Hoops breakdown: Houston

For the second time in eight days, Missouri faces Houston in the Guardians Classic tonight. This time, instead of a trip to Kansas City on the line, the Tigers battle the Cougars for the consolation championship. Since you're probably well aware of what Houston can do, these five points will detail what the Tigers need to do to break their two-game losing skid.

1) Learn to be multiple: Missouri began to do this in the second half against Creighton last night. The Tigers drove to the basket consistently, drew a lot of contact and earned trips to the free throw line. From there, though, they could not capitalize, making just 18-of-29 freebies, a 62 percent mark.

More importantly, the Tigers need to finish their chances when they drive to the hoop. As sophomore forward Linas Kleiza said after last night's loss, nothing seemed to fall through for the Tigers. A 26 percent mark from the field in the second half exposes that, but a 21 percent mark in the game from beyond the arc is more distressing. Like many schools, Missouri is a streaky shooting team, but the negative streaks have overshadowed the positive ones. That needs to end tonight.

2) Use the post game: On the first possession of the Creighton game, senior swingman Jason Conley threw the ball inside to junior center Kevin Young. Young made a nice up-and-under move and scored off the glass to give the Tigers an early 2-0 lead.

After that bucket, the offense rarely ran through the post. The tendency to do this is understandable; Young is no Arthur Johnson and his unsteady hands will create turnovers from time to time. Still, Young and freshman forward Kalen Grimes need to get looks in the post to keep defenses honest. The Tigers have not shown the ability to rotate the ball around the exterior to find open shots, so dishing the ball inside and then back out should create some open looks. At the very least, it should get the Cougars into foul trouble and force coach Tom Penders to use his bench.

3) Stay focused: The most frustrating aspect of the Tigers' season, to me at least, is their lack of focus defensively. Missouri is an athletic bunch and coach Quin Snyder and his staff stresses defense more than anything else, but the dividends have yet to surface. The Tigers have faced some decent shooting teams but have allowed opponents to shoot 49 percent from beyond the arc this season. That's simply not good enough.

For the second game in a row, the Tigers decried their inability to communicate defensively in their post-game talk with the media. Exactly what that means is difficult to quantify but not hard to correct. If you know this is a problem, how can you let it continue to eat away at your team's potential? You don't have to be supremely athletic or a superstar to play consistent defense; it just requires a little more effort than the Tigers have shown this season.

4) Show some heart: It was nice to see the Tigers rally in their close loss to Davidson last Friday; it gave me hope that this team has moved beyond the troubles that sunk the group last season.

And then last night happens and the Tigers appeared to quit on their coaches in the second half. Access to the locker room was not granted after the game, so it is difficult to gauge the mood of the team. Still, Kleiza looked flustered and angry that the Tigers dropped another one to a less talented team. The big Lithuanian is Missouri's most talented player and he consistently brings the most energy to the floor. He needs to find more consistency, though; he has shot 11-of-28 in the past two games. As the season progresses, we will see more and more that as Kleiza goes, so go the Tigers.

5) Projected headline: Tigers hunt down Houston

Ohio State routed Houston in the first 10 minutes yesterday before the Cougars woke up and made the outcome more respectable. Houston seems to have no offensive focus the vast majority of the time, so Missouri needs to take advantage of that and grab an early lead.

Most importantly, they can't let the Cougars hit a few shots early, gain confidence and think they have a shot at a win. After earning a 16-point win against Houston last week, the Tigers will struggle to match that outcome tonight. Still, the losing streak should end here.

Final score: Tigers 68, Cougars 63

InsideMizzou will have complete coverage of the consolation championship from Municipal Auditorium tonight. Be sure to check back for the most detailed look at the Tigers you'll find anywhere.


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