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Tipsheet: Mizzou faces bigger hoops test with Northern Kentucky

Tipsheet: Mizzou faces bigger hoops test with Northern Kentucky

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Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver puts up a shot under pressure from Northern Kentucky's Dantez Walton during the second half of a first round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament Friday, March 22, 2019, in Tulsa, Okla. Texas Tech won 72-57. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

After enjoying its opening walk-through against overmatched Incarnate Word, Missouri better to be ready to play mid-major power Northern Kentucky on Friday night at Mizzou Arena.

The Norse went 26-9 last season and reached the NCAA Tournament, where they had the misfortune of running into Texas Tech. Their new coach, Darrin Horn, built a mid-major juggernaut at Western Kentucky before moving up to South Carolina . . . and then out to Texas as an assistant coach when he failed to produce instant success with the Gamecocks.

During the last three years, Northern Kentucky is 73-30 with two trips to the NCAA Tournament and one NIT appearance. That success propelled coach John Brannen to Cincinnati to replace Mick Cronin.

Horn inherits the bulk of the team that ruled the Horizon League last season. Replacing center Drew McDonald, who averaged 18.7 points and 9.4 rebounds last season, will be his primary challenge.

The Norse just stepped on Cincinnati-Clermont 105-55 in the tune-up for the Tigers.

“It’s essential that you approach it the exact same way every game, whether it’s Texas Tech in the first round of the Tournament or it’s UC-Clermont,” Norse guard Tyler Sharpe told the Northern Kentucky Tribune. “That builds your habits going into a game like this Friday, when we play at Missouri. If we had come into this game and just overlooked it, then we’re letting things slip that are going to hurt us when we play much better competition.”

The Norse hope to have guard Adham Eleeda, a JUCO transfer, available to play Friday after sitting out the opener while in concussion protocol.

“We do want to play fast offensively,” Horn told Cincinnati.com before the season. “That doesn’t mean we take any shot we can get quick. We want a level of discipline and structure but also give the guys freedom to make plays. We have guys with good basketball IQ and a feel for things, a lot of veterans. We want to cut them loose a bit, within reason. Defensively, using our length. We’ve got pretty good length. We’re not a tall team, but positionally we have good length and guys who are versatile.”

Horn concedes that playing Cincinnati-Clermont is not exactly the ideal preparation for stepping up to face Mizzou. That school plays in something called the United States Collegiate Athletic Association against teams like Kent State Tuscarawas, Campbellsville University-Harrodsburg and Penn State Fayette.

Couldn't he find somebody better?

“OK, you want a home opener. Well, you can’t just call somebody and say, ‘Hey, we want you to come to our place’ in Division I,'" Horn told the Tribune. "It’s more of what I call a structure issue with the schedule. So if you’re at a school with unlimited resources, they go out and give someone ninety to a hundred grand and say, ‘You’re going to be our home opener.’ We’re not really in a situation where we can do that right now. There’s still probably going to be one or two of those (non-Division I opponents).

“Maybe we can do a better job of making it a more competitive game if we have to play that type of team in terms of whom we schedule. But at this point in time it’s going to be a little bit hard to get away from that.”

THE GRIDIRON CHRONICLES

Here is what folks are writing about college football:

Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: "Ed Orgeron's emergence. Joe Burrow's dominance. Alabama's omnipotence. College football's eminence. Yeah, there's all that in Alabama-LSU, but let's boil it down to the main thing: Tua Tagovailoa's transcendence. He is everything for the No. 3 Crimson Tide. The heart. The soul. The arm. The quarterback key to another national championship. First, he has to beat No. 2 LSU. That is, if he plays.Not that anybody doubts he will. When asked this week whether Tagovailoa -- officially a game-time decision with a high-ankle sprain-- will play, Orgeron, LSU's coach, said, 'Sure.' It's a question of health, then, with Tagovailoa less than three weeks removed from a surgically repaired ankle. Before you watch, bet or agonize over Saturday's latest Game of the Century, ask yourself this: Can Alabama win with Tagovailoa at less than 100 percent? Given his incredible talents, can 85 percent of Tagovailoa beat LSU? Can he move around enough at 80 percent? God forbid, will they stick him out there as a statue at 75 percent?  No matter your answer for the junior almost certainly playing his final season, this week, his mobility is an underdog."

Ryan McGee, ESPN.com: "This weekend, there will be no fewer than 11 LSU offensive skill players on NFL rosters. During fall camp, that number was as high as 25. Talent has never been the issue. Using that talent to its fullest potential in Baton Rouge has always been the issue. Or, had been the issue. Since the middle of the 2018 season, the Tigers have traded in their traditional stump-removal tractor offense for a top fuel dragster. LSU is ranked fourth in the nation in total offense, third in passing and seventh in points scored. Burrow broke the school's 16-year-old single-season TD pass record (28) against Mississippi State on Oct. 19, with five regular-season games still to play. He spreads the ball around so much that LSU has a dedicated page in their weekly media packet to Burrow and his four primary targets titled 'Everybody Eats.' He ranks second in the nation in passing yardage (2,805) and TD passes (30), trailing only Washington State's Anthony Gordon (3,387, 32 TDs). But Burrow leads Gordon by a wide margin in QB rating (204.5), completion percentage (78.8%) and yards per completion (10.8), and the Tigers signal-caller has thrown fewer interceptions, with only four in 260 pass attempts."

Pete Fiutak, College Football News: "Yo, Big 12. You see that totally full Liberty Bowl for Memphis vs. SMU on Saturday night? Was the house packed when that unbeaten Baylor team of yours was playing West Virginia on Thursday night? The rest of the schools might not want to split the pie, but it would be a much, much bigger – and more fun – one if you added Memphis and, say, Cincinnati or East Carolina to the mix to give West Virginia some geographic playmates. How have you not expanded and taken over UCF and USF already? The TCU thing has worked out just fine, and WVU has been a decent get. You already have the state of Texas locked up – you can deal with SMU and Houston later – but keep expanding, get bigger, get more markets, generate more energy. Get that Memphis offense in the Big 12 already."

Dan Wolken, USA Today: "Though beating Penn State in Minneapolis on Saturday would drive Fleck-mania into a new stratosphere, he’s already sort of proven his point. In 2017, there were undeniably some programs with job openings — Oregon, for one — who took a look at P.J. Fleck and wondered if he was too immature for a high-profile program. There were questions about how all the branding and the catch phrases would play on a bigger stage. How much of what happened at Western Michigan was smoke and mirrors?  But when you do it twice, and especially at a place like Minnesota that has only been in the Amway Coaches Poll Top 25 at the end of a season twice in the last 50 years, even the biggest Fleck skeptics have to admit it’s real." 

MEGAPHONE

"People bring that up to me a lot, that maybe offense wasn't really the big deal around here for a while. But all I know is that every day I walk down these halls in the football facility and Death Valley and every wall is covered with photos and names of some amazingly talented football players who played at LSU. Some of the greatest who ever played. I'm pretty sure they knew how to move the ball."

Burrow, to ESPN, on the new-look Tigers offense.

Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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