Notre Dame-Missouri Preview
After using a smaller lineup to its advantage through the first three games, Missouri could face a much tougher challenge with Tim Abromaitis set to return for Notre Dame.
The No. 21 Tigers take on the Irish in the CBE Classic semifinals on Monday night in Kansas City, Mo.
Missouri (3-0) doesn't have much of a presence in the frontcourt, but it hasn't mattered so far as the team has outrun its first three opponents. The Tigers have used a four-guard lineup, with 6-foot-8 forward Ricardo Ratliffe providing the only height inside.
Using its speed and sharp outside shooting, Missouri is averaging 82.3 points while shooting 48.3 percent (29 of 60) from 3-point range.
The Tigers defeated Niagara 83-52 on Thursday behind 22 points from Marcus Denmon, who went 5 of 8 from beyond the arc, while Kim English added four 3-pointers.
"Defenses have to pick their poison," English said. "You'd rather have your opponents shooting 18-footers than layups, and the shots went our way tonight."
English appears to have rebounded from a disappointing season. He's averaging 17.0 points - seven more than 2010-11 - and is 13 for 21 (61.9 percent) from long range.
"I'm feeling more comfortable," he said. "We're really clicking as a unit, and that comes from preparation all week."
However, the Tigers will face their toughest challenge of the young season against Notre Dame (4-0), which figures to pose a problem with three starters 6-foot-8 or taller.
This will be the season debut for Abromaitis, who was suspended the opening four contests because of a misunderstanding over an NCAA rule.
Abromaitis played two exhibition games at the beginning of the 2008-09 season, then sat out the rest of the year to preserve an extra season of eligibility. However, the NCAA only allows that for freshmen, which would have meant he used up a season of eligibility, but Notre Dame appealed and the NCAA granted him a fifth year.
Abromaitis was second on the team last season with 15.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. The Irish lost three starters from last season's team and Abromaitis is expected to be a major part of the offense.
His return figures to particularly help Notre Dame inside after it was outrebounded in two of its first three games.
However, even without Abromaitis, the Irish have won their first four games. They defeated Delaware State 93-69 on Friday, holding a 46-24 rebounding advantage, including 21 offensive boards.
Sophomore Jerian Grant leads Notre Dame with 14.0 points per game, scoring 17 in each of the last two.
"I'm happy that we got through and are 4-0 without (Abromaitis)," coach Mike Brey said. "I hope it is a blessing in disguise because some other guys have had to play long minutes, and we've found out about them. I think it can help us in the future, and I hope that future is Monday night."
Notre Dame has also been without sophomore guard Eric Atkins the last two games. He totaled 40 points in the first two contests before being sidelined with an illness. Junior guard Joey Brooks also missed the Delaware State game with flu-like symptoms.
This will be the ninth meeting between the programs and the first since Missouri's 64-56 win in 1995. The Tigers lead the series 6-2.