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Morehead State returns to Columbia for a rematch

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Last year things got tight late, but this is a game Missouri should win.

NCAA Basketball: Morehead State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With Missouri releasing their season non-conference schedule, we’re taking a brief look at each of their opponents. You can catch up with the previous posts in the series here:

Morehead State comes to Columbia on Wednesday, November 20th for the third time in the school’s combined history. Morehead State is located in the lovely foothills of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. The Eagles play in the Ohio Valley Conference and have been in Division I basketball since the late 40s. They’re looking to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since Donnie Tyndall steered them into the third round in 2011. Tyndall has since moved on to being handed a Show Cause by the NCAA and has been out of coaching for the last four years.

You have to go way back- all the way to December 2018- to find the last time Missouri played Morehead State. That game was coached by Cuonzo Martin and the Tigers were led in scoring by a guard named Mark Smith. In that game, Missouri jumped out to a 32-5 lead before basically going on auto-pilot and winning 75-61 when Morehead decided to not completely give up. Weird, I know.

The 2018-19 season for Morehead wasn’t a great one- they finished 245th in KenPom and 8-10 in the OVC. Since Tyndall left there have been a couple coaching changes and some scandal, and Preston Spradlin is trying to change all of that.

Morehead State Eagles

Last season: 13-20, 245th in KenPom

Torvik Projection: 280th

Head Coach: Preston Spradlin

NCAA Basketball: Morehead State at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Spradlin has been on the job since taking over on an interim basis for Sean Woods, who was suspended and subsequently fired after he assaulted two players after a game in late November of 2016.

The job in Morehead isn’t an easy one and Spradlin has largely struggled to get things going. After finishing 14-16 in year one, he followed that with an 8-21 season before last year winning 13 games.

There’s reason to think the Eagles could improve over last year’s results as the roster is a fairly experienced one, but one which lost two of its top three scorers from a season ago. Gone are Lamontray Harris and A.J. Hicks who scored 28 points against Mizzou last year and combined for about 26 points per game last year.

RETURNING PLAYERS OF NOTE:

  • Jordan Walker: 15.8 ppg (12 points vs Mizzou)
  • De’von Cooper: 8.8 ppg (8 points vs Mizzou)
  • James Baker: 7.5 ppg (4 points vs Mizzou)
  • Djimon Henson: 5.0 ppg ( 0 vs Mizzou)

Another player who’ll likely make a big impact is Justin Thomas, a transfer from Northern Illinois who sat out last year.

After those five, the depth gets dicey. But the Eagles didn’t have great depth last year when they managed to cut Missouri’s 25+ point lead to eight by the under-eight minute timeout. The Tigers managed to hold on, but were it not for Jordan Geist’s leadership, Mark Smith’s shotmaking, and a couple key possessions, that game could have gone a lot differently.

I think Missouri should be better this year, and hopefully they’re able to provide a little more steadiness to the game. Last year, a big issue was Jeremiah Tilmon Jr- this was a “Tilmon in foul trouble” game and sometimes that was all it needed to twist Mizzou into knots. So maybe the Tigers’ success this game belongs to how much the rest of the roster has matured, and if Tilmon stays in the game. If those things happen, this should be a walk. If they don’t, Missouri should still win but it will be a lot more uncomfortable.