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Live Game Thread: Missouri closes non-conference play against Central Arkansas

The Tigers welcome the Bears to Mizzou Arena before SEC play kicks off.

NCAA Basketball: Seton Hall at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri 92 | Central Arkansas 59


1st Half Notes

  • Efficient opening minutes from Mizzou, exactly what you wanted to see in a bounce back effort. Tamar Bates is really attacking.
  • It’s hard to even put into words how improved of a 3-point shooter East II is. It’s not just that he’s making more shots, it’s how he’s picking and choosing exactly when he pulls it from behind arc to his full advantage that’s so impressive.
  • 13:51 (11-7): East II with a pair of early fouls. Will be interesting to monitor how much he plays for the remainder of the half.
  • Combine that East foul trouble with some sloppy offensive play and UCA trails by only one with just under 13 minutes in the first half. Bates hits a 3-pointer to stall the Bears’ run.
  • As more players have seen the floor, the Tiger offense has appeared to take control of the game. Improved ball security is the only variable at this point.
  • 9:00 (21-17): Curt Lewis with a great display of athleticism on that put-back attempt. He’s one of 10 Tigers to see the floor thus far.
  • Noah Carter showed decisiveness in carving out space for a lay-in. Dennis Gates would love to see more of that in conference play, because the former Northern Iowa Panther has faded a bit in the past couple of weeks.
  • Tucker Anderson has been every bit as good as advertised. The kid is a match nightmare with that length and shooting ability.
  • Intense perimeter ball pressure from the Mizzou guards has been a theme throughout this season, and it’s apparent again today.
  • 3:59 (35-27): East has found a groove inside the arc, and Bates continues to provide great support. That duo has combined for 19 points.
  • There’s your weekly pickpocket from Anthony Robinson II. The freshman continues to stand out as a pesky defender, and he’s always looking to steal some cookies.
  • Productive minutes from Connor Vanover today, and it’s a great sign to see him get to the free throw line.
  • Tamar Bates finished the half with a sweeping lay-up at the horn. He’s got a team-high 14 points at the break and is continuing to play at a high level.

2nd Half Notes

  • Vanover starts the half off with a slam. You were probably looking for at least one Tiger to have a potential breakout performance in this one. He may be your culprit.
  • Bates and Vanover have stolen the show early in this second half. Tigers are getting out in transition, and the 7-footer is even running the floor well as the lead grows.
  • Honor misses one 3-pointer but follows it right back with another, this time from deeper. It will always be a great thing that he doesn’t get deterred from letting it fly.
  • Man, Noah Carter just missed Aidan Shaw for a wide-open dunk. Would have been a highlight.
  • 11:35 (68-44): Bates with a career-high at 23 points.
  • Aidan Shaw gets that thunderous dunk off a nice feed from Bates. He’ll need to sign that poster after the game.
  • It’s been great to see Shaw get more aggressive with his body in this game. He can certainly afford to get a bit more selfish when gets an offensive board or has good positioning.
  • 2:30 (88-54): Jackson Francois is now into the game.

Pregame Updates

  • The starters: Honor, East II, Bates, Carter, Pierce

5 Fan Questions:

  1. Who will lead the team in scoring?
  2. How many blocks will Connor Vanover have?
  3. Who will lead the team in steals?
  4. How many 3-pointers will the Tigers hit?
  5. Who will be the surprise star of the day?

Lastly, drop your game predictions and MVPs down below.

Today’s Preview

Blink and you would have missed Mizzou’s 2023 non-conference slate.

It was surely a roller coaster ride, with Mizzou falling to Memphis, picking up a miraculous win over Minnesota, then falling in equally miraculous fashion to Jackson State. The Tigers then rebounded to take down Pitt and Wichita State before falling to Kansas at The Phog, Seton Hall in Kansas City and Illinois in St. Louis.

