Missouri vs. UCF preview: Tigers look to build more momentum in Orlando

In Features by Philip Williams

While some Missouri fans are dissecting Michael Porter Jr.’s Instagram stories and their possible implications on his return to basketball, the basketball team is quietly solidifying themselves as a quality squad.

Cuonzo Martin and the Tigers had a nice showing in Florida at the Advocare Invitational with wins over Long Beach State and St. John’s before a tough loss to No. 23 West Virginia.

Missouri built a 15-point lead with around 15 minutes remaining against the Mountaineers, only to see it slowly dwindle away in a four-point loss. Clearly, even without Porter, this team is much improved from last year.

While Missouri is trending up, the same can’t be said for its opponent, Central Florida.

The Knights also played in the Advocare Invitational, but posted losses to both St. John’s and West Virginia.

However, UCF had attracted attention in the preseason as a possible tournament team, and it’s easy to see why with shot-blocking 7’6 center Tacko Fall in the lineup.

Players to Watch

Kevin Puryear (Missouri) 

The 6’7, 238 pound forward has a unique game.  As a lefty, he can score the ball in a variety of positions around the rim.

His soft touch extends out further though; he’s shooting 50 percent from 3-point point range this season already which helps Missouri space the floor when he’s in the game.

Puryear’s veteran leadership has helped the Tigers this season as he guides young players like Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon into larger, more productive roles.

If the Tigers are going to win games like this one that will count in March, they’ll rely on veteran basketball wisdom from Puryear to do it.

Tacko Fall (UCF)

Interesting fact: Tacko Fall is 7’6 tall.

I get it. It’s a novelty. That fact doesn’t take away from Fall’s ever-improving game.

Each year that he’s played for the Knights, NBA scouts have become a little bit more intrigued.

Fall plays about half the minutes of the game for UCF and only attempts about six shots. Still, he manages to average 10.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

He also patrols the rim for the Johnny Dawkins’s Knights, blocking four shots in two different games this season.

How Missouri Can Win

Missouri needs to take better care of the ball. The Tigers come into this game ranked 287th in turnover percentage.

For the season, Mizzou has shot and rebounded the ball exceptionally well, but not many teams can compete at the highest level when they lead their league in turnovers.

Missouri has to keep UCF off of the charity stripe as well. The Knights get an astounding 30.2 percent of their points from the free-throw line.

However, UCF is the worst (351st) 3-point shooting team in the country, shooting an abysmal 21 percent from deep. The Knights aren’t much better at 2-point field goals either.

With shooting woes like that, it’s easy to understand why Dawkins puts so much emphasis on his players getting to the free-throw line as its one of the few ways that the Knights can manage to score this season.

How Central Florida Can Win

To win games against quality opponents, you have to score more than 40 points.

Over the last two games, UCF has been held in the mid-forties on terrible shooting nights. Sometimes playing at home can relieve some of those struggles.

It wouldn’t surprise if the Knights are able to dial it in a little more on Thursday night.

UCF also needs to take care of the ball and avoid careless turnovers. As bad as Missouri has been at valuing the ball, UCF has been worse.

The Knights turn it over on almost a quarter of their possessions and that doesn’t include the many shots that they get blocked around the rim since they attack so often.

It’s possible that an increase in shooting percentage for UCF will help the Knights relax and stop pressing so much on offense which will help them take care of the ball.

Phil’s Prediction

These teams have many similarities. The game inside the paint will be evenly-matched as both teams have quality big men.

So, it’ll be the guards that determine the outcome.

I expect that Kassius Robertson will have another quality offensive outing for Mizzou, but the roughly 20 percent 3-point shooting of UCF’s guards like Dayion Griffin and Chance McFadden will undoubtedly increase at home.

UCF fights for a close win in Orlando.

Prediction: UCF 72, Missouri 69

I’m a librarian and junior high boys basketball coach. My obsession with SEC basketball has grown so ludicrous that I won’t take another varsity hoops job because I’d miss almost all of conference play. I cover general SEC for Southeast Hoops.