By Joseph Myers
Special To The Ledger-Enquirer
Going into the 2012-13 season, there was reason for optimism surrounding the Columbus State men's basketball program.
The year prior, the Cougars had made a late-season run to the Peach Belt Conference tournament and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time under coach Robert Moore. But the Cougars instead took a step back, going 13-13 and missing out on the PBC tournament, which it hosted.
However, that season is behind Moore and the rest of the Cougars and they tip off the 2013-14 season tonight at 7:30 when they host Carver Bible College at the Lumpkin Center.
"Practice so far has been tough," Columbus State junior Jermaine Morgan said. "We're trying to prepare for a long season in a conference where the level of play is high. I really like the group of guys we have."
CSU returns only five players from last year's team and welcomes nine newcomers, so Moore has been spending a good amount of time this preseason figuring out what combinations of players work together best.
"Practice has gone pretty good," said Moore, who is starting his fourth season as CSU's coach with a 42-40 record (26-27 in the conference). "The guys have been practicing hard. We're trying to get our chemistry together and while that's come along pretty well, we still feel like it's a work in progress. We're still working on doing the little things better, like taking charges and boxing out. We've been watching a lot of film trying to get better."
One benefit of having so many new players is that the Cougars have more depth at each position, including point guard, where CSU's lack of depth last season was badly exposed when starter Winford Ivey broke his jaw and missed over half the season. The Cougars' struggles during that time cost them a spot in the conference tournament and Morgan hopes the big recruiting class will hopefully avoid a repeat of last year.
"We recruited two or three people at every position, so if somebody gets hurt, somebody else will step in for them," said Morgan. "The next guy up may not be as good as the starter, but he'll still be good enough to get the job done."
Morgan said one of the things he and his teammates can do to improve upon their middle-of-the-pack finish from last season is to improve their effort on the defensive end of the floor.
"We need to be strong defensively and we've been emphasizing that in practice," said Morgan, who averaged 7.3 points and just over five rebounds per game last season. "Anyone can make a basket, but the question is whether you can make a stop on the other end. That's what separates the good players from the great ones. The great ones will stop you from making that shot on the other end of the floor."
Columbus State was picked seventh out of 14 teams in the Peach Belt Conference's preseason coaches poll, receiving votes for anywhere from fifth to 11th. Moore said if his squad is to return to the upper half of the PBC standings this season, it just needs to take care of business and stay healthy.
"We have to stay healthy," said Moore. "That's the biggest thing to start with. We have the potential to be a great team, but we need to do things like make the extra pass to get an open shot, box out on both ends of the floor and play good defense.
"Those things make the difference between a good team and a great team. We also can't lose our focus and lose to teams we shouldn't, especially at home. If we can keep from doing that, I think we have a good chance to get back to where we were two years ago."