1) Battle tested: For schools in power conferences, nonconference play introduces a nice balance of cupcakes and home tests. The elite programs travel to face other elite teams on their floor, a challenge that goes a long way toward preparing each for the rigors of conference play.
Indiana's and Missouri's schedules are an interesting case study of different approaches to nonconference play. Following the Syracuse plan, the Tigers will play their entire nonconference schedule in their home state, traveling to Kansas City and St. Louis for neutral-court games. There are some challenges on that schedule, to be sure, but nothing like what the Hoosiers have faced. Indiana has already played three teams in the top 10, falling by seven to North Carolina, by five at Connecticut and by 15 to Kentucky in Louisville.
That leaves the Hoosiers at 2-4, a disappointment mark for Hoosier diehards. If Missouri had played Indiana's schedule, the Tigers' record would likely be the same. It would be a mistake to look at Indiana's record and assume this game will be a cakewalk for the Tigers.
2) Shooting the lights out: While Missouri has not been setting the court ablaze, the Hoosiers are really struggling offensively. Indiana has failed to score 70 points in one of their first six games for the first time since the 1948-49 season. Indiana could not manage 60 points in three games already.
The Hoosiers have shot better than 40 percent just once, when they made 44 percent against Indiana State. Since then, the best mark is 38 percent, with a low a dreadful 30 percent against Notre Dame.
Missouri will likely show Indiana a lot of zone looks, forcing the Hoosiers to try to make shots over the Tiger defense. It also wouldn't be surprising if Indiana did the same to the Tigers, creating three possible outcomes which I'll list in decreasingly likely order: both teams are cold from the field and the winner is the first to reach 60 points, one team is hot and cruises to a comfortable win, or both teams are hot and the points keep coming all night long.
3) Freshman impact: Each club has a couple newcomers contributing key minutes and points at vital positions. The Missouri freshmen collectively had their best game of the young season against Montana, while Indiana has had two standouts all season.
Swingman Robert Vaden is the top contributor, scoring in double digits in the first five games of his collegiate career. Vaden has yet to find his stroke, a 4-of-10 effort against the Fighting Irish his best performance. He has also been careless with the ball at times, including four turnovers against the Irish and three against Western Illinois. If Missouri can put pressure on Vaden, it could limit his impact significantly.
Forward D.J. White was expected to be one of the best incoming freshmen of the 2004 class, but he has been less consistent than Vaden. Just days after scoring 13 points against Notre Dame, he managed just one in 28 minutes against Kentucky. At 6-foot-9, White will be a difficult matchup for the Tigers. Slowing him down is not as necessary as limiting the next guy, though…
4) Watching Wright: Junior guard Bracey Wright is Indiana's main offensive threat and considered by many to be an all-American candidate. At times, Wright has shown why he should be in the discussion: he scored 31 against Kentucky and 28 at Connecticut, the two highest point totals in the Big Ten this season.
At other times, Wright has disappeared. He scored just four points on 1-of-7 shooting against Western Illinois and six points on 2-of-10 shooting against Notre Dame. Wright can get complacent when his shot is not falling; he scored 12 points but was just 4-of-14 from the field in Indiana's 63-58 loss to the Tigers last season. Stopping Wright will be the biggest test Missouri defenders have faced this season. How they fare against him will say a lot about how they will do against Illinois, Gonzaga and the heavyweights of Big 12 play.
5) Projected headline: Shots eventually fall and Tigers top Hoosiers
Even with all of the talent congregated on the benches Sunday, this could be an incredibly ugly game. I have a feeling neither team will be up for this game, making the first half lackluster before they get going in the second half.
Missouri needed a huge rally at the end of the game to knock off the Hoosiers last year in Bloomington. Although I don't expect anything like that this time around, this one should be a toss-up. The Tigers hit a few more shots in the second half and earn a little confidence before taking on No. 1 Illinois next week.
Final score: Tigers 61, Hoosiers 55