After playing its first eight regular season games in Maryville or St. Joseph, the No. 10 Northwest Missouri State men's basketball team is headed four time zones and over 4,600 miles away to play its next two.
The Bearcats take on St. Edward's at 5 p.m. (CDT) Saturday and Harding (Ark.) at 10 p.m. Sunday night in the Oahu Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Northwest is making its first visit to the Hawaiian Islands since the 2004-2005 season when it played in the Surf-N-Hoop Classic and went 2-0.
Current head coach Ben McCollum went to Hawaii with the 2003-2004 team as a grad assistant and again as an assistant coach with Emporia State.
"These trips are very tough," said McCollum. "They can really help you or they can really hurt you. If you lose, it hurts. If you win, then what it does is if you're fortunate enough to make a tournament at the end, it helps you eliminate distractions when that time comes because Hawaii is a big distraction. So if we're able to get two wins and eliminate the distractions, I'll feel confident going into a a conference or national tournament that we can eliminate distractions then as well."
Northwest flew out Wednesday night and will spend the next five days in Hawaii, giving them three off-days to play with.
McCollum says the Bearcats plan to spend a lot of their down time laying on the beach and enjoying the 80 degree temperatures in the middle of winter. He also brought up a trip to Pearl Harbor and a snorkeling expedition as likely off-the-court activities.
In his attempt to find other means of entertainment, McCollum was reminded of the trip's main purpose by former Northwest men's assistant Darren Vorderbruegge.
"I asked him what the No. 1 thing we need to do when we're out there as far as touristy stuff goes and he said 'win your games'" joked McCollum. "I responded 'yea, you're right.' He always has a way of keeping it pretty real with me. We're going up there to win two games and use it to our advantage."
Northwest (8-0, 2-0) is seeking a 10-0 start that would surpass last year's run of nine straight wins to open the season. The Bearcats are coming off a 90-60 blowout win over Nebraska-Kearney at Bearcat Arena—their most decisive of the season.
Northwest, which has won its first eight games minus All-MIAA point guard DeShaun Cooper, won't have him in the lineup in Hawaii either, but he will make the trip.
The Bearcats first Oahu Classic opponent, St. Edward's, brings a 6-6 record into play.
None of its 12 games have been against MIAA competition.
Page 2 of 2 - The Hilltoppers are averaging 71.4 points per game and giving up 70.3.
Their leading scorer s 6-7 senior forward Shimeek Johnson with 15.8 points per game. He's also their top three-pointer shooter, hitting 25 on the year.
Northwest's next game against Harding sets up as their most difficult.
Harding (6-2) was receiving votes in the NABC Top 25 Coaches Poll and beat St. Edward's 79-62 earlier this year. It's also beaten MIAA newcomer Northeastern State 65-63.
The Bison's only losses came in their last two games against East Central (Okla.) and Southeastern Oklahoma State.
On the season, they're averaging 75 points per game and shooting over 46 percent from the field.
Zach Roddenberry, a 6-8 senior forward, is among the top 25 scorers in the nation with 21.8 points per game. Bradley Spencer (13.0 ppg) and Hayden Johnson (12.6 ppg) are their other two main scorers.