Mizzou opened the season with a fun, yet somewhat routine victory over the visiting Arkansas Pine-Bluff Golden Lions on Monday night. It was great to see the new Tiger squad take the floor and ply their wares for the public. Yet much like a year back, there was little drama in the outcome. One might be thankful for that, no?
Last season, Mizzou had plenty of those contests to open the Dennis Gates era. The team was eight games deep into the schedule before they faced a top-100 team. It wasn’t until 10 games in that they faced an opponent who would make a push for an at-large qualification for the end of season romp in March.
We do not have to wait that long this season, and for that I’m very grateful.
Mizzou will host the visiting Memphis Tigers Friday evening. That contest will kick off a jam-packed weekend of important athletic contests in Columbia between the Show-Me and the Volunteers. Mizzou basketball will host the western portion, Mizzou football the eastern.
The Tigers of a different hue have a somewhat colorful history with one another. Had Penny Hardaway not been suspended for NCAA recruiting violations, he’d be making a return to Mizzou where his Memphis squad defeated Norm’s Tigers in Columbia in 1993. And speaking of NCAA violations, Mizzou also had a pretty impressive win over John Calipari’s Memphis team in the Sweet 16 in 2009.
Nonetheless, the “real” season kicks off Friday when the current iterations of these two programs meet. With only a game under each team’s belt, we’re left with scant data and short film to really dissect where the matchup will be determined. No matter, the following topics are what I’ll be watching closely.
Both Teams Possess Experience; Which Will Possess Cohesiveness
Both Mizzou and Memphis feature very experienced rosters. In game one, Mizzou started five super seniors— that is, players who have played in 5+ years of college basketball. Memphis countered with two such super seniors and three run of the mill fourth year players. Experience will be through the roof. Both squads feature benches with comparable levels of experience running the floor.
Yet with experience does not necessarily come cohesiveness. At least not right away. Mizzou’s roster features four players who saw significant time in the program a year ago — Nick Honor, Sean East II, Aidan Shaw and Noah Carter. Memphis comparatively has just two players — Malcom Dandridge and Jayden Hardaway — among their top eleven that did so in their program. On top of that, the blue Tigers will be without their head coach and will be led by Rick Stansbury — yes, THAT Rick Stansbury — who arrived this offseason from Western Kentucky.
Mizzou should be advantaged by having an intact coaching staff, a roster with more continuity and a raucous home crowd. Whether it will pan out that way remains to be seen. The importance of this is not small. Both Memphis and Mizzou were elite a year ago in the turnover production game. Mizzou fared better offensively at protecting the ball, but Memphis imported former Alabama point man Jahvon Quinerly to help steady the ship.
Can Mizzou rekindle the turnover magic that proved so vital a year ago? Will Memphis prove to be up to the task despite their challenges? This will certainly be an important thing to keep an eye on.
A Contrast in Lineup Composition
For better or worse, Mizzou will, in all likelihood, be looking a lot like the 22-23 version of themselves. Connor Vanover, the 7’5” transfer from Oral Roberts, will be benched for his participation in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament last spring. John Tonje, while not overwhelming vertically, is a well-built 6’5” wing who has thrived against physical opponents. Tonje missed game one with what appears to be a lingering foot injury and his availability is certainly a question mark. The remaining roster features what we’ve become accustomed to in the Dennis Gates era thus far — a slew of perimeter players and moderately sized front court players.
Memphis, comparatively, is big. And long. And athletic. Though we’re early in the season, they’re tracking as a top 25-30 team in average lineup height. Memphis’ top minute-getters Monday were:
- Jaykown Walton — 6’7” | 210
- David Jones — 6’6” | 210
- Caleb Mills — 6’5” | 185
- Jordan Brown — 6’11” | 225
- Malcom Dandridge — 6’9” | 260
- Jahvon Quinerly — 6’1” | 175
- Nick Jourdain — 6’9” | 220
While none of the above are true monsters in size, their positional size is impressive. Mizzou will likely be seeing a size deficit at every position on the court for much of the game. Which, of course, is vital for two reasons.
First, Mizzou’s rebounding woes from a year ago are well-documented. Memphis curiously was a very good offensive rebounding team last season but struggled on the defensive end. The numbers being somewhat irrelevant with a complete recast of the roster, how this eventually plays out could be very important.
Second, both teams thrive on two-point buckets. Mizzou is more of a spread and cut team in rim attacks. Memphis will use more on-ball attacks in transition and the half-court as well as post touches for Jordan Brown. They’ll also seek to find their big men on rolls and short corner lobs. Defensively, the Memphis team looks very capable as a rim defensive unit if Monday’s tape tells us anything. Both Dandridge and Brown provide a very strong last line of defense.
A year ago, Mizzou at times really struggled against long and athletic man defenses. Be it Auburn, Arkansas, Alabama or Texas A&M, the road was tough to hoe. Memphis will provide a similar challenge. They will apply pressure when warranted and they’ll defend the restricted arc like their life depends on it. Mizzou will have its work cut out securing defensive rebounds to close out possessions and to have a net victory on finishes around the rack. It’s possible for them to do so, and I’m intrigued to see how that will play out.
A Contrast in Lineup Composition — Part 2 — Flip the Script
For every yin, there’s a yang. In watching Monday’s Memphis affair against Jackson State — a 94-77 victory — I couldn’t help but notice the Memphis squad as deficient in the perimeter ball movement and security category. Quinerly was a toned-down version of his Alabama self. But many of us have observed he can be a high risk, high reward point man. Beyond that? Memphis has a lot of secondary ballhandlers, at best.
Walton is a man Mizzou will have to track. He had a dynamic first half and has the ability to beat men off the bounce. He does lack some creative abilities in that regard and will only be attacking in advantageous situations. Mills didn’t get a lot of time on the basketball, which is probably telling for a team with 16 turnovers. Jones really struggled to do much of anything with the basketball on the bounce, coughing up turnovers at will. Passing was not a prized commodity.
Mizzou will have an opportunity to flip this game in their favor if they can get the turnover machine started and the transition pace ramped up. Memphis is no slouch when it comes to doing those things itself on the defensive end. However, I do believe Mizzou can have the advantage in this category should they show their patented passing and ball security abilities. If that manifests any disadvantages on the interior should be mitigated, if not fully erased.