Now that 2013 has arrived, Northwest Missouri State's men's basketball team will have several chances to prove its mettle in a hostile environment.
The Bearcats play three straight and six of their first seven games in January away from home, with the first of those taking place tonight against Missouri Southern in Joplin at 7:30 p.m.
This is Northwest's first true road game of the year after playing 11 home or neutral site games in November and December.
"I think it will tell us where we stand on the road," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Ben McCollum. "The road is totally different than being at home. You have to handle adversity a lot more. You have to be a lot more positive. You have to handle runs. There are things you have to do to compete and win on the road and we haven't been exposed to that except for Hawaii. I guess we'll see how we respond."
The Bearcats and Lions are meeting for the first time since last year's dramatic regular season finale in Maryville that determined a share of the MIAA title.
Northwest won that game 67-64 after losing to the Lions 84-76 earlier in the year.
The Bearcats are 0-3 against Southern at the Leggett and Plett Center during McCollum's tenure.
Northwest brings a 9-2 record into play and is one of four teams at 2-0 in the league.
The Bearcats were undefeated and ranked No. 10 nationally before losing back-to-back games in Hawaii to St. Edward's and Harding. They closed out their non-conference schedule with a 79-59 win over Central Methodist Saturday at Bearcat Arena.
All-MIAA point guard DeShaun Cooper has missed every game to this point with knee tendinitis issues and won't play tonight or Saturday against Pitt State, according to McCollum.
"I still think we're missing some leadership that we really need to improve," said McCollum. "Some of our energy needs to improve. We've been trying to do that this week and we'll try throughout the season."
Missouri Southern (6-3, 1-0) is riding a three-game win streak that followed a string of three straight losses.
The Lions have played just one conference game and beat Truman State 70-56 Dec. 8 in Kirksville.
An NCAA Tournament team each of the last two years, Southern graduated first team All-MIAA selection Jason Adams and MIAA Player of the Year Keanne Thomann.
Without them, the Lions have not been nearly as good offensively.
They rank 14th in the MIAA in points per game, 14th in field goal percentage and 15th in three-point percentage.
Southern has improved its defense, giving up just over 63 points per game.
Page 2 of 2 - "It's similar to how we play without DeShaun where we have to play together, we have to move the basketball," said McCollum. "Defensively, you have to rely on getting stops and not making mistakes."
Junior guard Marquis Addison is Southern's top scorer and ranks seventh league-wide with 16.7 points per game. He's also second in the MIAA in steals. Junior forward Jordan Albert averages 13.3 points per game and a team-high 7.3 rebounds per game.
Thomann's replacement at center, 6-8 redshirt freshman Greg Renfroe, averages 8.2 points per game. Sophomore forward Stephen Atkinson is scoring 8.1 points per game.
"We're good against traditional teams," said McCollum. "They're going to play super small. It makes it difficult for us to defend. We got to be able to expose it, keep the game in the halfcourt and see if we can get a win."
Northwest ranks second in the MIAA in scoring defense (59.5 ppg) and is among the best three-point shooting teams.
Senior wing DeAngelo Hailey (14.7 ppg), senior guard Alex Sullivan (13.5 ppg) and junior center Dillon Starzl (13.1 ppg) are the team's three leading scorers.
Starzl ranks third in the MIAA in field goal percentage (.583) and Sullivan is first in made three-pointers with 34.
Point guard Matt Wallace is the MIAA's second leading assist man with six per game.