COLUMBIA, Mo. – Coach Frank Haith won't be there when Missouri opens its season at home against Southeastern Louisiana on Friday night.
The opener marks the start of a five-game suspension Haith received from the NCAA last month for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance while coaching at Miami.
"It's going to be pretty hard," he said. "You can imagine. It's something I've never experienced."
Haith won't be allowed to communicate with his team until after its Nov. 25 game against IUPUI. He'll also miss matchups with Southern Illinois, Hawaii and Gardner-Webb. Tim Fuller will take over as interim head coach.
"The most important thing is those 16 heartbeats in the locker room," said Fuller, who is getting his first head coaching experience. He arrived with Haith in 2011 and played at Wake Forest when Haith was an assistant with the Demon Deacons.
Missouri returns just one starter, Jabari Brown, for the second consecutive year, and less than 40 percent of its scoring, rebounding, assists and steals from a 23-11 campaign last season. Brown, a junior, averaged 13.7 points in 2012-13 while senior Earnest Ross added 10.3 off the bench.
The Tigers struggled in their second exhibition game Nov. 1 against Central Missouri, trailing 45-43 at halftime before recovering for a 92-79 win. Against Southeastern Louisiana, the team will be without senior forward Tony Criswell, who is suspended for violating team rules.
Haith and Fuller hope their reassembled team can find an identity Friday against the Lions, who were picked to finish sixth out of 12 teams in the Southland Conference preseason coaches' poll.
Senior guards Dre Evans (9.3 points per game) and Jeffery Ricard (9.0) are the only returning starters for coach Jim Yarbrough's team, which finished 13-18 overall last season but 10-8 in conference.
"You'd like to play great right out of the gate," Yarbrough said, "but I think all of us are looking for a level of consistency, and it will be a great environment to see if we can get a little bit of that."
Here are five things to know about the first meeting between the schools:
CHEMISTRY: The Tigers said they struggled to communicate with one another against Central Missouri, and more growing pains are likely without Phil Pressey, who skipped his senior season in favor of the NBA draft. Keep an eye on sophomore Stefan Jankovic, whom Haith described as potentially one of the best shooters in the country. Jankovic only averaged 7.9 minutes per game last year and never seemed to establish a role for himself, but he will see more playing time this season after the loss of Keion Bell to graduation.
NEW POINT MAN: Missouri junior Jordan Clarkson sat out the 2012-13 season after transferring from Tulsa, where he averaged 14.2 points and 2.3 assists per game over two years. An all-Conference USA selection in 2011-12, Clarkson will run the point for the Tigers along with freshman Wes Clark. How well the Tigers adjust to his style and how well he distributes the ball will determine the team's success this season.
EVANS' POISE: Yarbrough said point guard Evans is poised to have a good year as he's set to play consecutive seasons at the same school for the first time in college. He transferred to Southeastern Louisiana from Blinn College, and played at Providence his freshman year. He averaged 9.3 points and 2.4 assists per game for the Lions in 2012-13, but got "too excited at times," Yarbrough said.
HOME-MADE: Missouri owns an 18-game winning streak at home, going 17-0 at Mizzou Arena in its first season in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers are 33-1 overall at home in the last two years and haven't dropped a nonconference game on their own floor since November 2005.
KEEPING UP: Central Missouri took the lead at the break in the Tigers' last game, so don't be surprised if Southeastern Louisiana hangs around. Friday will be the first day Fuller assumes head coaching responsibilities for Missouri, and his team must adjust to his in-game management. "It's kind of like when your parents go away for a little while," Clarkson said. "What are you going to do? Throw a party or something? Nah, we're going to make sure we hold it down and do what we've got to do."