Hoops breakdown: Murray State

Looking to break a three-game losing streak, Missouri returns home to face Murray State on Sunday. The Tigers underperformed in their Kansas City, getting blown out by Creighton and narrowly topped by Houston. The team the Tigers face in their first game at Mizzou Arena is better than both of those clubs.

1) Ready to run: Murray State plays an up-tempo, aggressive style that is appropriate for its nickname. The Racers rely on a full-court press to force turnovers and confuse, frustrate and trap their opponents. Murray State forced 40 turnovers in their first two games -- the competition was not top-flight, as they faced SIU-Edwardsville and Arkansas Tech, but an impressive amount nonetheless -- and will likely approach this game the same way. Missouri struggled at times to fight through the press against Creighton and Houston, so it should see a steady diet of press from the Racers.

On the other end of the court, Murray State is as athletic a team as you'll find in a mid-major conference like the Ohio Valley. The Racers are fast on the offensive end and will continually slash to the basket with their quick and talented guards. Murray State is not the best shooting team, hitting just 30 percent of its 3-pointers this season, but it has several scoring threats. After surrendering bushels of points to teams like Davidson and Creighton, Missouri might allow the Racers to do the same.

2) Movin' on down: The Racers have several transfers that play significant roles. Guard Trey Pearson, the team's leading scorer at 19 points per game, sat out last season after transferring from Mississippi, while guard Keith Jenifer did the same after moving over from Virginia.

These players possess major conference talent, giving Murray State a surprising amount of depth for a school from the Ohio Valley. Even after losing four of five starters from a team that won the conference tournament and lost to Illinois in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Racers are considered the class of the Ohio Valley and a team to be reckoned with.

Pearson is a big part of that; he dropped 28 points on Edwardsville, hitting all 13 of his free throw attempts and chipping in five assists. Jenifer, who scored eight points in 29 minutes against the Tigers as a Cavalier on Feb. 3, 2002, provides another option for the multifaceted Racers. This is not a team the Tigers can give open looks; the intensity must be there defensively for the Tigers to hang in this one.

3) Going deep: Murray State coach Mick Cronin can run out nine or 10 players that he has confidence in to produce. The balance is evident: in their 81-50 win against Arkansas Tech, only two Racers reached double digits, and both barely got there. Forward Shawn Witherspoon led the Racers with 12 points, while Pearson chipped in 10. Six other players had at least six points, giving the Racers plenty of options.

Missouri has had decent production from its bench, but these role players have not contributed enough to give the Tigers much success. If point guard Spencer Laurie is healthy enough to return, he would give the Tigers a significant boost. Otherwise, freshmen Marshall Brown and Glen Dandridge need to contribute more consistently, and avoid foul trouble while they are at it.

4) The Oakland effect: Missouri has played three more games than the Racers, a complete turnaround from last season, when the Tigers did not begin the season until Nov. 29. And while Missouri has not faced the most imposing competition, at least they have faced teams from Division I, which Murray State cannot claim.

That said, neither team is looking beyond this matchup. If the Tigers rolled to the Guardians Classic title in Kansas City, this could be a trap game; instead, it becomes hugely important. For the Racers, they could use a win against the Tigers to leap into a more difficult stretch of schedule.

5) Projected headline: Tigers turn the Paige

The motivation to win the first game in a new arena is a notable one, but doing the same in a renamed building is probably not as important. Still, Missouri will be glad to return to their home, even if the name on the outside has changed.

The Tigers will still show some shooting weaknesses, but they will improve from the low-30 percent marks it had in Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium. Sophomores Thomas Gardner and Linas Kleiza will have big games, allowing the Tigers to squeak by the Racers and return to .500 on the season.

Final score: Tigers 72, Racers 71


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