Notable foes: a look at Mizzou basketball's opponents

Arizona (Nov. 24 in Maui, Hawaii)

The Tigers got the unlucky draw of facing Arizona in the opening round of the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational on Nov. 24. Arizona coach Sean Miller hopes to lead his team to another Elite Eight. And while the Wildcats lost their top two scorers from 2013, they still return junior Brandon Ashley, a 6-feet-9-inches forward who averaged 11.5 points per game last season. Arizona’s youth may hurt it early on, but ESPN’s top-ranked small forward from the class of 2014, Stanley Johnson, will help provide offense as a freshman on the inexperienced team. The Tigers will have to shut down Ashley if they hope to do well in the tournament.

Oklahoma (Dec. 5 in Norman, Oklahoma)

This will be the first time Missouri faces Oklahoma since leaving the Big 12 Conference in 2011. The Tigers will travel to Norman to face a Sooner team that Big 12 coaches picked to finish third in the conference. Junior Buddy Hield, a Preseason All-Big 12 selection, finished last season averaging 16.5 points per game and led the conference in rebounding. Missouri coach Kim Anderson will hope his defense-first mentality helps the Tigers going against the seventh-highest scoring team in the nation.

Xavier (Dec. 13 in Columbia)

Missouri takes on Xavier in Columbia on Dec. 13. While the Musketeers may not have a ton of experience, their incoming recruiting class brings a lot of depth to a team, with 10 underclassmen on the roster. Center Matt Stainbrook and guard Myles Davis will lead the Musketeers. Youth will be a factor early on in the season for the Musketeers, so if Missouri can grab an early lead and put Xavier on its heels, the Tigers will have a good chance to take this one on their home court.

Illinois (Dec. 20 in St. Louis)

The annual Braggin’ Rights Game will be played at Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Dec. 20. The Tigers will be looking to avenge last year’s 65-64 loss to the Illini, which knocked Missouri out of the Top 25 rankings. Prior to 2013, Missouri won four straight “Braggin’ Rights” contests by a combined 37 points. Illinois returns its top two scorers in Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams, who averaged 15.5 and 11.0 points per game last year, respectively. Illinois leads the series record 21-12, and if Missouri is going to gain any ground, it’ll start by beating a mediocre Illini team.

Oklahoma State (Dec. 30 in Kansas City)

Losing both Marcus Smart and Markel Brown will hurt Oklahoma State. The top two leading scorers on the 2013 Cowboys squad will be replaced by senior wing Le’Bryan Nash, who averaged 13.9 points per game last season. Nash also returns with the most minutes per game from a year ago. The Cowboys finished eighth in the Big 12 last season, and this year doesn’t look much more promising. Missouri will likely struggle as inexperience might slow them down, though Oklahoma State is in somewhat of a similar situation.

Louisiana State (Jan. 8, 2015 in Columbia)

Losing Johnny O’Bryant III to the NBA will hurt LSU early on, as they will need to replace their top scorer and second-best rebounder. LSU ranked in the top ten rebounding teams last season and averaged 39.7 rebounds per game as a team. And if LSU rebounds like that against Mizzou, it will be tough for Missouri to take control of the game. The LSU team that went .500 in conference play and made it to the second round of the National Invitational Tournament last year also averaged an impressive 5.9 blocks per game. LSU held off Missouri in a 77-71 victory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a season ago. But traveling to Mizzou Arena could prove to be a more difficult task for LSU.

Auburn (Jan. 10, 2015 in Auburn, Alabama; March 3, 2015 in Columbia)

Senior guard KT Harrell will likely have to lead Auburn after averaging 18.3 points per game last year. The (other) Tigers haven’t been part of March Madness in 11 years, when they made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Missouri barely outlasted Auburn last year, so it could be an interesting matchup, especially since both teams lost their leading scorers. Auburn may have the upper hand with Harrell and returning guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen.

Kentucky (Jan. 13, 2015 in Lexington, Kentucky; Jan. 29, 2015 in Columbia)

The Wildcats are the deepest team in the nation. They return three starters from last year’s Final Four team, and coach John Calipari brought in four ESPN five-star recruits. One criticism of Kentucky is that it may actually be too deep. Gosh, it’s quite the predicament. Kentucky is the preseason No. 1 team for the second year running in most rankings, and it’s hard to deny with the amount of talent both on the floor and on the bench. Missouri will struggle to keep up with the bigger, faster, stronger and better Wildcats when the teams play at both schools this season.

Tennessee (Jan. 17, 2015 in Columbia)

The Volunteers made an impressive run to the Sweet Sixteen this past March as a No. 11-seed after finishing fourth in the SEC. Losing both Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes will hurt the offensive firepower from the Vols. They averaged 18.6 and 14.7 points per game last year, respectively, and Stokes also led the team in rebounds with 10.3 per game. Rebounding was a strength of Tennessee last year, ranking 20th in the nation with 38.8 boards per game. But the Volunteers may struggle as they must replace their top three rebounders from last season with junior guard Derek Reese and 6-feet-10-inches freshman forward Tariq Owens.

