Missouri was tested by the Commonwealth of Virginia in their South Padre Invitational appearance this past weekend. The Tigers faced Old Dominion and the RIchmond Spiders in consecutive nights. While they beat ODU, there were unable to get by the pesky Spiders of Bobby's first law school, losing 59-52. Perhaps more noteworthy than the Richmond loss is the ODU win, where the Tigers squandered a 32-18 half time lead to only end up winning 66-61.
Before you dog Missouri too bad for losing to the Spiders, it's noteworthy that prior to playing Mizzou, Richmond knocked-off Mississippi State 63-62. I know they lost to Bill and Mary, but that was game 1 of the year, and clearly the Spiders are a team that might make some noise in the A-10. This is all a long way of saying that Mizzou's loss to seemingly lesser opponent should not lull Commodore fans to sleep on this team.
Mizzou starts 3 seniors, a junior, and a sophomore and play a 3-guard line-up with no center. Their Game Notes dub them the "fastest 40 minutes in basketball," which leads me to believe they like to play up-tempo.
So things to keep in mind:
1. None of the starters average double figures
2. They get a tremendous amount of bench scoring and are pretty deep. The bench is averaging 40.6 points per game this season, more than the starters. This is the product of 6'6 sophomore guard Kim English, who enters the contest averaging 16.4 points a game in just over 21 minutes of play. Sophomore guard Laurence Bowers is the team's second leading scorer, averaging 11 points in 21 minutes. Mike Anderson's got 10 guys averaging 14 minutes or more, which means this team has got some legs and can run.
3. Mizzou likes to force turnovers...and they are good at it. So far this year, they are forcing, on average 22.4 turnovers a game, from which they are scoring 27.6 points. Taking care of the ball will be critically important for the Commodores.
Tonight's game is a homecoming of sorts for senior forward Keith Ramsey. The 6’9 Ramsey is from Murfreesboro and “buggy” will have lot of friends and family in the crowd. He is averaging 6.0 pts and 5.6 rebound in 22 minutes. That could go one of two ways. Either he tries to hard and is pressing, or he is ready to return to the mid-state and looking to impress those friends and family who made the trip up I-24. We should know early which it is.
Bobby's Keys to the Game:
1. Get off to a fast start. Missouri is out-scoring their opponents 217-125 in the first half. Vanderbilt needs to come out strong early and deflate the Tigers early. While they've shown they aren't necessarily a team that can put you away, Vanderbilt would be well served not to play from behind tomorrow given Mizzou's depth.
2. Rebounds. This is obvious, but there is reason for Commodore fans to be optimistic. In 2 of their first 5 games, the Tigers have been out-rebounded (Chattanooga and ODU, neither school known having animals on the boards).
3. Things Will Be Great if You're Downtown. It doesn't appear as if this is a team that defends the 3 particularly well. With the exception of 1 game, opponents are shooting 33% or better from 3 point land against the tigers. In my view, Vanderbilt's 3 point success starts with A.J.'s ability to score interior baskets. If he can get points early inside it will force a collapse and should free up the Commodores' shooters. Going to A.J. early will do a couple things. First, it will allow Vanderbilt to establish a more moderate pace than Missouri wants to play (note, it's not that we can't run, but there is little indication from the pre=game literature that the Tigers can be successful in the half-court). Second, it will open up perimeter shots and give Jenkins, Tinsely, Beal and Goulborne some open looks.
4. Limit Assists. Missouri is a team that is very adept at distributing the ball and setting up each other for points. In fact, through 5 games, they lead the nation in assists per game with 18.4. However, in their loss to Richmond, they only had 5 combined dishes. That indicates to me that this is a team that where the sum is certainly better than it's parts. Thus, defensively, the Commodores would be well-suited to make individuals beat them.
The game will be televised on ESPNU at 8:30 central with Jay Williams leaving the confines of Bristol and headed to Music City. As always, Joe Fisher will have the call. I will also be there twittering (VSLNation) from the game and joining in the running commentary that seems to have developed whenever the men have a game.