1) Taming the trip: We'll get a chance to see if Missouri's nonconference schedule was poorly designed Tuesday evening. After playing neutral-site games in Kansas City and St. Louis, the Tigers will leave the state and play their first road game for the first time against the Cowboys. Missouri goes from the comfortable surroundings of Mizzou Arena to visit the intense atmosphere of Gallagher-Iba Arena, where Oklahoma State has not lost since Feb. 24, 2003.
In other words, it won't be easy. Missouri's young roster will face the difficulties of Big 12 play on the road for the first time. This includes freshman point guard Jason Horton, who will be responsible for running the offense in the bowling alley known as Gallagher-Iba. The Tigers were brutal during their trip to KC before improving in St. Louis in the Braggin' Rights game, but it would be a huge leap forward if they fare well in Stillwater. How the coaching staff and players react to adversity will be very telling.
2) Speed vs. speed: As if attempting to handle the atmosphere was not enough, Horton will also have to deal with Oklahoma State guard John Lucas, last year's Big 12 Player of the Year. Lucas has picked up this year where he left off, and some of his statistics are astonishing: 18.9 points per game. Only 17 turnovers to go with 50 assists. A 50 percent mark from the field, including 45 percent from beyond the arc.
Lucas might be the best point guard in the country, but Horton and the Tigers already have faced Dee Brown and Deron Williams of Illinois, two others that enter into that debate. Missouri fared well against both of those players, limiting Brown's offensive production and slowing Williams down until he converted from the free-throw line late in the game. It will take a total team effort for the Tigers to limit Lucas. Horton will not be able to handle Lucas alone; junior guard Jimmy McKinney will be asked to help slow him down as well. If the Tigers can limit the damage Lucas inflicts from the perimeter, they will have a chance to stay in this game.
3) Double threats: Twins Joey and Stephen Graham had decent seasons during their first year at Oklahoma State after transferring from Central Florida, but they have stepped their game up notably this year. Joey was fantastic in conference and postseason play last year, closing the season with back-to-back double-doubles in the Elite Eight and the Final Four. He has continued that trend this year, averaging 18.4 points, second on the team, and 6.8 rebounds to top the Cowboys.
After struggling through league play last year, Stephen has had another good season of nonconference play this year. Despite playing just 19.8 minutes per game, Graham is averaging 9.1 points and 4.9 rebounds. Like his brother, Stephen's assist-to-turnover ratio is less than impressive (the two have combined for 42 assists to 56 turnovers), but both players are scoring threats all over the court. Joey is a difficult matchup for Tiger defenders; freshman forward Marshall Brown's combination of length and quickness is a good fit, but slowing Graham down is a lot to ask.
4) Youth vs. experience: In an era of tempting NBA paychecks hanging over the heads of talented college performers, Oklahoma State is unique in that it starts five seniors. To complement Lucas and Joey Graham, Terrence Crawford, Daniel Bobik and Ivan McFarlin -- who was a senior last season and earned another year of eligibility by graduating on time as a partial qualifier -- will fill out the starting five on Tuesday night. Counter that group with Missouri's starters, who have a little more than five seasons of Big 12 experience combined, and Oklahoma State looks to have a significant edge.
Beyond the starters, Oklahoma State has three other players that average at least 10 minutes per game, including freshman standout JamesOn Curry and interior tree Frans Steyn. Curry is a slashing scorer that can fill up the basket given the opportunity and, while Steyn does not have much of a scoring touch, his 7-foot-2, 289-pound fame could give the Tigers fits.
This game provides a chance for the Tigers to grow up. With so much inexperience facing the rigors of Big 12 road play for the first time, Missouri can either fold or flourish in Gallagher-Iba. Although it will probably not be that cut and dry, the Tigers can show Tuesday night how much postseason potential they have.
5) Projected headline: Cowboys crunch Tigers
It's dangerous to read too much into the fact that the Tigers defeated Gonzaga, the only team to beat Oklahoma State this season. The Cowboys faced Gonzaga in a quasi-neutral court, falling to the Bulldogs in Oklahoma City; the Tigers knocked off a banged-up and tired Bulldog squad to Mizzou Arena two days later. Using the transitive property of Gonzaga beating Oklahoma State by three points + Missouri beating Gonzaga by two points = Missouri beats Oklahoma State by five points is misguided.
Missouri showed some disturbing inconsistencies in the second half against Iowa State on Saturday, letting a 13-point lead turn into a 12-point deficit before stealing the win away late. The Tigers cannot allow the Cowboys to have a 28-4 run as the Cyclones managed.
Missouri has won seven of nine and seems to be steadily improving, but this will be a bump in the road. Oklahoma State gets 40 points from Lucas and Joey Graham, has a comfortable halftime lead and maintains it throughout the second half to improve to 12-1.
Final score: Cowboys 72, Tigers 60