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story.lead_photo.caption Terrance Smith of the Lincoln Blue Tigers dunks during a game last season against Missouri S&T at Jason Gym. Photo by News Tribune / News Tribune.

The Southwest Baptist Classic has become an annual tradition for the Lincoln men's basketball team.

For the seventh straight year, Lincoln will open its season in Bolivar.

The Blue Tigers play East Central at 2 p.m. today for their season opener and will take on Minot State at 2 p.m. Saturday.

"I believe this is the most competitive weekend we'll have across the two teams (we play)," Lincoln coach John Moseley said. "They've done a really good job of scheduling quality opponents for this weekend."

Lincoln returns six players from last year's roster, including three starters who were also the top three scorers during a 2017-18 season that produced a 15-14 record.

"We do have some carry-over," Moseley said. "We'll have some juniors that will play significant minutes this year, and next year we hope to be in the same position where we're not cleaning out the house every year, that we get at least two solid years with these young men."

Terrance Smith, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, led Lincoln last season with 14.8 points per game. He is also the Blue Tigers' returning top rebounder at 5.3 per contest.

Moseley said Smith "has a chance to be one of the better players" in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.

"He's a matchup problem," Moseley said. "He's a really skilled big. To be honest, he's probably one of the best low-post scoring guys that I've had the privilege of coaching. He's so solid fundamentally around the rim."

Tez Ivory, a 6-3 senior shooting guard, made a splash last year in his first season with Lincoln. Ivory made 73 3-pointers and averaged 14.6 points.

Ivory is likely competing for a starting spot with Lincoln's other returning starter and his roommate, 6-0 senior John Burton. Last year, Burton shot 45 percent from 3-point range and made a team-high 82 3s, posting 12.0 points per game.

"It's been a challenge, convincing Tez and John in today's game, that they don't have to use the dribble a whole lot," Moseley said. "Klay Thompson is a great example of how well he scores without having to bounce it a lot.

"It starts with getting the ball to the paint somehow, whether it's off the bounce from a drive or post-entry."

Grant Olsson, a 6-5 senior, has been a guard in the past for the Blue Tigers but will look to start at the other forward spot opposite Smith.

"He's certainly a coach's dream from the standpoint of he's going to do everything that we ask him to do," Moseley said. "He's going to be undersized a lot of nights, but few can match his toughness."

Starting at point guard will be Ni'Sean Rigmaiden, a 6-0 junior transfer from St. Louis Community College who averaged 17.0 points per game during the 2016-17 season.

"He doesn't have a lot of pressure to score, but he certainly has the ability to do it," Moseley said. "He's becoming more comfortable with running our offense."

Jonell Burton, a 6-4 junior transfer from San Jose City College, will take the other starting spot at guard.

"He can put pressure on the defense by getting the ball to the rim," Moseley said. "We've had a couple guys here that can do that, that were unique in their own way."

Coming off the bench is L'Kielynn Taylor, a 6-6 junior forward who transferred from Compton College.

"He's a junkyard dog kind of guy, doing all the little things that don't necessarily show up on a stat sheet, but we know as coaches how important the are," Moseley said.

Senior guard Darrius Spencer and junior guard Zack Fields also return this season for Lincoln.

The Blue Tigers also have three freshmen. Moseley said 6-0 guard TJ Babikir and 5-8 guard Rahsaan Collins — who won a Class 3 state championship last season at Hogan Prep — will get time on the court this year.

Lincoln will open its home schedule at 7 p.m. next Friday against Lane College at Jason Gym in the Lincoln Classic. The Blue Tigers will then play Lemoyne-Owen at 2 p.m. next Saturday. Lindenwood will also take part in the two-day event.

"It's something we long wanted to do," Moseley said of hosting the Lincoln Classic. "These things cost money, and we've had to fund-raise and we're investing some just so we can play here at home. I'd really like to turn it into an annual deal."

The MIAA Tournament will have a format change this year. Instead of the Nos. 5-12 seeds playing on campus in the first round and the top eight teams advancing to Kansas City, the tournament will be a 10-team bracket and will take place at Municipal Auditorium in its entirety.

Last season, the Blue Tigers were the No. 9 seed in the tournament.

"You're going to see a tightly contested race, and we're hoping to be in the mix," Moseley said. "Some things have to go our way, and we have to protect the home court as much as we can and go on the road and steal some wins."