The 15th-ranked Missouri Tigers begin their first season as a member of the SEC when they play host to the Cougars of SIU-Edwardsville on Saturday afternoon.
SIU-Edwardsville played its inaugural season as a member of the Ohio Valley Conference last year, and went 10-17 overall and 6-10 in league play to finish in ninth place. The Cougars are coached by Lennox Foster, who enters his seventh season with an overall record of 50-92. SIUE's last and only previous experience against the SEC resulted in back-to-back losses to South Carolina and Auburn at the start of the 1991-92 season.
Missouri went an eye-popping 30-5 last year, and won its final Big 12 Conference championship with a 90-75 victory over Baylor in tournament title tilt. As a result, the Tigers earned a No. 2 seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, but were bounced out by No. 15 seed Norfolk State, 86-84. Despite the early exit, first-year coach Frank Haith earned National Coach of the Year honors. Missouri is 37-1 in its last 38 home openers, and the Tigers have not lost a home game to a non-conference opponent since falling to Sam Houston State during the 2005 Preseason NIT.
These two teams are meeting for just the second time, with Missouri easily winning the first matchup during the 2008-09 season, 107-57.
SIUE is fortunate to have three returning starters back in the fold, including senior forward Mark Yelovich. The team's leading scorer last year when he averaged 15.1 ppg, Yelovich is also a solid rebounder (6.2 rpg). Joining the senior standout, who has more than 1,200 career points, up front are a couple of other veterans in Jerome Jones (12.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Derian Shaffer (7.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg), while the starting backcourt is expected to consist of sophomores Kris Davis (11.6 ppg) and Maurice Wiltz. Carelessness with the ball led to the Cougars' downfall on more than a few occasions last season, the team guilty of more than 15 giveaways per contest. SIUE did shoot the long ball well though, draining just shy of 40 percent of their three-point tries. This year's roster has no freshmen, making the Cougars one of only six Division I teams that can make that claim.
Despite a healthy amount of turnover (four lost starters, including a pair of NBA Draft picks), Missouri comes into this season with lofty expectations. Only three holdovers in all return, but the trio is worth getting excited about as Laurence Bowers (12.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Phil Pressey (6.0 ppg, 9.0 apg) and Michael Dixon have all earned All-Big 12 accolades in the past. Pressey was actually tabbed during this preseason as the media's pick for SEC Player of the Year. Add a slew of talented newcomers to the mix and it shouldn't surprise anyone if Missouri challenges teams like defending champion Kentucky and Florida for the top spot in the conference. For that to happen though, scoring is going to have to come from some unheralded sources, among them former UConn center Alex Oriakhi. Another guy to keep an eye on is Pepperdine transfer Keion Bell, who at 6-foot-4 brings a different dimension to the Mizzou backcourt, along with a collegiate scoring average of 16.4 ppg.
If healthy, Yelovich will likely lead the Cougars to a decent season, but there is little to suggest that the good times are going to start today. The Tigers win going away.