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Mizzou's Non-Conference slate will show us if the Kim Anderson plan is working

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An easier slate than previous seasons will either give the fan base hope, or lead us towards another dark winter.

Gunnar Rathbun-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri released at least a portion of their non-conference schedule on Tuesday. With so many other outlets giving you what the schedule is, I thought we could go a little deeper on who these teams are, and what we can expect. There are still a few games and opponents not quite finalized, but let's jump right in:

November 25th, or 26th: vs Northwestern State (LA)

  • Southland Conference
  • Last season 8 - 20 (KenPom #328); best win vs #315 Southeastern Louisiana
  • Head Coach Mike McConathy since 1999-2000; 267 - 260 overall

The Demons are a bit of an up and down program with 3 trips to NCAA under McConathy. You might remember them beating Iowa in 2006 NCAAs as a 15 seed. As luck would have it, they also played and lost to Missouri the same year. In all, the Demons have played the Tigers twice, and lost twice. The other time the Demons came to Columbia the Tigers were quite the unfriendly host as Marcus Denmon lit things up with 31 points to lead Mizzou to a 90-56 win in December of 2011. Northwestern State only lost three seniors from last season, none of whom were major contributors. They typically play fast and loose, routinely having one of the faster Adjusted Tempos in the country. So look for a fast paced game, and hope that Demons struggle to make shots. Even if the Demons shoot well, I'd expect this to be a win for the Tigers.

December 3rd: vs Western Kentucky

  • Conference USA
  • Last season 18 - 16 (KenPom #161); best win vs #93 Stony Brook
  • Head Coach Rick Stansbury 1st year, previously Texas A&M assistant and Miss St head coach

Western Kentucky has been a solid program over the years with 7 NCAA appearances in the 2000s (for comparison, Missouri has 8 appearances in that same span).  The Hilltoppers lost 3 seniors including Aaron Cosby (formerly of Seton Hall and Illinois) who averaged nearly 14ppg, and Nigel Snipes who averaged around 9 ppg. They do returns leading scorer Justin Johnson, and will get Tennessee transfer Willie Carmichael eligible. Stansbury, while at Mississippi State, coached some good teams, but played a pretty prototypical style of ball with average tempo, while being solid on both ends of the floor. He had some high level Efficiency Defensive teams who forced opponents to take tough shots. This could be a very tough game for the Tigers.

December 6th: vs Miami (OH)

  • Mid American Conference
  • Last season 13 - 20 (KenPom #238); best win vs #91 Akron
  • Head Coach John Cooper 5th year 46-74 overall

Miami (OH) is a solid D1 program fallen on tough times of late. They haven’t won 20 games since the 1998-1999 season and have no NCAA tournament appearances since 2007. The Redhawks have eight graduating seniors leaving a high level of turnover, including they're top two scorers Geovonie McKnight and Eric Washington. Coach Cooper welcomes a large incoming class including Marcus and Michael Weathers from Shawnee Mission North HS in the KC Area. Being in the 5th year of a rebuild can't be good for the long term prospects of Cooper, and the rest of the MAC has gotten better while the Redhawks have languished. I'd expect this to be a win for Missouri, even if they don't play well.

December 10th: vs Arizona

  • Pac 12 Conference
  • Last season: 25 - 9 (KenPom #21); best win vs #18 Gonzaga, also beat Missouri 88-52
  • Head Coach Sean Miller 8th season, 188-61 overall

Arizona is one of the Blue Bloods of college basketball, and arguably the best program on the West Coast going right now. They’ve missed the NCAA’s just twice since 2000 and have five regular season conference titles, and two tournament titles. The Cats have been to three Elite 8's and four Sweet Sixteens since Miller took over. They lose 3 starters (Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson, Gabe York), and another contributor but have the third ranked recruiting class in the country coming in so the Cats should be damn good again. The Wildcats were also fortunate in that Alonzo Trier is coming back, as Trier was one of the best freshmen in the country last year. In a lot of ways this will be a barometer game for the Tigers, last season they went to Tucson and got blitzed, if the Tigers can be competitive against a power house program, that has to bode well for the confidence of the team moving forward.

December 17th: vs Eastern Illinois

  • Ohio Valley Conference
  • Last season 13 - 17 (KenPom #265); best win vs #162 Murray St
  • Head Coach Jay Spoonhour, 5th year, 53-72 overall

Eastern Illinois has been a historically tough place to win, there aren't a lot of people who want to go to Charleston, Illinois to play basketball. The Panthers have only two NCAA appearances in the schools D1 history which dates back to the early 80s. The most recent trip was in 2001. EIU won 18 games two seasons ago and have only equaled or bettered that win total 4 times since 1982 when the school made the move to Division 1. Head Coach Jay Spoonhour is the son of Charlie Spoonhour who coached at Missouri State and SLU for many seasons in the 80s and 90s. I wouldn't expect the Pathers to be very good next season, but they should probably be better than they were last year, as they had a young team and are bringing a lot of players back. Though, you should still expect a Missouri win.

