Opinion: Must see games for men’s basketball Division I debut


Photo by Quinton Watt

Jelani Simmons, senior guard, shoots over a player from Lindenwood University during the 2021-2022 season. Simmons is one of five returning players to the Division I lineup.

Eric Reynolds, Sports Writer

The men’s basketball schedule features a set of more well-known opponents after moving to NCAA Division I.

This will be the university’s first season as a Division I college. The change to DI comes after the Board of Trustees voted to transition from NCAA Division II to Division I Feb. 7. 

Basketball fans should be on the lookout for these games: 

University of Missouri, Nov. 7:

The Screaming Eagles start the season with a trip to the University of Missouri to face the Tigers at 7 p.m. CST.

Mizzou is a member of the Southeastern Conference. They are one of two Power 5 schools the Screaming Eagles will play this season along with Notre Dame. They enter the season at No. 41 in the Kenpom rankings following a disappointing 12-21 campaign. 

Not only is it the men’s first game, but it could also be their toughest matchup. The Tigers’ program went through several changes in the offseason. Mizzou parted ways with head coach Cuonzo Martin and brought in former player Dennis Gates as head coach.

The new coaching staff added five new players from the transfer portal. We do not know what to expect from the several new faces added to Missouri’s rotation.

One local connection: Mizzou’s new coaching staff includes Kyle Smithpeters, a 2001 Harrisburg High School graduate who spent the past 10 years leading John A. Logan College’s basketball program. Logan, a junior college in Southern Illinois, frequently scrimmaged USI.

Southern Illinois University, Nov. 13:

The first Division I game in the Screaming Eagles Arena will be against the Salukis of Southern Illinois University Nov. 13 at 3 p.m. CST.

The Salukis finished 16-15 last season after playing a difficult Missouri Valley Conference schedule. However, the Salukis failed to gain a national tournament berth after being eliminated from the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in the first round by Drake University.

SIU currently enters the season at No. 90 in the Kenpom rankings, making the Salukis the third-highest ranked team on USI’s non conference schedule.

One local connection: SIU senior guard Jawaun Newton transferred to the Salukis after playing at the local rival University of Evansville. 

Notre Dame University, Nov. 16:

The Screaming Eagles will play in this year’s Gotham Classic. The first game of the Round Robin tournament is against the Notre Dame University Fighting Irish Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. CST in South Bend, Indiana. This will be USI’s only nationally broadcasted game, carried by the Atlantic Coast Conference Network. 

Notre Dame’s ACC membership makes them the second of two Power 5 opponents on this year’s schedule. The Fighting Irish went 15-5 in conference play last season, clinching the No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament behind blue blood programs Duke University and the University of North Carolina.

The Fighting Irish are the only non-conference team on USI’s schedule that made the NCAA tournament last season. 

Notre Dame made it to the second round, beating Rutgers University in the First Four, gaining the 11 seed. They upset the 6-seed, the University of Alabama before being eliminated by the third-seed Texas Tech University. 

The Fighting Irish come into this season as the second-highest-ranked team USI will play, sitting at No. 43 in the Kenpom rankings.

One local connection: Notre Dame assistant coach Hamlet Tibbs was part of the coaching staff at the University of Vermont when it recruited the Duncan brothers from Evansville’s Harrison High School

St. Bonaventure University, Nov. 22:

The second game of the Gotham Classic is against St. Bonaventure University  Nov. 22 at 6 p.m. CST in Olean, New York.

St. Bonaventure is a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference and finished the 2022 season with a record of 23-10, making them the best team by record that USI is going to play in their non-conference schedule.

St. Bonaventure qualified for the National Invitational Tournament last season. In the NIT, the Bonnies had victories over the University of Colorado, Oklahoma University, and The University of Virginia before losing to eventual NIT champions Xavier University.

The Bonnies are ranked No. 119 in the preseason Kenpom rankings.

Indiana State University, Dec. 11:

The second home game against a Division I opponent comes against the Indiana State University Sycamores Dec. 11 at 3 p.m. CST. 

ISU is returning from an 11-20 season, along with a Missouri Valley Conference record of 4-14.

The Sycamores come into this season with a No. 135 ranking in the Kenpom rankings, almost 100 spots higher than they finished last season. 

This game does mark an important event in USI history. For the first time since USI separated from ISU in 1985, they will play each other in the same divisional standing. Learn more about USI’s separation from Indiana State here.

One local connection: Associate ISU head coach Matthew Graves was previously an assistant coach at the University of Evansville, and grew up in Switz City, where he starred at White River Valley High School.

Purdue University Fort Wayne (Dec. 19) and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (Dec. 20):

USI will participate in the first Indiana Classic hosted in Fort Wayne by Purdue University Fort Wayne. The round-robin event includes both the PFW Mastodons and the Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis Jaguars. It will take place Dec. 19-20. 

This non-conference schedule will be an early test for the men’s basketball team. If they are going to be competitive in the Ohio Valley Conference, then they will show promise in these games. These games will mark the end of the Screaming Eagles’ non-conference schedule. Learn more about the rest of the schedule here.