It’s been a long offseason for Missouri basketball and its fans.
The team is just days away from what many have been waiting for for months: the tipoff of the Tigers’ 2017-18 season. With new talent on Missouri’s roster, first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin and the rest of the Mizzou Athletics staff scheduled more difficult opponents. Missouri ranks 46th in strength of schedule, according to TeamRankings.com.
Below is a look at Missouri’s biggest games on its schedule and what Tiger fans will need to watch for as the team takes the floor.
####Most intriguing matchup: Nov. 10 vs. Iowa State
The debuts and attention surrounding freshmen Blake Harris, Michael Porter Jr., Jontay Porter, Jeremiah Tilmon and coach Martin will be the main focus of Friday night’s season opener. The Iowa State Cyclones, who made the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship tournament, will be a gauge for how the newcomers can play as a cohesive unit against a formidable opponent during the early part of the season.
####Must-win matchup: Dec. 23 vs. Illinois
2017’s Braggin’ Rights game will be held at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. While Missouri and Illinois no longer compete on the football field, the rivalry is alive and well on the hardwood. After dramatic offseasons for both teams, there will be loads of storylines surrounding this game, and all eyes will be on Tilmon, who faces the same Illini team he decommitted from in April.
####Game that may be tougher than it seems Dec. 19 vs. Stephen F. Austin
The Lumberjacks have made the NCAA tournament three out of the last four seasons and return TJ Holyfield, who led the team in scoring last season. His 6-foot-8 frame and scoring ability could create matchup challenges for Missouri.
Worth noting is the possibility of Missouri facing West Virginia when the two teams play in the Advocare Invitational from Nov. 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. West Virginia is the most intimidating opponent in the field and could prove to be a difficult matchup should the Tigers and Mountaineers meet in the tournament's championship game.
#####SEC home games
####Most intriguing matchup: Jan. 6 vs. Florida
Missouri’s matchup against the Gators is its first home conference game of the 2017-18 season. Florida made it all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament last season and returns many of its key contributors.
####Must-win matchup: Feb. 3 vs. Kentucky
This game has the potential to provide the most exciting atmosphere at a Missouri athletics event in a long time. Even as the Tigers took the court with just seven wins in 2016 against the Wildcats, Mizzou Arena was electric when the two teams played one another. Any conference win will be extremely valuable for the Tigers, and getting the home win over Kentucky would be crucial for position in the conference standings.
####Game that may be tougher than it seems: Jan. 10 vs. Georgia
The Bulldogs are led by preseason All-SEC First-Team selection Yante Maten, who is arguably the most dynamic offensive playmaker in the SEC. Maten will pose an outstanding defensive test for Missouri early on in conference play.
#####SEC road games
####Most intriguing matchup: Feb. 24 at Kentucky
Three weeks to the date after their first meeting on Feb 3., Missouri and Kentucky will meet again, this time in Lexington, Kentucky. This game figures to have major implications for the SEC standings and, given how difficult it is to win at Rupp Arena, it is without a doubt the toughest game on Missouri’s schedule.
####Must-win matchup: Jan. 31 at Alabama
This one will be a battle of two teams coming off of especially strong offseasons after Missouri brought in the No. 4 recruiting class in the country, while Alabama brought in the No. 8 class, according to 247Sports.
####Game that may be tougher than it seems: Jan. 20 at Texas A&M
The Aggies return bona fide NBA prospect Robert Williams III, who stars alongside developed role players and solid coaching under Billy Kennedy.
There’s no question this year’s schedule is much tougher than the season prior (Missouri was ranked 82nd in strength of schedule in 2016-17, according to CBS Sports). For a young team with a first-year head coach, much of Missouri’s success will be contingent upon performing well against strong competition.
_Edited by Eli Lederman | firstname.lastname@example.org_