The NCAA Tournament outlook is not great at the current juncture, but it is also only December. The Tigers picked up a pair of quality results but missed out on a handful of opportunities, and the team as a whole has yet to put together a clean 40 minutes of basketball. But, the beautiful thing about this sport is that with conference play comes a plethora of opportunities to right the ship and pick up some high-quality wins.

Central Arkansas has had a rough go of it so far, standing at 3-11 with their wins coming over Hendrix College, Arkansas Little-Rock and Eastern Illinois. Following a grueling stretch of basketball from late November through December, the Tigers should use this game to iron out any final roster wrinkles, because SEC play will yet again be a gauntlet.

Let’s take a look at what Missouri needs to do to avoid an upset in its final non-conference outing.

Game Info

Time: 2:00 CST

Date: Dec. 30, 2023

Location: Mizzou Arena, Columbia Mo.

TV: SEC Network

The Starters


PG: Nick Honor (Grad, 11.8 PPG)
SG: Sean East II (Grad, 17.2 PPG)
SF: Tamar Bates (JR, 8.6 PPG)
PF: Noah Carter (Grad, 11.4 PPG)
C: Trent Pierce (FR, 2.3 PPG)

Notable Sixth Man: Anthony Robinson II (FR, G, 5.1 PPG)

Central Arkansas

PG: Carl Daugherty Jr. (SOPH, 15.0 PPG)
SG: Johannes Kirsipuu (SOPH, 7.0 PPG)
SF: Masai Olowokere (SR, 8.1 PPG)
PF: Tucker Anderson (FR, 14.0 PPG)
C: UbongAbasi Etim (SOPH, 5.9 PPG)

Notable Sixth Man: Javion Guy-King (FR, 7.6 PPG)

*These are projected starters. Also, in today’s college basketball, positions rarely mean much. Those are included purely for perspective on what matchups on the court may look like.

NCAA Basketball: Central Arkansas at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Get To Know Central Arkansas

The Coach: Anthony Boone took over at Central Arkansas following the COVID-cancelled 2019-20 campaign after having previously served on the staff for six years. He was promoted to interim status during the ‘19-20 season, and the tag was removed following that same campaign.

Boone played college ball at Ole Miss, and he is only the second Rebel athlete to ever have his number retired (Archie Manning being the other) and is also a member of the Ole Miss Hall of Fame.

With career averages of 7.2 points and 4.8 rebounds, one would wonder why he has such honors. Well, it’s because Boone underwent a whopping four different knee surgeries during his time as a Rebel, yet he still started in 79 out of 94 games. He also landed on the SEC All-Academic Honor Roll twice and was a finalist for the Chip Hilton Award after his senior season, an award given to the player who demonstrates great character on and off the court that is presented by the Basketball Hall of Fame.

If Boone is reading this he may want to look away for this part, because I also have to mention that he was a senior on the Rebel team that experienced this shot:

Boone went on to coach on staff at his alma mater, Murray State, Jackson State, Grand Canyon and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury before arriving in Conway.

The Season Thus Far: It was a rocky start to the season for UCA, with its lone win in the month of November coming against Hendrix College. The Bears picked things up in December, taking down Arkansas Little-Rock and Eastern Illinois, but they still largely struggled. UCA did play Vanderbilt within four points and has lost four other games by single digits.

The Key Stats: Ranked No. 342 in KenPom, the Bears struggle in nearly every major statistical category outside of free throw shooting (76.1%), 3-point shooting (34.2%) and offensive rebounding (reeling in 29.1% of their misses). Besides that, there’s plenty of reason to see why Central Arkansas has the record it does.

The Stars: A promising freshman leads the way for UCA, as 6-foot-9 forward Tucker Anderson out of Centerton, Ar. averages 14 PPG and has emerged as a star as this season has progressed, recording double-figures in six-of-eight games.

