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Missouri's non-conference hoops slate is all sorts of challenging

Tigers schedule rugged non-conference schedule in year two of the Kim Anderson era.

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The importance of the non-conference schedule has proven to be vital in the big picture of a college basketball season with the strength of schedule taking on an even more important role now than ever before. It's an important step for a staff to get the non-conference schedule competitive, challenging, and at a level to where you're testing your players for the rigors of what SEC play will bring. Since the Tigers have 7 new faces (5 freshmen, 2 JUCO transfers), and 6 sophomores (2 redshirts in Hayden Barnard and Jimmy Barton), they are a young basketball team. Ryan Rosburg and Wes Clark are your two veterans, and they'll be asked to lead on and off the floor this year.

This schedule has surpassed the difficulty and challenge of what last year brought and this level of competition should bring out the best in you and challenge you to improve. Mizzou has to prove itself, and there's no better way than to do so early on. Conference play is where you see the faces and venues you're accustomed to, whereas the non-conference season is a step out of your team's comfort zone and a chance to challenge your team early on, to see how they respond to adversity when put in environments they're not used to.

The Tigers first crack at the non con is an exhibition match-up vs. Missouri Western. I don't care who or when you play; running out of the tunnel, with the band playing, and a crowd in the stands gets you fired up. The key here is to understand that this game won't be perfect. You are going to make mistakes, and you might as well resign yourself to it.

What you want to do is play as hard as you possibly can, executing the game-plan on offense, while putting yourself in position defensively, diving for loose balls, taking a charge if the opportunity presents itself, and playing unselfish basketball. An ideal exhibition is to play everyone and get a feel for rotations, find out who responds to a game environment, and most importantly at the end of forty minutes to come out of the game with no injuries. Missouri Western will scratch and claw in this game as it is likely to be in the biggest venue, with the largest crowd, they'll play all season. So Mizzou can't overlook the team because in a game like this, the bullseye is on their backs. Just focus yourselves and put together a 40 minute game before they really count.

Opening up the campaign vs. Wofford on Friday, November 13

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Nothing beats the season opener. All the off-season work has been put in, the strength and conditioning, the extra shots and pick up games, the practices and exhibition game all lead to this moment in time. Wofford finished last season 28-7, and a 16-2 record to win the Southern Conference. Wofford is a tough match-up.

They are led by 4 seniors who know how to win and are a smart and sound basketball team that limit mistakes. They were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament a year ago by Arkansas in a close game that saw Wofford leading by one at the half. They are tough defensively, fundamentally sound, and look to slow the pace when they can. This game provides an intriguing match-up, and one that will be a tough, grind it out, physical game to kick of the campaign.

Welcoming UM-Eastern Shore to Mizzou Arena on Sunday, November 15

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No, I don't know a lot about Maryland-Eastern Shore and to be honest with you, I've never heard of them. What we learned last year is that no matter who comes into your building, you cannot roll the balls out and just play. You have to be focused on all facets of the game while executing your game plan and when you have the opportunity to put teams away early in your own building, you do it.

The Hawks face K-State in Manhattan two days prior to this match-up, so they shouldn't be awed by going into another power 5 conference building. Last year, Maryland Eastern Shore went 18-15, with 11 of those wins coming on the road. Michael Myers led the Hawks in scoring, rebounding, and field goal percentage as a junior so expect him to be featured early and often.

A great road test awaits with a trip to Cincinnati to face Xavier

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Xavier has been a winning program over the years, having made an appearance in 9 of the last 10 NCAA Tournaments, in that span appearing in five Sweet 16's since 2008. The Musketeers finished last season with 23-14 record, good for a 6th place finish in the Big East under Chris Mack. Trevon Bluiett returns as a sophomore with the most upside, averaging 11.0 PPG as a freshman which was good enough for 2nd among all Big East freshmen. He was also voted a unanimous Big East All-Rookie Team selection.

Myles Davis will also be an impact player, having averaged 10.6 PPG a year ago showing out as the teams most improved player. Senior guard Remy Abell shot 51% from behind the arc last season, a weapon that will challenge the Mizzou perimeter defense. Jalen Reynolds is also a name to remember. Jalen was a Big East Championship All-Tournament Team member last year while also being third in the Big East in field goal percentage and 8th in rebounds.

This will be a great atmosphere for Mizzou to play in early on and should challenge the young Tiger's patience, poise and their ability to respond to adversity.

