On Thursday evening in Columbia (7:00 P.M., MSN), the #15 Missouri Tigers (0-0) play host to the Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks (2-0), in the opening round of the Cancun Challenge.
Missouri continues play in the Cancun Challenge on Saturday (3:00 P.M., MSN), when the Tigers host North Florida. Next week, the Challenge moves to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, for two more games, to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 23-24.
The Fighting Leathernecks are led by a pair of sharp shooting guards, in 6'4" senior Matt Lander (18.5 pts/game, 3 assists/game), and 6'3" junior Ceola Clark (16.5 pts/game, 5 assists/game, 4 steals/game). Clark is hitting 50% of his 3-PT attempts thus far in the season, and Lander is also shooting a very high percentage.
Western Illinois brings pretty good size into this contest, and the Fighting Leathernecks go about 9-10 deep. But, they're not really a strong rebounding team, and Clark is their only real competent ball-handler.
The Fighting Leathernecks' 6'10" sophomore center, David Gebru, has scored 8 pts./game, but their top two rebounders come off of the bench, including 6'8" junior F/C Kaimarr Price (4.5 reb/game), and 6'7" junior forward Omeka Okafor (4 reb/game).
For Missouri, this one counts, and Coach Anderson will be looking for improvement in his team. By the time the Tigers get to Mexico, we should begin to get a measure of how well this team is going to defend, at least during the early portion of their schedule. Look for Coach Anderson to go with a veteran starting line-up, featuring 6'9" senior F Justin Safford, 6'8" junior F Laurence Bowers, 6'6" junior G Kim English, 6'3" junior G Marcus Denmon, and 6'1" G Michael Dixon.
Missouri will utilize a 10-man rotation, and we'll see a variety of line-ups throughout the 4-game Cancun Challenge. Expect 6'8" junior F Ricardo Ratliffe, 6'9" junior C Steve Moore, 6'2" junior G Matt Pressey, 6'6" freshman G Ricky Kreklow, and 5'10" freshman G Phil Pressey to see plenty of action. And, when Coach Anderson wants to deeper on his bench, he'll call upon 6'8" freshman F Kadeem Green, 6'9" sophomore F Jon Underwood, and 6'4" junior G Jarrett Sutton.
Last year, when Missouri played on consecutive days early in the season, at the South Padre Island Invitational, the Tigers came out sluggish on Day 2, so we'll see if Coach Anderson's team is ready for that heavy of a workload, or if he'll try to utilize more of his bench on Day 1.
This team is probably going to score a lot of points, and that scoring will probably come from a lot of different players. Judging from the exhibition contests, look for Bowers to put up big numbers.
Another interesting aspect of these early contests is the various line-up combinations that we're sure to see Coach Anderson utilize. And, the development of some of the Tigers' newcomers, such as Ratliffe, Kreklow, and the Pressey's, will be viewed with particular interest by all of Tiger Nation.