1) Find your stroke: More than anything else right now -- including their opponent, their defense or the lackluster attendance -- the Tigers have to be concerned with their shooting. When Missouri's shots are falling, they can run with any team in the country. When they're not, Missouri will find it difficult to beat any team in the country.
This is not to take anything away from Montana; a big effort from the Grizzlies could easily drop Missouri below the .500 mark again. Still, getting things going on the offensive end has to be the priority. Coach Quin Snyder continues to stress defense -- and rightfully so, since that could be what eventually makes or breaks this season -- but the Tigers need to get things figured out on offense.
After Tuesday's loss to Arkansas, redshirting guard Marcus Watkins and freshman swingman Glen Dandridge were shooting in the practice gym adjacent to the Tiger locker room. Hopefully the rest of the team joined them shortly thereafter, but I have my doubts. Another 30 percent shooting effort is not going to get it done.
2) Living large with Lenny?: Sophomore forward Linas Kleiza continues to be the fulcrum upon which this season sits. If Kleiza has a big night -- by either hitting his shots or finding open teammates -- Missouri should demolish a team like Montana. The Grizzlies have decent size, including seven players 6-foot-7 or taller, but none of them have the athleticism to match what Kleiza brings, making him a matchup nightmare for another coach.
Montana has some talented bigs, but nobody that can slow down Kleiza. (Only Kleiza could do that.) Forward Kamarr Davis earned all-Big Sky honors as a junior transfer last season, averaging 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds in league play. The only senior on the roster, Davis is looked to for both leadership and production; he provided at Southeast Missouri State on Thursday, pouring in 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting to lead the Grizzlies to a 69-66 win that leveled their record at 3-3. The Davis-Kleiza matchup could decide Saturday's outcome.
3) Making a point of getting fresh: Much like Missouri, Montana is using an influx of youngsters to balance out a lack of seniors. Also like the Tigers, the Grizzlies' most important freshman is a point guard; Matt Martin has taken the reins of the offense right out of high school, with mixed results.
Martin's best game of the season came against SEMO, when he scored 13 points and adding seven assists. Missouri's freshman point guard, Jason Horton, is becoming more comfortable with the offense, although he has yet to find his shot. Horton has more speed and quickness than Martin, but you cannot argue with Martin's results. If, at worse, the two freshmen cancel each other out in production and mistakes, Missouri should have the advantage.
4) Focus, focus, focus: If Missouri struggled with the last group of Grizzlies they faced -- those from Oakland -- this group should present a similar test. Montana is a solid team; its three losses, to perennial mid-major powers Gonzaga and Western Kentucky and a two-point home defeat to Santa Clara, which knocked off North Carolina in November, are all quality losses, if such a thing exists. First-year coach Larry Krystowiak, at 6-foot-9 a matchup nightmare for any opposing coach, inherited a talented group from the departed Pat Kennedy.
The early results are promising for Grizzly fans and disturbing for Missouri supporters. With some talented teams coming up on the schedule, the Tigers could easily overlook Krystowiak's bunch. That would be a mistake.
5) Projected headline: Tigers grind past Grizzlies
The headline worked once, so I might as well try it again.
Missouri opens hot from the field, helping to erase any memories of their slow start against the Razorbacks. After that, Missouri slows down a bit and lets the Grizzlies back into the game at halftime.
The Tigers take a comfortable lead coming out of the locker room, pushing it to about 10 points before Montana rallies late to make the score more respectable. As a whole, the Tigers struggle from the field but gain a little confidence and momentum before facing Indiana, Illinois and Gonzaga before the new year opens.
Final score: Tigers 63, Grizzlies 57