Team preview: Samford

Editor's Note: ESPN Insider has teamed with Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook to provide a comprehensive look at all 326 Division I teams. To order the complete 2006-07 edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, visit www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).

(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

Last March, Samford coach Jimmy Tillette was on the verge of his third NCAA Tournament bid and his first since the Bulldogs joined the OVC.

Samford led favored Murray State, 33-32, at halftime.

"Then our coaching kicked in," Tillette said.

He was joking, of course, but Samford, however, has no doubts about its coach. In nine seasons, Tillette has become the school's winningest coach, and he has done it largely by using the Princeton offense. He took the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament in 1999 and '00 as members of the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Samford awarded Tillette in August with a new contract extension through 2013, an addition of three years to his existing deal.

"I feel like I have one of the best jobs in the country," Tillette said after getting the extension.

Tillette hopes to take the program to the next step -- its first OVC championship. He will have to do it this season without OVC Player of the Year J. Robert Merritt.

"The scary thing is we lose J. Robert Merritt," Tillette said. "Not only was he player of the year, he was [OVC] athlete of the year. He did so many things for us. We'll try to replace him by committee. Nobody can step in and do what J. Robert did for us."

Merritt (17.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) was fifth in the league in scoring and 14th in rebounding. His .466 shooting percentage was eighth in the league, and he led the league in three-pointers per game (3.87) and three-point shooting percentage (.476). He was 120-of-252 from three-point range.

Merritt had a chance to play overseas, but decided to go into business.

"We can't replace J. Robert," Tillette said. "We won't have that luxury. Everybody will have to step up more."

While Merritt is gone, Tillette's roster is not devoid of talent and experience.