Preseason prognostications are part of the yearly ritual in college basketball. Some teams fail to meet expectations, others exceed them.
Coming into the 2011-12 season, Tennessee State (20-13, 11-5 OVC) was picked to finish fourth by the Ohio Valley Conference coaches and sports information directors. It was the first time in a several years that TSU was slated to finish in the upper echelon of the conference. But how would those expectations translate to victories on the basketball court?
The season didn't start off the way Coach John Cooper would have liked. The Tigers were limited to just 37 points in a season-opening 34-point loss at Saint Louis. TSU suffered another heart-breaking setback in a 52-49 loss at Western Kentucky.
Then a glimpse of promise was shown on Nov. 20. The Tigers put future opponents on alert after jumping out to a 33-19 halftime lead over South Carolina. A late charge by the Gamecocks wasn't enough as Tennessee State sealed a 64-63 win over USC --- the school's first in 24 tries over a Southeastern Conference opponent.
From there, another lull had hit. TSU dropped three out of the next four games, including a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to eventual SWAC Champion Mississippi Valley State.
But yet again, the youthful Tigers showed they could compete and win on a sustainable level. TSU roared through the remainder of the non-conference schedule and opened up OVC play with a convincing win over UT Martin.
Adjusting from home seemed to be a conundrum for the Big Blue. A three-game road stretch proved to be lethal as TSU dropped each contest and fell to 1-3 in conference play.
The Gentry Center's magic continued as the Tigers picked up two more wins at the comfortable confines. But again, the road woes continued with a 69-63 loss at Austin Peay despite the 30-point/15-rebound performance from Robert Covington.
Just three days later the entire complexity of the season changed. TSU snapped a nine-game losing streak to OVC opponents on the road with a hard earned 55-46 victory over Eastern Illinois.
That win propelled the Tigers to a nine-game win streak. Perhaps the most critical regular season game in school history - TSU faced Murray State on Feb. 9.
The Racers had done the improbable - a 23 game win streak and were the lone unbeaten team in the country. TSU came back from double-digit deficits and used a pair of critical turnovers to secure the 72-68 win over MSU. It was the first time the Tigers had ever defeated a ranked opponent - let alone a team ranked No. 7 nationally.
On the return to Nashville students rushed the bus when it arrived on campus. The next day, Coach Cooper had nearly 40 media interview requests and the Tigers had hit the national scene. It was just the beginning of a turning point for the TSU men's basketball program.
A 68-61 win over Miami Ohio in the Sears BracketBusters gave Tennessee State 19 wins for the first time in several years. But the 59-52 win over Morehead State in the OVC semifinals gave the Tigers a 20-win season - a first since 1978-79.
Tennessee State fell short, 54-52, to Murray State in the OVC Championship game. But the Tigers weren't done.
TSU earned a postseason bid to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) --- the school's third appearance in the Division I era and first since 1994-95. TSU lost to eventual CIT Champion Mercer in the first round.
Coach John Cooper was nominated for four National Coach of the Year Awards: Hugh Durham Award, Ben Jobe Award, Jim Phelan Award and John McLendon Award.
Junior forward Robert Covington earned All-OVC and HBCU All-American accolades. He also garnered the CollegeInsider.com's Co-MVP of the OVC. Covington ranks 17th in school history with 1,348 points and is 13th all-time with 693 rebounds. The Bellwood, Ill., product is seventh at TSU with 183 made triples.
Nashville's own Wil Peters closed out an illustrious career with 386 assists. The Whites Creek product logged 3,572 minutes --- the most during the last decade for any TSU player. Peters tallied 951 points in 125 games.
Several other Tigers compiled memorable seasons including sophomore Patrick Miller. The athletic guard tallied 10.8 points per game and dished out a team-best 118 assists.
Illinois State transfer Kellen Thornton earned OVC All-Newcomer recognition after posting 9.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in 32 games. The Tigers used the lethal long-range shot of Jordan Cyphers last season in crucial situations. Cyphers, a native of Witchita, Kan., boasted 44 made triples.
Senior Kenny Moore ended his two-year stint at TSU with 188 points, 78 rebounds and 34 assists last season. Moore was critical in TSU's upset over Murray State, logging 16 points and five rebounds in the victory.
As the close of the season, Coach Cooper accepted the head coaching vacancy at Miami (Ohio). On April 13, first assistant Travis Williams was elevated as the 16th head men's basketball coach at TSU. A new dawn has emerged at Tennessee State. With a strong vision and a steady direction, the Tigers look to climb even further to the top in 2012-13.
-- TSU Tigers --