A Conference USA school will make a rare visit to the Show Me Center tonight
Nonconference scheduling for college basketball teams is never easy, especially for mid-to-low-major programs who often find it difficult to arrange home games with opponents their fans find attractive.
That's why Southeast Missouri State coach Dickey Nutt is excited about SMU's visit to the Show Me Center.
The Redhawks (4-6) and Mustangs (5-4) square off at 7 p.m. today in the completion of a two-year contract that saw Southeast visit SMU last season. The Mustangs won that matchup 71-59 in Dallas.
"It's always tough to schedule quality opponents at home. We felt very fortunate we were able to get a Conference USA team to come to the Show Me Center," Nutt said. "It's a big game for us. Any time you play a Conference USA opponent you're stepping up in competition. Hopefully we'll have a good crowd."
Nutt is proud of Southeast's nonleague home schedule that also has featured Miami of Ohio from the Mid-American Conference in a return game from a BracketBuster meeting.
"I feel like we've had some quality opponents come to the Show Me Center this year," Nutt said.
The Redhawks have fared well at home, posting a 4-1 record. The lone defeat was in their most recent outing, 74-69 to Missouri-Kansas City on Dec. 10. Southeast was off last week for finals.
Southeast has not been able to win on the road, going 0-5. The Redhawks will have a chance to break that streak Thursday when they travel to Sacramento State in a return from last year's BracketBuster.
Southeast figures to have its work cut out against SMU, which had a three-game winning streak snapped Thursday with a 59-58 loss to Jackson State.
SMU is coming off a 20-15 season that included an 8-8 Conference USA record.
"They're a good team that plays in a very good conference," Nutt said.
Defense has been one of the Redhawks' biggest deficiencies. Opponents are shooting 46 percent from the field, including 42.6 percent from 3-point range.
The Mustangs feature two elite 3-point marksmen in 6-foot-8, 220-pound senior forward Robert Nyakundi and 6-3 junior guard London Giles.
Nyakundi is the top returning 3-point shooter in the nation, having hit 49.7 percent a year ago. This season he's making 46.2 percent from beyond the arc (24 of 52). He's leading SMU with averages of 15.2 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Giles is shooting 41.9 percent from 3-point range (18 of 43) and is SMU's No. 2 scorer with a 12.7 average.
SMU is not a prolific offensive team, averaging 61.4 points per game, but the Mustangs are strong defensively, allowing just 58.9 points a contest.
The Redhawks will be looking to improve and gain momentum in their next two games before they begin Ohio Valley Conference play Dec. 28 at home against defending OVC tournament champion Morehead State.
"Our record is not where we want it to be, but I still feel good about our basketball team," Nutt said.