Sophomore forward Ubongabasi Etim transferred from Bowling Green this offseason and is a force on the glass, averaging 8.7 RPG at 6-foot-9, 230 lbs., but he is not one of the team’s main offensive threats. Australian-born Elias Cato complements Anderson with 10.8 PPG, while Estonia-native Johannes Kirsipuu is the game-manager in averaging 5.0 APG.

Sophomore guard Carl Daughtery Jr. appeared in the opener against Tulsa and scored 19 points in that performance. After missing every game since due to injury, Daughtery returned in UCA’s last game against Oklahoma and dropped 11 points.

3 Keys To The Game

  1. Come out with the same fire you did against Wichita State

As I have mentioned multiple times throughout this season, the Tigers have been plagued by sluggish starts to games, and it cost them against Jackson State and Illinois and probably should have against Minnesota and SC State.

But, we also saw what can happen when Mizzou gets out to a strong start against Wichita State and Kansas. The Tigers led 10-0 early in the game against WSU and never trailed en route to a convincing win. Against KU, an early 20-12 lead silenced the raucous crowd and proved that the Tigers needed to be taken seriously.

“When we tip the ball up, we have to start the game with a mentality that we are already down 20,” Tamar Bates said. “I feel like when we dig those holes and we get desperate, that’s when we play hardest. We just have to be able to change our mindset.”

Missouri learned the hard way against JSU that, if an underdog mid-major has early momentum, it leads to hope. Hope leads to be belief, and belief leads to victory. As violent as it sounds, the Tigers need to stomp out any form of hope for UCA early in this game.

2. Pick-and-roll until UCA stops it

Another thing we learned in that Wichita State game was that, if all else fails, allowing Sean East II to just create for himself or his teammates in ball-screen scenarios is a great strategy. The craft guard plays with great patience and makes the right read 9-out-of-10 times.

East notably told Gates to “keep it simple” in that game, imploring the coach to stop drawing up as many plays and allow the team to just play freely. It worked like a charm, as evident by East’s 21 points and nine assists. He followed that up with 19 and six against Kansas and has dropped 34 combined in games against Seton Hall and Illinois.

Against the Bears, there’s a real possibility that the Tigers can just trust the veteran from Louisville and let the offense flourish as a result.

3. Continue to improve and mesh as a team

At the end of the day, this should truly serve as a get-right game for the Tigers as they attempt to iron out some wrinkles before SEC play begins. That was the full intention of Gates when he created this schedule.

“December gets us a bit closer to conference play,” Gates said. “We’ve organized our schedule in a certain way to face certain opponents to prepare us leading into our SEC season, but also I believe that it has prepared us in several ways to get better.”

The chemistry of this team should only continue to improve, and this is the perfect game for guys like Aidan Shaw, Connor Vanover, Jesus Carralero Martin or any of the freshmen to develop some confidence before things heat up.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Game Prediction

KenPom Prediction: Missouri 84 | Central Arkansas 63

My Prediction: Missouri 85 | Central Arkansas 62

The defeat at the hands of Seton Hall was concerning following strong performances against Wichita State and Kansas, but the Tigers were still only a couple of key mistakes away from winning in KC.

The Illinois result was far more concerning. Mizzou looked outmatched on both ends, as nobody outside of East was able to find any form of rhythm and the Illini were able to run up and down the floor with ease. It was the last performance one would have wanted to see right before conference play began, and it raised plenty of question marks.

Gates remains confident in the process of the season, especially given the tough non-conference slate:

“I’m excited about us trending in the right direction, I see the pieces, the growth and guys trending in the right direction,” Gates said following the loss. “We haven’t played a great game this year where you have all of your parts clicking.”

This is a game in which Missouri should look to gain some confidence entering SEC play, putting forth an efficient performance on both ends of the floor. There’s no reason to believe that this one should be within 10 points, but we also said that about the Jackson State game, and we all know how that went.

Still, this team has matured over the past month and a half, the rotation is in a better place and the margin for error has become much thinner. With all of those factors combined, I don’t see this Tiger team laying another egg at home.