Arizona has indulged in Hawaiian paradise the past couple days but come game time on Monday, you can bet that all relaxation will be drained out in the deafening voice of head coach Sean Miller.
Through three games, the Wildcats have yet to look like the No. 2 team in the country. They’ve been sloppy, inconsistent, and sluggish, mixed in with a couple highlight reel runs.
Playing 2,500 miles away from the mainland, Arizona will have their first chance to prove themselves on a national stage when it takes on a rebuilding Missouri squad looking to give new head coach Kim Anderson a signature victory.
On paper, this one shouldn’t be very close.
Anderson is practically starting from scratch his first year at his alma mater. The season began with a 69-61 home loss to UMKC before Mizzou bounced back with wins over Valparaiso and Oral Roberts.
The top holdovers from Frank Haith’s tenure are two sophomores, point guard Wes Clark and forward Jonathan Williams III.
Clark is off to strong start this season, averaging over 14 points, five assists, and three steals, and can knock it down from three point range.
Freshman shooting guard Montaque Gill-Caesar, a top 50 recruit out of Huntington Prep, is Mizzou’s top offensive threat and could pose a matchup problem at shooting guard. At 6’6, he’s effective at the rim and also possesses a solid mid-range shot.
Of course, Gill-Caesar will have his hands full trying to guard Stanley Johnson or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. It’s a tall order and it will grow even more difficult as Johnson becomes accustomed to the college game. Hollis-Jefferson, meanwhile, is playing as good if not better than late last season when he broke out on the national scale.
Down low, Arizona should have a significant advantage. Missouri isn’t UC Irvine with a 7’6 center and a 7’2 backup. The Tigers in fact only have one consistent contributor 6’10 or taller and that’s Ryan Rosburg, who isn’t much of a threat for Kaleb Tarczewski.
Williams III is a solid power forward but not much of a match for Brandon Ashley. Arizona’s star junior is shooting 67 percent from inside the arc and is crashing the boards too. He should wear down Williams III by the second half.
For Missouri to hang with Arizona for 40 minutes, the Wildcats will have to shoot themselves in the foot with sloppy play and mistakes. It’s already happened for a couple long stretches this season but at some point or another, Arizona takes control.
Unless the Tigers shoot way above their abilities – and they’re not a strong shooting team – Arizona should surf along without much trouble.