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HEAD COACH: Missouri is fronted by 6 year head coach Quin Snyder, who landed the job after Norm Stewart stepped down from the position following the 1998-99 season, after 32 years at the helm. Previous to Mizzou, Snyder served as an assistant at Duke University for 5 years.
THIS SEASON: The Tigers are 6-5 thus far, with wins over Brown, Houston, Murray State, Oakland, Montana and Indiana, and losses against Davidson, Creighton, Houston (yes - they played them twice), Arkansas, and Illinois.
After losing one of the most talented senior classes to ever play at Missouri, the Tigers return this year with a young team that includes four top 100 freshmen, including a young point guard who is progressing well. They also return Linas Kleiza, who was beginning to really shine when he went down with a season ending shoulder injury last season. It is a young team, but one with nice athleticism and significant potential.
PG – #12 Jason Horton (6-0, Fr.) = Horton gives Missouri what they lacked last season – a true point guard. Horton was one of the most highly rated point guards in the 2004 class, where he averaged 19.7 PPG and 5.8 APG in his senior year at Cedar Hill (Texas) High School. He has good ball handling skills, quickness and leadership qualities. As is typical with many freshman point guards, Horton is downplaying his offensive skills in an effort to learn Mizzou's offense and run it effectively. He is averaging 4.8 PPG and 3.3 APG so far.
G - #1 Jimmy McKinney (6-3, Jr.) = Due to Horton's appearance on the scene, McKinney has been able to move back to his more natural position at off guard. McKinney shot 37% from 3 ball land last year, but he is excellent at dribble penetration and making his physical body an issue when driving towards the hoop. Great finisher. He is averaging 8 PPG and 4.5 RPG this year.
G - #2 Jason Conley (6-5, Sr.) = Conley is a VMI transfer who is best known for leading the nation in scoring two seasons ago. Although he struggled a bit when he first became eligible last season, he really began to show signs of his skills and athleticism in late February/early March. He has improved on defense, and can score for anywhere on the floor. He is averaging 10.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG and is shooting 40% from 3 ball land so far this season.
F - #14 Kevin Young (6-9, Jr.) = Young is the most experienced big man on the Mizzou roster. He has a strong, bruising body due to tremendous conditioning. He has lost nearly 70 pounds since he first arrived in Columbia. Young finishes well in the low blocks. He is averaging 4.9 PPG and 5.8 RPG thus far.
C = #41 Linas Kleiza (6-8, So.) = Kleiza is without question Missouri's best and most talented player. Kleiza scored 16 points and gathered 13 rebounds before fouling out in last year's match up versus Gonzaga. He has been terrific so far, averaging 17 PPG and 7.5 RPG. Kleiza has also developed a nice outside shot. He is hitting his 3's at a 36% clip. He is a true banger inside, and GU will need to do a good job guarding him and keeping him off the boards.
Thomas Gardner (#3, 6-5, So.) is Missouri's top reserve. He is averaging 10.1 PPG and 3.4 RPG this season. He also happens to be Mizzou's best on ball defender, and an explosive finisher on the break. Marshall Brown (#15, 6-7, Fr.) is another member of Mizzou's heralded recruiting class. He can play at either forward position, and has tremendous athleticism and finishing skills. Kalen Grimes (#44, 6-8, Fr.) is yet another top 100 talent. He has soft hands and can be powerful underneath. Glen Dandridge (#25, 6-6, Fr.) can play both at off guard and wing, and is a solid defender. Jeffrey Ferguson (#32, 6-11, Jr.) provides more frontcourt help behind Kleiza.
SOME KEYS TO THE GAME:
Despite its 70-64 loss to #1 Illinois last week, Missouri played its best game of the season so far. That performance came off an excellent 2nd half comeback versus Indiana. The Tigers have stepped up their defensive intensity on the perimeter, and Kleiza is proving to be a total load for anyone who faces him.
Columbia is always a tough place to play for opposing teams, and after last season's Battle In Seattle loss, Mizzou would like nothing more than to pin Gonzaga with a loss – especially with the Zags beating 3rd ranked Oklahoma State on Tuesday night.
Although Missouri is playing good defense, and creating more points off of turnovers, the fact remains that they are a poor shooting team overall (39.6%). They also struggle from the 3 point line (32.6%). Look for the Zags to play a lot of zone, and to put a body at all times on Kleiza to frustrate him and limit his touches.
Missouri has excellent athleticism, and a number of players like McKinney, Conley, etc., who can drive towards the hoop from the perimeter and find gaps in the zone. GU must tighten up the interior in the same way they did so against Oklahoma State in order to force the Tigers to shoot from the outside.