Cougars, welcome to the OVC.
SIU Edwardsville (which doesn’t have a hyphen. They’ll nail you on that!) will be in their last year of transition to Division I this season, meaning they’ll play a full conference schedule but are ineligible for tournament play.
If you don’t know much about the Cougars, you’re not alone. Last season, they were the OVC’s whipping boy in most of their conference matchups, save their late season home games against UT Martin and the ever so inconsistent Racers. They did win 4 games against D-I schools, but only one of those teams, Citadel, was in the top-300 in the RPI. (and just barely, at 294)
But before you think the Cougars are destined for a 0-win conference campaign, their RPI last year was rather comparable with the bottom 4 of the conference: SIUe’s RPI ranking was 328, UTM was 290, SEMO was 306, EIU was 314, and Jax St. was actually worse, at 331. Now as a note, SIUe played and lost to both UTM and SEMO last season, but did not play EIU or Jax St.
The Cougars graduate 3 players, but their top 2 scorers, Cornelius Chatt and Corey Wickware return for their senior years, as does freshman standout Michael Messer. They are losing their best big man, 6’10” Nikola Bundalo. The Cougars are bringing in 3 JUCO players, including Derien Shieffer, the likely replacement for Bundalo.
I would be curious to know what expectations are for this team in Edwardsville. A top-heavy conference like the OVC is well suited to transitional teams, as it provides both opportunities to play great and not-so-great teams. Could this team pull some upsets, absolutely.
In one more year, the OVC is about to get a big shakeup. SIUe will be eligible for the tournament, and Belmont will try to start making it’s mark on the OVC. While everyone is talking about the Bruins, SIUe is sliding in under the radar. Does it make them a dangerous team? Probably not. But they’re not one that teams can look past on their schedule either.