1) Family matters: There are several factors connecting these teams, the most salient of which is the Grimes family. Missouri freshman forward Kalen Grimes' older brother, Mike, spent five seasons at Creighton, averaging 6.5 points and 3.5 rebounds before running out of eligibility after last season. Mike Grimes also holds Creighton's career field-goal percentage record, cashing in on 61.1 percent of his shots. The return of junior center Jeffrey Ferguson might cut into his playing time, but Kalen will have something to prove each time he steps onto the floor tonight.
There will be another reunion of sorts when Missouri sophomore point guard Spencer Laurie faces Creighton forward Anthony Tolliver. The pair led Kickapoo High to a 5A state title and 30-1 record in 2003 but are role players for their current teams. Tolliver is averaging 3.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game this season but is coming off a career best eight-point effort against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday.
2) Municipal momentum: If the crowds at the first three games at Missouri's new arena were any indication, fan support for the basketball program is lagging. What that means in downtown Kansas City is difficult to quantify, but Municipal Auditorium might not hold an overwhelming pro-Missouri crowd tonight. Kansas City is just a short trip for Omaha-area Creighton fans, so there will be a significant amount of blue and white in the building.
Missouri needs to treat this tournament as a hostile environment; without a true road game until Big 12 play starts, this young Missouri squad needs to experience that kind of atmosphere. More importantly, the Tigers need to win in it.
3) Getting Funky: Swingman Nate Funk is Creighton's top scoring threat. The junior guard, regional MVP of the Creighton preliminary, has averaged 17.7 points and seven rebounds in his first three games this season. When he is on, he is tough to stop; in wins against Alcorn State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, he shot 7-of-8 from the field in each contest.
He can certainly be limited, and Missouri's wings will make that their focus tonight. Although he managed 18 points, Iona limited Funk to 5-of-13 shooting. Keeping Funk away from the foul line -- where he is shooting 71 percent -- and getting a hand in his face on every shot must be a priority.
4) McKinney vs. McKinney: Missouri junior guard Jimmy McKinney will meet his match in Creighton point guard Tyler McKinney.
Creighton's McKinney has returned from a frightening infection that dropped vision in his right eye to 20/300. He missed the Bluejays' final 19 games last season before having two cornea transplant surgeries in the spring to return his vision to normal.
His return to full health is key for the Bluejays. In his three seasons with Creighton, the Bluejays are 57-9 with McKinney in the starting lineup -- including 13-0 since the start of last season -- and 18-14 when he's not. McKinney is averaging 6.7 assists per game this season and has had more assists than turnovers in his past 21 games.
Missouri's McKinney, meanwhile, will make his 60th consecutive start tonight. After scoring his 600th career point in a loss to Davidson on Friday, McKinney is averaging 11 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. The Tigers are most successful when McKinney drives and draws contact; he is one of Missouri's best free-throw shooters, converting at 85 percent.
5) Predicted headline: Tigers rebound, defeat Creighton
Missouri needs a quick turnaround from its stumble to Davidson last week and this is a good opponent to do that. It would be a mistake to overlook Creighton; they remain a solid and well-coached bunch, but the talent that has been there in the past is not as evident now.
The Bluejays struggled to beat Iona on their home floor, escaping with a 68-62 win in the Guardians quarterfinals. Amazingly, Creighton shot 12-of-24 from 3 in that game, compared to 7-of-28 from inside the arc. Slow the Bluejays perimeter threats -- McKinney, backup point guard Johnny Mathies, wing Kellen Milliner and forward Jimmy Motz -- and a win should come. Getting into a 3-point contest could spell doom for the Tigers.
Final score: Tigers 74, Bluejays 72