Editor's note: This is the second in an occasional series this summer looking at college sports in the commonwealth at schools other than Kentucky and Louisville.
When Donnie Tyndall has headed down to Main Street in Morehead this summer to sample the pizza at Pasquale's, he has noticed something different.
"I see more people wearing Morehead State shirts and caps in there than UK stuff," the Morehead men's basketball coach says. "It's pretty neat."
That is hardly all that's changed since last season, when the school made its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 25 years.
Never miss a local story.
Since last March when MSU beat Alabama State in the dreaded NCAA tourney "play-in" game, then put up a dignified fight before falling to No. 1 overall seed Louisville, Tyndall says things have "been a little bit of a whirlwind."
A middle school camp in Ashland. The Bath County Chamber of Commerce. The American Cancer Society in Morehead. A pre-testing rally at a Mount Sterling elementary school.
Those are just a few of the post-NCAA public appearances Tyndall has made.
"When you come into a program that has struggled, this is exactly what you are trying to create," Tyndall said. "People are genuinely excited about what we did last year and what they think we can do next year."
What Morehead State did last year was rebound from an 0-6 start to win 20 games (20-16) in a men's hoops season for only the third time in school history.
The Eagles played one of the more electric games of the entire 2008-09 Kentucky college basketball season when they vanquished Austin Peay in a double overtime thriller in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament finals.
And even if it was against Alabama State in the play-in, Morehead's victory was still the first in the NCAAs for an OVC team since 1989.
As sweet as all that was, "we can't be looking back at last year," says Tyndall, who was a Dick Fick-era point guard at MSU. "I know this sounds like coach-speak, but that's how complacency is born."
Going forward, Morehead has six of its top seven players back. Best among them is emerging junior big man Kenneth Faried (13.9 points; 13.0 rebounds).
Tyndall says the bouncy, 6-foot-8 New Jersey product is spending his summer in Morehead hitting the weights.
"He started last season at 218 (pounds), then was down to 213 by the time the year was over," Tyndall said. "He's up to 222 now and we're hoping he can get up to 225-230 by the time next season starts."
Veteran perimeter players Maze Stallworth, Brandon Shingles and Demonte Harper will all be back for Morehead. Ty Proffitt, the former South Laurel guard who is eligible after sitting out last season following a transfer from Notre Dame, will join the mix.
The lone departure from last year's top seven is undersized (6-5) but crafty power forward Leon Buchanan. As the team's leading scorer (15.1), he is a big loss.
Les Simmons, a 6-7 forward who sat out last season as a redshirt, and David Terrell, an incoming junior-college transfer who, at 6-4, 215 pounds is built like Buchanan, are expected to vie for the vacant four spot.
MSU will open its season Nov. 13 in Rupp Arena against Kentucky in what might be John Calipari's first official game as UK coach. Going into Tyndall's fourth year as Morehead head man, "the one thing we haven't done yet is win the conference regular-season title," he says. "So that's a goal we've set."
Another is becoming the first team in Morehead history to win 20 games in back-to-back seasons.
Of course, in a single-bid league like the OVC, all that ultimately matters is winning the conference tournament because that is the only thing that gets you to the NCAAs.
What playing in last season's Big Dance — and returning so many players from that team — means for Morehead State in the coming season is dealing with an alien issue: the pressures of high expectations.
Rather than flee from those, Tyndall says, MSU is embracing big dreams.
"Our players' goal is to play in the Final Four next year," Tyndall said.
There is certainly audacity in that hope.
No OVC team has made college basketball's final weekend since Western Kentucky did it in 1971. That is also the last time an OVC member won two games in one NCAA tourney.
A Final Four "is certainly a lofty goal," Tyndall said with a wry chuckle. "Probably we should just say the sweet 16. But you know what, who am I to squash our kids' dreams?"