For the Murray State Racers, a trip to Estero, Florida - and a 72-hour gauntlet of three games in the 2019 Gulf Coast Showcase - did exactly what fifth-year coach Matt McMahon wanted it to do for his team.
It was a litmus test for where his squad stood in late November, young as it may be, and - more than anything - it proved to be more of a teacher's conference after an opening-round loss to the A-10 La Salle Explorers, an edge-of-your-seat win against the Big Sky's Weber State Wildcats, and a frigid finish in the finale against the Missouri Valley Drake Bulldogs.
"I think, most importantly out of the tournament is some areas that we were exposed in that we've got to get a lot better in," McMahon told Froggy 103.7 FM after the loss to the Bulldogs. "Starting with 3-point defense and ball-screen defense. We improved it as the tournament went on, but still. Way too many turnovers offensively, which has got to be improved.
"I thought there were times that we did really execute well and we were able to get the ball into the paint and score easy baskets. It was effective for us when we were able to get the ball inside against double teams, move the ball and make the extra pass to get some open threes. And we shot the ball well when we were getting the shots that we wanted.
"But certainly, the biggest takeaway is that we've got a lot of getting better to do."
The Explorers (13-for-28), Wildcats (11-for-22) and Bulldogs (7-for-18) combined to shoot 31-for-68 from behind the arc through three games - good for a sensational 45.6 percent. It's a far cry from MSU's regularly scheduled programming over the past two seasons, in which the Racers have possessed one of the top-10 3-point defenses in all of college basketball.
Certainly it's easy to point at things like a lack of experience in the Racers' guard rotation, an extended 3-point line and the quality of competition as some reasons why things didn't go well for MSU at Hertz Arena last week.
But it also didn't help that MSU didn't get the riposte it needed from its offense, going a paltry 15-for-53 (28.3%) from behind the arc in the three-game swing - including two 4-for-20 efforts to bookend the trip. Being outscored 2-to-1 from the 3-point line (31-to-15) isn't exactly ideal, and it's 48 crucial points that could've turned a 1-2 finish into a Gulf Coast Showcase Championship that, instead, went to the Explorers (who, in turn, followed that effort up with a gutsy 83-72 loss to No. 23 Villanova on Sunday).
Guard play, in general, wasn't terrific for the Racers over the span. DaQuan Smith and Carter combined for 10 assists and 13 turnovers in three games - part of a 31-assist, 44-turnover team performance for the tournament.
Now, the Racers have just five games over the next four weeks - with the Missouri Valley's Missouri State Bears up next at 7 tonight at JQH Arena in Springfield, Missouri.
Picked in the preseason to win the Missouri Valley crown, former Tennessee State coach and second-year Bears skipper Dana Ford hasn't gotten the electric start he and his staff expected with this recruiting class - sitting at 3-5 behind four losses in the last five games (73-58 at LSU, 75-74 vs. Buffalo, 74-70 vs. Miami and 59-56 at Xavier).
To be fair, it's been a titanic schedule for the Bears, who also opened their season with a one-point loss to the Sun Belt's University of Arkansas-Little Rock, 67-66.
Ford hasn't had his full complement of players for most of the season, with forward Gaige Prim (6-8, 250) - the nation's No. 2 JUCO player in 2019 - averaging 16.5 points, but dressing out for just four contests. He's questionable for tonight's contest.
The 2019 MVC Newcomer of the Year in senior forward Tulio Da Silva (University of South Florida transfer, 6-8, 213) is averaging 10.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, while senior guard Keandre Cook (6-5, 187) is averaging a team-best 16.9 ppg on 42% shooting from the field, 41.3% shooting from the arc and 82.1% shooting from the stripe, while adding 5.3 rpg.
So where has Missouri State struggled? Scoring the ball. The Bears are shooting 42.4% from the floor and 31.7% from the arc in these first eight games, and committing an average 15.0 turnovers per contest.
Ford also has a familiar face at point guard in former Middle Tennessee star Tyrik Dixon, who - after sitting the 2018-19 season due to transfer - is averaging 6.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 3.3 apg.
Murray State vs. Missouri State
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Springfield, Mo.
Venue: JQH Arena (11,000)
MSU Head Coach: Matt McMahon (91-43, 5th year)
MoSU Head Coach: Dana Ford (76-86, 6th year)
All-Time Series: MSU leads 2-1
Last Met: Nov. 24, 2018 (MSU won 77-66)
Listen Live: Froggy 103.7 FM (PxP: Neal Bradley, Color: Kenny Roth)
Follow Live: ESPN+, @RacersHoops, @RacerDave23, @dreamarlowe85
By the Numbers
PPG 73.0 65.9
PA 64.4 65.0
FG% 47.6 42.3
3PT% 31.7 31.7
D3PT% 37.6 28.1
FT% 71.5 71.1
REB 36.9 38.0
RMAR plus-8.7 plus-7.6
APG 14.3 10.6
TOPG 14.1 15.0
SPG 6.4 6.3
BPG 3.3 2.6