Hoops breakdown: Davidson

With a spot in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic sewn up, Missouri takes a break from the tournament by welcoming Davidson to Columbia tonight. The Wildcats boast an experienced lineup, returning four of five starters from a team that went 17-12 last season. Check inside for the five keys of Missouri's matchup against its Southern Conference foe.

1) Game shape: In a complete turnaround of last season, when Missouri did not open its season until Nov. 29, the Tigers will have more game experience than Davidson, which opens it season tonight. The Tigers have already played four games, two of which meant something, while the Wildcats have just a 94-66 exhibition win against St. Francis/Xavier on Nov. 6 under their belts. How meaningful this advantage really is can be debated, but the Missouri coaching staff should be much farther along in their evaluation of the team. The Wildcats return four of five starters from last season, so the look of the starting lineup itself might not be a factor. Still, Missouri has an edge here.

2) Watch Winters: The Wildcats' best threat is swingman Brendan Winters, who averaged 17.8 points and 5.1 rebounds last season. Winters alone makes Davidson a contender in the Southern Conference and gives them hope against a more athletic and deeper Missouri club.

Winters, a 6-foot-5 junior, shot 38 percent from 3 on his way to a spot on the all-conference team last year. He will be Davidson's primary option and should prove an interesting matchup for senior swingman Jason Conley, who once led the nation in scoring with VMI against a similarly small conference. Conley has shown fire on the court the past two times out but needs to pick up his game defensively to slow down Winters.

3) On the inside: Joining Winters down low are seniors Logan Kosmalski and Conor Grace. Kosmalski had a huge game against St. Francis Xavier, managing 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting. A 6-foot-9 forward (and former Baylor reserve) who averaged 12.3 points and seven rebounds last season, Kosmalski will be the first real test for Missouri's inexperienced big men. Grace, an Ireland native, averaged 6.5 points and 6.7 rebounds last season to earn acclaim as one of the conference's best rebounders, while junior Ian Johnson is a big contributor off the bench, averaging 11.2 points role last season.

Missouri again will be without junior Jeffrey Ferguson, who serves the final game of his suspension tonight. That leaves junior Kevin Young and sophomore Linas Kleiza as the primary bigs; it should be interesting to see how Snyder matches his players up against the Wildcats inside. Young's defensive ability makes him the best candidate to try to limit Kosmalski, but that might get the big Jamaican into early foul trouble. It would not be surprising to see more of freshman Kalen Grimes tonight. On the other end of the floor, Davidson has no answer for Kleiza, who should have another strong game.

4) On the mark: After Tuesday's game, Houston coach Tom Penders said the Tigers' 77-61 win came down to one aspect of the game: 3-point shooting. After struggling mightily against Brown's extended 2-3 zone, the Tigers lit up Houston, going 12-of-23 from the outside and knocking down threes in succession to spark big runs.

Davidson must not let that happen to stay in this game. Coach Bob McKillop normally uses man-to-man sets, but it would not be a surprise if he shows a little zone to try to cool the Tigers off. Missouri eventually will hit some shots, but similar to Houston, Davidson has some sharp outside shooters that might be enough to keep them in the game.

The Bobcats shot 44 percent from the field last season, so they will rarely be forced into bad shots. Keeping the ball out of the Wildcats' top outside shooters -- Winters, Johnson, guard Matt McKillop (the coach's son) and guard Eric Blancett, a St. Louis native -- is a priority.

5) Predicted headline: Southern hospitality

This is one of Missouri's best tests of the nonconference season. Similar to Brown, the Wildcats will play smart, fundamental basketball. Unlike the Bears, Davidson will have its best player available.

If the Tigers can rein in Winters and Kosmalski, they will have little trouble winning their third in a row. This could be the game Missouri lack of interior depth is exposed: if the Tigers' outside shots do not fall early, they could be in for a long evening. Either way, a loss would be a shocker of Belmont proportions.

Final score: Tigers 79, Wildcats 63


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