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January 29, 2013Southern Miss fans had high expectations when first year head coach Donnie Tyndall was hired. When the dynamic first year head man took over in Hattiesburg, make no mistake expectations were high, but most fans were not expecting the immediate result that Tyndall and his staff have produced in Hattiesburg.
The Golden Eagles are sitting at 17-4 (6-0, C-USA) and have pretty much run roughshod over C-USA competition up until this point.
Success is nothing new to Donnie Tyndall.
Before arriving in Hattiesburg, he spent six seasons at Morehead State guiding them to three post season appearances in the last four years including two NCAA tournament bids. His squad advanced to the third round in 2010-11, beating Louisville in the process. His teams also captured the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Championship twice (2009, 2011).
Despite having made the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance in a generation just a season ago, the cupboard wasn't exactly stocked when Tyndall and staff arrived in Hattiesburg.
Gone from the previous season was four of the top five scorers including starting point guard Angelo Johnson (9.5 ppg), forward Maurice Bolden (9.7 ppg), shooting guard LaShay Page (11.6 ppg) and guard Darnell Dodson (11.2 ppg).
The only major contributors back were starting guard Neil Watson (12.3 ppg) and forward Jonathan Mills (9.5 ppg). Cedric Jenkins and Rashard McGill were only minor role players a year ago.
In reality Tyndall inherited one of the most inexperienced teams in Division I basketball. Despite their successes a season ago Mills was undersized and Watson had already been told by one Division I program (Toledo) that he wasn't big enough to compete.
It would be sort of expected that some fans think that it's been an easy road for Tyndall and Crew, it hasn't been, but don't expect Tyndall to tell you that.
"The biggest thing for any staff is there is always an adjustment period, or a period of doubt." he explained.
"At some point every player on the team has questioned what we're doing," he continued. "That's natural it happens to every new staff."
Not only did Tyndall and his staff have to sell a new style of basketball and a different approach to the game to six returning players, he also had to figure out how to reach five incoming first year players, including three JUCO transfers. He also had to figure out a way to make room for three very talented Division I transfers who would have to sit out this season because of NCAA transfer rules.
"With any new guy, particularly JUCO's you don't really know what you have until the Christmas break," Tyndall said. "At that point you want them to start looking like the player you recruited them to be...It take a guy at least a semester to acclimate to this level.
" was the first of our new guys that really started to get what we wanted from him," he continued. "Then (Daveon) Boardingham and now (Michael) Craig...
"About a month ago the last couple of guys that we needed to buy in got on board," he said. "We've got them to just play for the program..."
The biggest part of the adjustment period is over for these young Golden Eagles, in route to their 17-4 start no opponent has scored more than 70 points against Tyndall's match-up zone defense and the Eagles are ranked 2nd nationally for steals.
In six Conference USA games the Eagles have posted an average margin of victory of 17.5 points per game.
"I didn't anticipate us being where we are with such a young team," he said. "I thought it would take us until our second year to be where we are."
When you talk to Tyndall about why the Eagles have made as much progress as they have in such a short period of time a number of factors play into the end result but two things stick out more than others.
The first is the ability to practice as a high level. Talented transfers Chip Armelin (Minnesota), Aaron Brown (Temple) and Johnny Zuppardo (Arkansas St.) may not be able to play for the Eagles this year but they provide the foundation for one of the best scout teams in college basketball.
The second is the work of strength and conditioning coach Ben Sowders.
"It's been huge," Tyndall said. "Ben has done a great job."
Sowders a former line-backer at Western Kentucky was brought on by Tyndall to focus specifically on the needs of the basketball programs.
"I felt like we had to have someone who wants to work with our team," he said. "Ben is an energetic guy who has a passion for his job."
By blending the old with the new, instilling confidence in a very young squad and coaching players up Tyndall has something special rolling in Hattiesburg this year.
If you take a look at the team stat sheet, you won't see super star numbers at any position but if dig a little deeper one stat will jump out at you.
Southern Miss has ten players who average 12 or more minutes per game, and this ability to constantly rotate as many as five players in and out of games has paid huge dividends for the Eagles this season.
With various publications and prognosticators projecting once again as an NCAA Tournament team it's hard to imagine just what Tyndall can accomplish at Southern Miss after he finishes his "adjustment period".
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