Buffs brace for tourney competition

By Matt Hill
STAR Staff

   Even though it's not quite March yet, the madness begins today and Thursday for the Milligan College men's and women's basketball teams.
   The Appalachian Athletic Conference Tournament starts today at Virginia High School. Action continues there on Thursday, then the tournament moves to King College for the weekend.
   Judging by how the season has gone, I personally feel both teams have a chance to be playing in the last two days of the tournament.
   The women could legitimately win the whole thing. The Lady Buffs have now won 12 out of their last 14 games, and have earned the fourth seed in the tournament.
   Milligan received a bye in today's first round, and will play the Brevard-Bluefield winner at 12 noon on Thursday.
   With the way the team has played in recent weeks, that fourth seed has to be misleading. Milligan has peaked at the right time, and nobody is playing better basketball in the AAC right now.
   The Lady Buffs have been solid defensively all year, but Kari Stout was the only one stepping up on the offensive end in the early going. As a result, Milligan started slowly.
   But things changed midway through the season, as players like Kristin Kerkvliet, Ginny White, Joy Clark, Amanda Greene and Amanda Hammons have helped take the load off Stout.
   Clark and Lacy York have provided depth coming off the bench, and all of these things have led to a successful turnaround.
   The Lady Buffs have defied the odds in 2003. They were picked seventh in the preseason conference coaches poll, so Rich Aubrey is definitely a good candidate for Coach-of-the-Year in this league.
   It's probably been awhile since the fourth-seeded team in the tournament could be considered one of the favorites, but it's how you play in February that strikes fear in the heart of opposing teams.
   If the Lady Buffs do make it to the weekend, keep in mind that Aubrey knows how to coach in the postseason. I'm sure he will remind his team of the tradition Milligan College has.
   As for the men, they're a Jekyll and Hyde type of group. Milligan has several wins over some of the top teams, and has struggled against some of the bottom teams.
   The men ended up with the fifth seed due to Bluefield having to forfeit some games. Milligan will take on Covenant today at 5:15 p.m. A win will pit the Buffs against Tennessee Wesleyan at 10:15 a.m. on Thursday.
   The Buffs have two wins over Montreat and a victory over Tennessee Wesleyan this season, two of the top teams in the conference. With that being said, the Buffs could be a threat if they can just get by Covenant.
   In the two squads last meeting, Milligan barely escaped with a victory. An effort like that today could mean an early exit.
   Wins in this tournament will pretty much be based on which team shows up. I firmly believe the Buffs can win the whole tournament if they play like they did against some of the top teams this year.
   Jonathon Harris, Michael Morrell and Craig Emmert have carried the scoring load for most of the year, but players like Marc Curry and Roy Richmond are starting to emerge more on the offensive end, and that may be a good sign.
   Defensively, the Buffs have looked good at times. Other times, it's been a struggle.
   The Buffs will have to put together good games on both sides of the basketball in order to have a chance.
   But like Aubrey, Tony Wallingford knows how to coach in the postseason. His teams have been there before, so the Buffs have to be considered a threat.
   It should be an interesting week in Bristol. And these two squads may just be there for the duration.