Hoops breakdown: American

Riding the momentum of their biggest win of the season, Missouri hosts American on Tuesday evening at Mizzou Arena. American will be the Tigers' final opponent before Big 12 Conference play opens this weekend, so a win would go a long way toward pushing them to success in league play. The Tigers should win, but the Eagles have a few shooters that they must not overlook.

1) Foreign flavor: For a school with a name as patriotic as American University, the Eagles have a distinct international flavor. Six players – including three of the likely starters – are from outside the United States, including three from Lithuania. Mix in two foreign-born Tigers that will see action and you have a global summit taking place Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena.

Appropriately enough, American's two most potent scorers are natives of Virginia. Andre Ingram, last season's Patriot League Freshman of the Year, has continued his strong play in his sophomore year. Ingram is averaging 16.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and three assists per game and is athletic enough to give Big 12 teams fits. Guard Jason Thomas joins Ingram as the Eagles' other top offensive threat, averaging 12.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

American uses a three-guard lineup, employing the 6-foot-3 Thomas as its swingman. Missouri will hold the height advantage, but the Eagles' starting lineup has the athleticism to match up well. The Tigers will look to exploit an undersized and inexperienced American bench.

2) Linas vs. Linas: Among American's three Lithuanians is sophomore Linas Lekavicius, who has taken over the starting point guard duties this season. Lekavicius is attempting to replace Andres Rodriguez, who combined with Ingram to lead the Eagles to within a basket of securing the Patriot League's automatic NCAA bid.

Lekavicius has fared relatively well so far, averaging five assists to 3.2 turnovers per game. He is not the best shooter -- he is converting 36 percent, including a 0-for-9 effort against La Salle on Dec. 28, on his way to 5.4 points per game -- but is solid, if not spectacular, on both ends of the floor. Ryan Graham backs up Lekavicius and averages three points per game.

Lekavicius presents an opportunity for Missouri freshman point guard Jason Horton to continue to establish himself before league play opens Saturday. Horton's past two games have been the best of his short Missouri career, and that trend could continue Tuesday.

3) On the inside…or not: American has three solid options at forward, and then the talent level falls off precipitously. Patrick Okpwae and Matej Cresnik, averaging 10.1 and 9.7 points respectively, are decent options; at 6-foot-6, Okpwae will struggle to slow down Missouri's more athletic big men.

Ironically, the 6-foot-9 Cresnik is at the same time the Eagles' tallest starter and their best 3-point shooter. Cresnik has converted 19-of-37 shots from beyond the arc and will prove a difficult matchup for Kevin Young and Kalen Grimes, who are much more comfortable on the interior. The American coaching staff has pushed Cresnik to develop his inside game, but he would likely be most effective against the Tigers from the perimeter.

Forward Raimondas Petrauskas, another Lithuanian, chips in 6.9 points per game off the bench. More of an interior threat than Cresnik, Petrauskas could see plenty of time against Linas Kleiza, especially if Okpwae or Cresnik get into early foul trouble.

4) Mounting momentum: This shapes up as the prototypical trap game for the Tigers, who are coming off an emotional win against Gonzaga and a strong effort against top-ranked Illinois. Until the Tigers string together more than three halves of consistent basketball, these questions will remain.

Conversely, the Tigers can put some of those worries to rest by dominating the Eagles. Of the many positives coming out of the Gonzaga win, the Tigers finally secured a win that will impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. With losses to Davidson and Houston already on their resume, the Tigers cannot afford a loss to American. In essence, it would wipe out everything the Tigers achieved against the Fighting Illini and Gonzaga.

Having seen their defensive efforts bear fruit against Gonzaga, the players seem to understand the damage they could inflict on themselves with a poor performance against the Eagles. Much like Davidson, American is a small, talented team that can hit the outside shot. This Missouri team is much different from the one that fell to Davidson, but American can certainly hang in this one.

5) Projected headline: Alert the national guard: Kleiza stomps American

As he has been against all of the Tigers' smaller nonconference opponents, Kleiza is the factor that American cannot account for. After faring well against much more talented forwards from Illinois and Gonzaga, Kleiza will get a bit of reprieve against the Eagles. And facing three of his countrymen will provide a little extra motivation, in case he needs it.

At 6-4, American is a solid team and even earned a vote in the Associated Press poll for two weeks last month, which the Tigers have yet to accomplish. Still, the Tigers should cruise to a comfortable victory this time around, riding the momentum of a strong win against Gonzaga and launching them into the conference season.

Final score: Tigers 78, Eagles 61


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