Hoops breakdown: Oakland

With a chance to climb over the .500 mark for the first time in two weeks, Missouri welcomes Oakland to Mizzou Arena on Saturday afternoon. The Tigers needed to shoot 51 percent from the field to knock off the Golden Grizzlies in their season opener last season, a mark the Tigers have yet to reach this season.

1) Early and often: Oakland will use a lot of zone against Missouri. This is an intriguing matchup for two reasons: The Golden Grizzlies are allowing opponents to shoot 54 percent from the field, while Missouri has managed so make just 39 percent of its shots.

The Tigers have struggled mightily against zone looks the past few years, including in losses to Davidson and Creighton in November. The Tigers need their shooters to get into a rhythm; sophomore forward Linas Kleiza, who scored 10 points against the Golden Grizzlies in his first collegiate game last season, needs to improve from his past three shooting efforts, in which he shot 10-of-40 from the field and 2-of-12 from 3.

Oakland does not have an individual player that can slow Kleiza down one-on-one; if he can get rolling, the Tigers could cruise to an easy win. If not, it could be a long afternoon.

2) A pointed return: Sophomore point guard Spencer Laurie should return to the lineup against the Golden Grizzlies, giving the Tigers more stability on both ends of the court. Laurie managed only four points in his three games before he suffered a high ankle sprain in practice two weeks ago, but he brings a calming influence that coach Quin Snyder raved about after Missouri knocked off Murray State on Sunday.

Laurie has not completely recovered from his injury, but he will at least give the Tigers two legitimate players to run the offense. Freshman Jason Horton, still not completely healthy after having two surgeries since spring, will have a chance to spend more time on the bench if he needs it. Shooting just 26 percent from the field this season, Horton will be able to focus on distributing the ball more when he is on the court. Laurie's return will also allow junior Jimmy McKinney, who leads the Tigers with 19 assists, to focus on the off-guard position.

3) From O'Rena to ‘Zou Arena: Oakland is in the midst of a three-game run of road games against Big 12 teams. The Golden Grizzlies slipped to 0-4 after getting rushed 81-63 by Texas A&M on Wednesday. (Oakland stays in the Midwest to face Kansas State on Monday.)

The Tigers needed 58 points from its quartet of seniors to sneak by the Golden Grizzlies 90-85 last season. Missouri shot 51 percent from the field, overcoming 20 turnovers -- including five by McKinney -- to earn the win. The Tigers will be back in the comfort of their own building this time around, while Oakland is in the midst of playing three weeks without a home game.

4) Regarding Rawle: Oakland lost guard Mike Helms, one of the nation's top scorers, to graduation last season. Helms took more than 23 points out of the lineup when he left Rochester, Mich, including the 21 he scored against the Tigers. There is plenty of experience to replace him, including senior swingman Rawle Marshall.

Marshall had a coming-out party of sorts against the Tigers last season, scoring 27 points and chipping in five steals. Marshall is a matchup nightmare; his 6-foot-7, 190-pound frame gives him the height to elevate over smaller defenders and the quickness to get around bigger ones. Senior guard Jason Conley will likely draw the responsibility of containing Marshall, but that will be a lot to ask.

Marshall had a career-high 31 points against Marquette this past Saturday and is now averaging 21 points per game. If Missouri limits Marshall to 15 points or fewer, it should cruise to a win.

5) Projected headline: Tigers grind past Grizzlies

This is another good test for the Tigers, with four more tough tasks looming later this month. This one is key; if Missouri falls, it could easily be 4-8 by New Year's Eve.

Conversely, a win could spark the Tigers to a strong run through its December schedule. With the revival of the Missouri-Arkansas matchup looming Tuesday, the Tigers could use some confidence before they face a major conference contender for the first time. Kleiza, who should be back in the starting lineup, will spark the Tigers early and score some key points down the stretch to earn Missouri its fourth win and second in a row.

Final score: Tigers 70, Golden Grizzlies 66

Black & Gold Illustrated Top Stories