."

Those with a direct chance at stealing the No. 1 spot out from under Troy State’s feet are Jacksonville State, Samford and Georgia State. They all have favorable schedules when compared to the Trojans’, but they have to hope for a TSU loss if they are even to have a chance.

"It seems to me that it probably favors Jacksonville State looking at it from an independent point of few," Maestri said about the race for first in the final two weeks of TAAC basketball. "They have the one game on the road, that will be tough against Central Florida and then have two games at home against us and Mercer. We have to play all three of our last games on the road. If you look at it totally from the home-court advantage viewpoint then I would think Jack State would be in the better position."

Still, the other side of it just that, Troy State doesn’t have to concentrate on what anyone else is doing, just what they are doing.

"Jacksonville State is having to look at all sorts of different combinations of us having to lose and them win, we just have to keep our focus and work on the next game," Maestri said. "We’ve heard all the talk and everyone is giving us the different combinations, but the best thing for us to do is try to beat Mercer and maintain our position.

"From a coaching standpoint I just think it’s a mistake to look at all the different combinations," he added. "We have to focus on Mercer because that game is key. That game puts all the marbles in at next Thursday’s game against Jacksonville State."

And that’s the key. Beat Mercer, then go play for the conference title at arch-rival Jacksonville State. How hard is that? I mean the Gamecocks could slip up themselves and make it even easier on TSU, but just win the next two and you not only win the regular-season TAAC championship, but you have the easiest road to the Tournament championship game and the ultimate prize – an automatic bid to the bid dance baby.