Ark.-Pine Bluff-Missouri Preview
A tournament championship south of the border should give Missouri some momentum heading into a busy and challenging stretch of games.
The No. 11 Tigers likely face their easiest task of that span Sunday against visiting Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the first of three games in five days.
Coach Mike Anderson was pleased after Missouri (4-0) beat Wyoming 72-62 and La Salle 83-71 to win the Cancun Challenge this week, though it wasn't easy.
Missouri shot 38.9 percent over two days and committed 20 turnovers against Wyoming, but also showed signs of playing with the sense of urgency Anderson wants to see.
The Tigers used a 14-2 run to overcome a second-half deficit in Wednesday's title game versus La Salle, and they scored a season-high 49 bench points after averaging 27.0 through three games. Missouri committed six turnovers, less than half its season average.
"You have those things going in your favor, most times you're going to win," Anderson said. "It's a great start for our team in terms of progressing in the right direction."
Anderson hopes that continues as the Tigers look to open with five straight wins for the first time since 2006-07.
After a visit from Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-5), the Tigers' schedule gets more difficult with a matchup against No. 16 Georgetown in Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday and a trip to Oregon on Thursday.
Depth could help Missouri handle this grueling challenge.
Anderson has used 10 players regularly this season. Guard Marcus Denmon had 21 points off the bench against La Salle and he averages a team-high 14.3, one of six Tigers who scores at least 7.5 per game.
"I think that's what you're trying to learn in the early non-conference schedule, the different mixes and guys that are going to play well and just trying to get the right combination," Anderson said.
Denmon averaged 10.4 points mostly as a reserve in 2009-10 but failed to score more than 10 in two of his first three starts this season. He was back in a reserve role this week, going 7 of 12 from the field against the Explorers after scoring nine points on 3-of-13 shooting versus Wyoming.
Though the junior would prefer to start, Denmon won't complain as long as he contributes.
"It's not a role that I want to get back accustomed to," said Denmon, named MVP of the tournament. "I just want to do whatever I can do to help the team win."
Junior guard Kim English (8.0 ppg) is averaging 6.0 points fewer than he did last season, but he's totaled 31 points while going 6 of 10 from 3-point range in two games versus Pine Bluff.
He had 18 in last season's 88-70 win over the Golden Lions.
English and the Tigers are poised to improve to 4-0 against Pine Bluff, which has averaged 48.0 points on 27.6 percent shooting in the previous three games versus Missouri.
Though the Lions lost their top three scorers from last season's squad that beat Winthrop in the NCAA tournament play-in game, they haven't shied away from playing some tough competition.
Yet to play a home game, Pine Bluff has averaged 49.6 points this season while falling to the likes of Nebraska, Northwestern and Stanford.
Leading scorer Savalance Townsend (12.3 ppg) had 25 points in a 70-63 loss at Hawaii on Wednesday.
Missouri has won a school-record 49 straight non-conference home games.