Missouri faces daunting task against No. 11 Xavier
CINCINNATI — Xavier coach Chris Mack saw quite a bit of growth from his team in just two days between a narrow season-opening win over Lehigh to a more decisive 33-point victory over Buffalo on Monday.
"It’s November 14, so we have a lot of room for growth," Mack said. "It was by far the best (performance) for our newcomers, which is a really good sign."
On Thursday, the 11th-ranked Musketeers begin play in the Tire Pros Invitational at HP Fieldhouse in Orlando, Fla., the site of one of last season’s signature moments when they captured the Advocare Invitational with victories over Alabama, USC and Dayton.
Xavier (2-0) will face the Missouri Tigers (1-0), a team they have beaten three straight times. The Musketeers topped Mizzou 78-66 last year at Cintas Center in Cincinnati.
"We haven’t really talked about the competition we’re going to face in Orlando," Xavier senior forward Rashid Gaston said. "We’re going to play some pretty good teams."
Joining the Musketeers and Tigers in Orlando are Oklahoma, Tulane, Northern Iowa, Arizona State, Clemson and Davidson.
Like Xavier, Missouri showed significant improvement in recent days.
After a seven-point win over Central Missouri in an exhibition game, the Tigers were impressive in routing Alabama A&M 99-44 Sunday in their home opener.
"We weren’t very good eight days ago (against Central Missouri)," Tigers coach Kim Anderson told the Kansas City Star. "and we knew we weren’t very good."
Frankie Hughes scored 23 points against Alabama A&M, tying a school record for points scored in a freshman debut. Missouri is a young team, with three sophomores and two freshmen among the starters.
The Tigers will look to extend Xavier’s perimeter defense on Thursday. After shooting 31 percent from 3-point range last season, Mizzou drained 8 of 16 attempts from beyond the arc on Sunday.
"We need outside shooting, because that was a struggle for us last year, obviously," Anderson said.
Defense is where Xavier is looking to make its biggest strides. After allowing 81 points to Lehigh, the Musketeers held Buffalo to just 53 on Monday, limiting the Bulls to 31 percent shooting and forcing 21 turnovers.
"Some of the things we emphasized (in practice) — taking care of the ball, playing a little bit longer into the shot clock, defensive intensity, crowding the floor a little bit more, I think we took a step forward," Mack said.
The Musketeers continue to deal with depth issues. Senior guard Myles Davis is still suspended due to an incident involving his ex-girlfriend’s property, and sophomore forward Kaiser Gates is working his way back from a knee injury. On Monday, Xavier had four players in double figures, led by Trevon Bluiett with 18 points.
Xavier and Missouri have only played six times previously, but there is plenty of history between the two programs.
One of the most significant victories in Xavier’s program history came against the Tigers in the first round of the 1987 NCAA Tournament. The 70-69 upset win was the first-ever NCAA Tournament victory for the Musketeers. Byron Larkin, now the color analyst on Xavier’s radio broadcasts, scored 29 points in that game to lead all scorers.
Missouri hasn’t beaten the Musketeers since 2001, a 72-60 victory in the Wooden Tradition Classic in Indianapolis.