Texas A&M (Jan. 21, 2015 in College Station, Texas; Feb. 7, 2015 in Columbia)

Missouri beat the Aggies twice last year, both nail-biters, and this year could be similar. Junior guard Jamal Jones brings back 13.4 points per game and coach Billy Kennedy brought in four-star recruit Alex Robinson, a 6-feet-1-inch point guard from Arlington, Texas. Defensively, Missouri should fare well. A&M scored an average of just 65.2 points per game last year. The Aggies will be fairly dangerous this season, but look out for A&M to break out after signing two four-star recruits from the class of 2015 this fall.

Arkansas (Jan. 24, 2015 in Columbia; Feb. 18, 2015 in Fayetteville, Arkansas)

Arkansas averaged the 17th most points in the country last year with 80.3 per game, and with its top three scorers returning this year, the Razorbacks could outdo themselves. Coach Mike Anderson has highly praised returning forward Bobby Portis, who averaged 12.4 points per game last season. Portis’ work ethic has solidified him as a leader both on and off the court, so if the Tigers can shut down the 6-feet-11-inches sophomore, they have a better chance at taking this one in Columbia. Arkansas was also impressive last year on the other side of the ball, averaging 8.6 steals per game — 10th best in the nation. An inexperienced team like Missouri could fall victim to Arkansas’ strong stealing power, so possession will play a crucial role.

Mississippi (Jan. 31, 2015 in Columbia)

After graduating leading scorer Marshall Henderson, much of the Rebels' offense will be centered around senior guard Jarvis Summers. Ole Miss upset the Tigers a year ago, and now with an older team, the Rebels will attempt to use their experience to outlast Missouri. Nine upperclassmen fill up most of the Ole Miss roster, which will help them down the stretch during conference play. The Rebels averaged 75.2 points per game last season and finished tied with Missouri in the SEC regular season rankings. Last year, Ole Miss barely outlasted Missouri, 91-88, so another close matchup this year is to be expected.

Alabama (Feb. 4, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama)

After posting a mediocre 7-11 conference record last year, Alabama will look to get behind senior Levi Randolph to provide a bulk of the offense for the Crimson Tide. The 6-feet-5-inches guard averaged 9.6 points per game, but without Trevor Releford running the offense, the senior will have his chance to shine. Junior guard Retin Obasohan, who averaged 9.5 points per game, will also provide scoring. Without any highly-touted recruits, it’s unlikely Alabama will make it back to the NCAA tournament, which it hasn’t played in since a first-round loss to Creighton in 2012.

South Carolina (Feb. 10, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina)

After finishing 14-20 overall and just 5-13 in conference play in 2013-14, the Gamecocks will at least return their second-leading scorer from last season, Sindarius Thornwell, who averaged 13.4 points per game. Also returning is senior guard Tyrone Johnson, who led the team in assists with 3.4 per game and averaged 11.2 points per game. South Carolina’s depth isn’t terrible, as it returns four of its top five scorers from 2013, but Missouri’s defense-first mentality should still be able to shut down the Cocks.

Mississippi State (Feb. 14, 2015 in Columbia; March 7, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi)

Mississippi State’s football team has shocked the nation this year, but it’s unlikely the Bulldogs basketball team will do the same. Mississippi State finished last in the SEC last year, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have the same outcome again. The Bulldogs lost 13 consecutive conference games last season by an average of 13.08 points. In other words, most of the games weren’t even close. They averaged just 67.7 points per game, so Missouri shouldn’t have too much trouble –– especially with the Tigers’ new focus on defense.

Vanderbilt (Feb. 21, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee)

The Commodores were the definition of mediocrity last year, going 15-16 on the year. 23 of those games were decided by single digits, so it goes to show Vandy could play with almost anybody last year. Losing three of the top four scorers doesn’t help the Commodores, especially the loss of Eric MccLellan, who averaged 14.3 points per game and had a .436 field goal percentage. Missouri and Vandy traded wins last year, each coming at home, so this year’s matchup in Nashville could be a tough one for the Tigers.

Florida (Feb. 24, 2015 in Columbia)

The returning Southeastern Conference champions went undefeated in conference play last year and dropped just three games all season. But after losing their top two scorers from their 2013-14 team — and four leading seniors — this season may have a different outlook. Coach Billy Donovan landed five-star recruit Devin Robinson, who will likely get some playing time early on. The Gators scored 1.14 points per possession last year in SEC play, and despite a Final Four campaign, Donovan was disappointed with just a semifinal performance after being ranked No. 1 in the nation much of the year. Florida should be able to take care of Missouri pretty easily, but home court advantage at Mizzou Arena might make for an interesting matchup.

Georgia (Feb. 28, 2015 in Athens, Georgia)

The Bulldogs finished third in the SEC last year with the same conference record as Kentucky. This year, they could be even more dangerous, as they return four of their top five scorers from last season, including junior guard Charles Mann, who averaged 13.9 points per game last season. The scoring depth returning for Georgia could make the Bulldogs a tough team to play, especially on the road. The Bulldogs fell to Louisiana Tech in the second round of the NIT this past March, but look for Georgia to be a dark horse to make the NCAA tournament in 2015, something it hasn’t done since a first-round loss to Washington in 2011.

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