It's great to see the Tigers back in the CBE Tournament in Kansas City

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It's hard to forget three years ago taking on Notre Dame and Cal in this very tournament. Mizzou opens up with a match-up vs. Kansas State at Sprint Center in Kansas City November 23rd. The all-time series is led by KSU 119-116, and both programs have young basketball teams entering the 2015-2016 season.

K-State on paper last season was a team that most thought would compete for a Big XII Championship, though the Cats ended up finishing league play below .500, took a 1st round exit in the Big XII Tournament, and missed the NCAA Tournament completely. This year, the roster is compiled of 7 freshmen, 2 redshirt juniors, and 2 impact players from a season ago in Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwundu. Expect contributions from Malek Harris and Nigel Johnson, two players that will be asked to shoulder more of a load this upcoming season. With this being an early contest, at a neutral site, in front of what should be a great crowd, this is a great opportunity for both programs.

With a win, a likely match-up vs. North Carolina awaits the Tigers. This could be yet another great Roy Williams team, with many people expecting  North Carolina to be one of the best teams in the country. They have everyone back, with the exception of J.P. Tokoto (my favorite name in college basketball last season). Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, and Justin Jackson are going to be crucial for this team. All three measure over 6'8, and are effective, productive players who can play off senior guard Marcus Paige.

The Heels are great in transition with Paige and he loves to push the pace to take advantage of his range as a shooter who can also finish around the basket. What makes him dangerous is that he's an even better passer, and he makes great decisions when the ball is in his hand. The Tar Heels will bring size on the interior as well. For Mizzou to have a chance, they'll have to shoot it well, slow the pace down, defend the rim, and win the rebounding battle which will be a challenge with the size UNC brings to the table.

The Northwestern Wildcats are another possible match-up for Mizzou in the CBE finale. Northwestern finished 15-17 a year ago but bring back their top 3 leading scorers in Trey Demps, Alex Olah (a legit 7 footer), and sophomore guard Bryant MacIntosh. Northwestern was a young team who struggled to score a year ago but they also had moments where they looked like they were taking strides. Sound familiar? Chris Collins brought in a nice recruiting class for this season to compete in the Big Ten, one of the toughest conferences in college basketball.

Mizzou will return home for 3 consecutive games at Mizzou Arena

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Arkansas State returns everyone, having only lost one contributor from last year. A veteran group that will be hungry for a win against an SEC opponent. With that said, Arkansas State finished 11-18 a season ago with one of those wins coming as a 14 point victory at Mississippi State.

A thing to keep in mind is Arkansas State travels to Eugene, Oregon to face the Ducks on Wednesday the 25th, turns around and goes to Waco to face Baylor on Friday the 27th all before their trip to Columbia on Tuesday, December 1st. That is a tough stretch of travel, given that these three games will be the biggest match-ups on their schedule. Mizzou will have a week off heading into this game, which should provide the Tigers a chance to regroup, improve, and prepare.

NIU comes to Mizzou Arena on Friday, December 4

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Mizzou should be able to win this game walking away. Northern Illinois is a better team than Arkansas State, but don't really have an identity or direction with the roster they have in place. They lost four notable players from a year ago, and return only one double digit scorer.

As was mentioned earlier this week, Northern Illinois hasn't had a winning conference record since 2006 and were in fact 0-6 in non-conference road games last year. I wouldn't overlook Northern Illinois, but I don't see where they've made any improvements to their roster. I would love to see Kim Anderson press early in this game, putting pressure on the back-court of the Huskies.

The final tune-up before Arizona is against the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks

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The key word to describe the Mavericks is tempo. Last year they pushed the pace and finished 20th in the country in scoring. David Patterson and Marcus Tyus return, having averaged double figures last season as juniors. The Mavericks finished 12-17 last season, but did beat Marquette at home by 8 in a late November match-up.

The Tigers cannot afford to look ahead as this could be a trap game with Arizona just around the corner. At this point in your schedule, you hope you're getting a rhythm and an identity of what you are going to be this season. Look for Kim Anderson to use his bench in this game, which is a good thing. To conclude, I'll join the Peyton Manning party, by screaming  "OMAHA!"

The Tigers head for Tucson in their toughest non-conference game to date

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Arizona went 34-4 a season ago. The Wildcats lose 57% of their scoring offensively, but return two notable players in Gabe York and Kaleb Tarczewski. The Wildcats will have size, athleticism, and should bring a physicality to the paint for the entire 40 minutes. We saw this in Maui last year, they own the paint, protect the rim, and rebound the basketball better than anyone. Sean Miller has his program firing on all cylinders these days, while adding three 5-star perimeter players and a 4-star big man to an already solid roster.

