Hoops breakdown: Brown

Missouri begins its long run of in-state nonconference play in its home opener against Brown in the Guardians Classic on Monday. The Bears will be without their top scorer, providing the Tigers with an opportunity to start the season off with a win.

1) Not his Forte: Brown will be without senior guard and co-captain Jason Forte, who was suspended indefinitely for "behavior detrimental to the team" by coach Glen Miller, the Providence Journal reported Saturday. Forte averaged 16.8 points and five assists last season and was the player coach Quin Snyder was referring to when, in his press conference after the Northwest Missouri State game, he said he knew the Bears have "a good guard." Without Forte, who had back-to-back triple-doubles against Dartmouth and Harvard last year, Brown will find it difficult to score consistently.

2) Keep it moving: Forte is the centerpiece of Brown's motion offense, which is predicated on getting the ball out on fast breaks. With Forte sidelined, there is little experience left to run the offense. (The Bears have eight freshmen on their roster, including five guards.) Sophomore Marcus Becker, who averaged 17.7 minutes last season, seems to be the best fit to take the point-guard reins, but freshman Damon Huffman, considered by many the Ivy League's best newcomer, should see time there, too. Missouri is young but more talented in the backcourt; this will be a good first test for freshman Jason Horton, although it would have been a better one if Forte were playing.

3) Inexperience vs. inexperience: Brown has just two returning starters from a team that went 14-13 last season, 10-4 in Ivy League play. Without Forte, junior Luke Ruscoe, who averaged 8.1 points and 2.4 assists last season, will be the only familiar face for Brown supporters. Ruscoe, a 6-foot-7 guard, offers an interesting size matchup for the Tigers, since they do not have an experienced guard with that kind of size.

The Bears do not have much of a post presence, so Missouri will likely be able to throw a handful of players at Ruscoe, including freshmen Marshall Brown and Glen Dandridge. Missouri's bigs, most notably juniors Kevin Young and Jeffrey Ferguson, will have an opportunity to get some positive momentum going.

4) Interchangeable parts: On its shiny new home court in the season opener, Missouri should win this game handily. If the game gets out of hand early in the second half, the Tigers need to get their youngsters into the game as soon as possible. It will take several games for the coaching staff to get the rotation where they like it, but, especially freshman Kalen Grimes, some of the players need a quick introduction to Division I college basketball.

The off-guard battle is also worth keeping an eye on; junior Jimmy McKinney came off the bench to have a strong game in the exhibition opener, while sophomore Thomas Gardner turned the same trick in the other exhibition game. Either is capable of starting and both would make an impact off the bench; how Snyder decides to put the pieces together is worth watching.

5) Predicted headline: Tigers bruise Brown

If Forte were available, this could be a closer game than Missouri fans would like or expect. Without him, Brown will be without one of the best players in the Ivy League and its only gamebreaker. This is a great season opener for the Tigers; facing an inexperienced and overmatched opponent, Missouri should be able to use its athleticism to cruise to a comfortable win and complete the first leg of the trip to Kansas City.

Sophomore Linas Kleiza has a big opening 20 minutes, overpowering Brown's inexperienced post players on his way to 15 first-half points, while Missouri plays the Bears even in the second half. Final score: Tigers 78, Bears 56


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