The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team had little trouble winning its two exhibition games.
Unfortunately for the Redhawks, those victories over Division II programs Ouachita Baptist and Henderson State by an average of 24.5 points don't count on their record.
What happens Saturday when the Redhawks open the season in a 7 p.m. tipoff at Alabama-Birmingham will count on their record. And it appears they will face a very formidable challenge.
Southeast opens its second campaign under coach Dickey Nutt against a UAB squad that went 25-9 while finishing third in Conference USA at 11-5 and reaching the NIT quarterfinals last year.
UAB is 70-32 the past three seasons and 85-48 in four years under Davis.
"Mike Davis, his teams are known for very hard-nosed, tough basketball," said Nutt, whose first Southeast squad went 7-23 overall and a ninth-place 3-15 in the 10-team Ohio Valley Conference. "They've always got big, strong athletes. Talk about tough. ... We better strap it up."
Senior guards Aaron Johnson and Jamarr Sanders are UAB's only returning starters.
The 6-foot-5 Sanders averaged 10.4 points and 4.9 rebound last year. The 5-8 Johnson, a preseason all-conference second-team selection, averaged 9.6 points and 4.8 assists.
"We feel like if we do everything right, we have a chance. We have two senior guards who we feel like can play with anybody in the country," Davis said. "Those two guys in the backcourt can really lead us this year.
"There is a lot of uncertainty with this basketball team from the standpoint of guys producing on the court. We have some young guys that haven't had a lot of playing time on the court, but we feel really good about their ability to contribute this year."
Southeast hopes for considerable improvement with a re-tooled roster that features just five returning players.
Touted junior forward Leon Powell, the jewel of Nutt's first Southeast recruiting class last year who missed the season with an injury, was the most impressive of the Redhawks in exhibition play.
Powell scored 36 points against Ouachita Baptist and 24 points against Henderson State. He hit 25 of 31 field-goal attempts, almost all from within a few feet of the basket.
"We feel like Leon is going to be an outstanding player for us," Nutt said.
Following Saturday's game, the Redhawks remain on the road to face Florida Gulf Coast on Tuesday night in Fort Myers, Fla.
Southeast, after returning to Cape Girardeau on Wednesday, will head back out on the road for a Nov. 20 matchup at Missouri-Kansas City before opening its home schedule Nov. 22 against Grambling State.
"Playing our first three on the road, we're going to learn real quick how to become a road team," Nutt said.
The contest at UAB is one of Southeast's three "guarantee" games this season, the others being at Arkansas and Iowa State. Southeast's athletic department is receiving $90,000 from UAB, $85,000 from Arkansas and $75,000 from Iowa State.
"Those money games are something we need to do," Nutt said.
Regardless of why the matchup with UAB was arranged, Nutt said the Redhawks aren't going to back down.
"We know it's a terrific challenge for us, but we look forward to it," Nutt said.