The Tigers did hang around with Arizona for 20 minutes in Maui last year, but couldn't sustain that over the entire 40 minutes. In that game, Mizzou struggled to take care of the basketball (17 turnovers) and only shot 36% from the field, but on a positive note did out-rebound Arizona by 2. This was a common theme last year for Mizzou, they couldn't put 40 minutes together consistently, and they didn't shoot the ball well enough. It was a sporadic season with many high highs and low lows, and a year where the team experienced adversity both on and off the floor.

The Tigers get a week off to prepare for NC State

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This is the best non-conference home game on the schedule, and on a Saturday. The Wolfpack lost three impact players, including two of their top scorers from a year ago in Ralston Turner and Trevor Lacy, though Anthony Barber returns, after averaging 12.1 PPG a year ago. This is an important game for Mizzou to get a win as the only home game sandwiched in a tough three game stretch. State has a solid program, and Mark Gottfried has a done a terrific job since taking over in Raleigh five years ago.

Who could forget the Joe Lunardi pleading from a year ago? In his defense, NC State went on to beat #1 seed Villanova to advance to the Sweet 16. Coach Gottfried has another solid recruiting class on campus, and return a solid nucleus this season. NC State is aggressive, they play tough, and they typically have great balance. This is a junior heavy team, with great experience under their belt. They play hungry, and they'll play as if they have something to prove.

The 34th Annual Braggin' Rights game is up next

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It's always a great way to kick off the holidays with a Scottrade Center atmosphere that many have called the most electrifying game of the season. I still remember the feeling when the buzzer sounded and Rayvonte Rice sent Mizzou fans into the holidays heartbroken on a pull up, top of the key three from deep, over Keith Shamburger and J3.

Kim Anderson had to be proud of his team in what was a brutal loss. Mizzou did make plays down the stretch to keep them in the game but it just wasn't enough. Fortunately for Mizzou, there will be no Rayvonte Rice for Illinois this year. In fact, Illinois loses 56% of its scoring from a year ago, but have Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, and Jaylon Tate returning as rising juniors.

Point guard play will be important as well especially because of the unfortunate injury to Tracy Abrams who tore his achilles earlier this summer, after having sat out last season with a torn ACL. The Illini landed two 5th year transfers in Mike Thorne, Jr. and Khalid Lewis, who will look to replace Abrams expected production. The best environment, year in and year out, of the season and the one game I pencil in on my schedule ever year.

Tigers get a week off before welcoming the UAPB Golden Lions on December 29

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UAPB went 12-20 a year ago, and lost their leading scorer. Although they struggled a year ago, they return 6 impact players (4 of which are seniors). UAPB struggled to rebound last year, so I'd love to see us win the rebounding margin, attack the rim, play in transition, and win the turnover battle. You can't have a holiday hangover in this game, because UAPB falls in that category of nothing to lose and you sure don't want to lose one in your own building right before conference play tips.

Your final non-conference match-up has the Savannah State Tigers coming to town on January 2

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This is without a doubt the worst team on paper that Mizzou will face in the first half off the season. They are team that will struggle to score, but they'll play hard and try to force turnovers. They play a lot of guys, and are not afraid to press and speed you up. Taking care of the basketball is vital in this game, as is winning on the glass. Do those two things at a high level, and you win this game. Execute your offense, get easy baskets in transition if the opportunity is there, and defend the rim at a high level are all recipes for success.

We don't know what the identity of this Mizzou team will be, but we know they must defend and play hard. The Tigers need to hang their hat on what they can control, that being the effort and heart you play with night in and night out.


Competition should bring out the best in you and players must embrace these opportunities. This program is still a work in progress, still building a foundation for the future, and this is a schedule that won't allow you to stay in one place and coast. From November, all the way until the start of SEC play, this team has continue to improve each day. They must be dialed in from day one, attention to detail has to be high, and the sense or urgency has to be in place from the start. Be the best you can be every day, as a player, as a teammate, as a citizen, as a student, and make no excuses.

Every day is an opportunity to wear the black and gold, it's a privilege, and you must make the most of it. Be proud, accept roles, listen, and always remember that you are all in this together. You start believing in one another, and accepting one another, and that trust and bond will spread like a brush fire.

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