December 21st: Bragging Rights game vs. Illinois in St. Louis

  • Big 10 Conference
  • Last season 15 - 19 (KenPom #132); best win vs #14 Purdue, also beat Missouri 68-63
  • John Groce, 5th year, 77-61 overall

Illinois has been on a bit of a downward trajectory since reaching the National Final in 2005 and won the programs fewest games since 1999 last year. Groce and the Illini are in search of a return the NCAAs for the first time since his first season in 2013. They have recruited well but last season had a plague of injuries that derailed a promising season and will likely need a turnaround season to be back for season six. On top of the struggles on the court, the Illini have had their fair share of off the court troubles with multiple players being arrested in the offseason. So the pressure is on John Groce to right the ship and make the Illini a Big Ten contender. They recently got good news that big man Mike Thorne got approval for a sixth season of eligibility, as Thorne was expected to be a major contributor last year before struggling with injuries. I'd expect this game to start with the Illini favored, but should present another opportunity to gauge where the Tigers are in their rebuilding effort.

December 29th: vs Lipscomb

  • Atlantic Sun Conference
  • Last season 12 - 21 (KenPom #281); best win vs #252 North Florida
  • Casey Alexander, 4th year, 41-53 overall

You may remember Lipscomb because they played Missouri two years ago. In that game, the Bison played 12 players in that game, six of those players will make a return trip to Mizzou Arena. While there will be zero players from Missouri’s roster two seasons ago competing against the Bison this time. Two years ago Nathan Moran hit four of seven 3’s and Missouri needed a big second half run to win the game against the inferior Bison. Moran returns as a junior, let’s hope he doesn’t have a repeat performance, because Keanau Post won't be around the save the Tigers this time. Lipscomb could be pretty decent next season as they return eight of their top scorers from last season, but I'd still expect the Tigers to win this game.

We also know the Tigers will participate in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off with the following teams:

Arizona State Sun Devils

  • Pac 12 Conference
  • Last season 15 - 17 (KenPom #104); best win vs #19 Texas A&M
  • Head Coach Bobby Hurley, 2nd season

Clemson Tigers

  • Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Last season 17 - 14 (KenPom #48); best win vs #10 Louisville
  • Head Coach Brad Brownell, 7th season, 107 - 87

Davidson Wildcats

  • Atlantic 10
  • Last season 20 - 13 (KenPom #106); best win vs #38 St. Josephs
  • Head Coach Bob McKillop, 27th season, 516 - 317

Northern Iowa Panthers

  • Missouri Valley Conference
  • Last season 23 - 13 (KenPom #66); best win vs #2 North Carolina
  • Head Coach Ben Jacobson, 11th season, 220 - 117

Oklahoma Sooners

  • Big 12 (- 4 + 2) Conference
  • Last season 29 - 8 (KenPom #7); best win vs #1 Villanova
  • Head Coach Lon Kruger, 6th season, 111 - 57

Tulane Green Wave

  • American Athletic Conference
  • Last season 12 - 22 (KenPom #219); best win #27 Stephen F Austin
  • Head Coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr, 1st season

Xavier Muskateers

  • Big East Conference
  • Last season 28 - 6 (KenPom #11); best win vs #1 Villanova
  • Head Coach Chris Mack, 8th season, 162 - 77

We won't know who Mizzou plays for a while yet, but this is a pretty tough tournament at the top, and a pretty soft one at the bottom. Based upon last years KenPom rankings the seeds would be: Oklahoma, Xavier, Clemson, Northern Iowa, Arizona St, Davidson, Missouri and Tulane. So that would matchup Xavier and Missouri, but seeing as these two teams have played each other twice in the last two years, that seems unlikely, and I've heard that it won't happen. Without the field being seeded, we don't know who plays who so it's just a guessing game. But any way it falls, Missouri will have three games against decent opponents at least. Winning two games in the tournament would be an accomplishment, winning one should be expected.

Since joining the SEC, Missouri has scheduled 13 non-conference games each season. Right now the school has announced 10 of them, leaving three games still outstanding. Tod Palmer reported back in February Missouri will play Evansville to open the season. If this is true, we still have two unknowns, I'd expect those to be of the extreme "cupcake" variety (last year think Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Savannah State. As of today, I'd count Northwestern St, Miami (OH), Eastern Illinois, and Lipscomb as likely wins, plus one at Puerto Rico and you're sitting at 5 non-con wins plus the two extra cupcakes. I view Western Kentucky, Evansville, Illinois and one game in Puerto Rico in the toss-up variety, and Arizona and one game in Puerto Rico as a loss. So 7 likely wins, two likely losses, and four toss ups for a 13 game non-conference slate.

11-2 would be stunning, and reason to get on board the Kim Anderson rebuild. 10-3 would be pretty dang solid, and reason to feel optimism for the rest of the season. 9-4 wouldn't be terrible, basically a split of the toss ups. Go 8-5? Now we're starting to get into that "Oh, no here we go again" territory. Worse than 8-5 is something I don't even want to consider.

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EDIT: 05/20/2016 7:28 pm

I've got an update from the Athletic Department regarding the number of games. Missouri was unable to schedule a fourth game through the Puerto Rico tournament, so they are only currently looking to schedule (or announce) two more games to finish the non-conference schedule. Which would leave them at 12 games in the non-conference slate. I've also been told the Evansville game is not happening. So take that for what it's worth when considering the remaining two games.