COLUMBIA — Missouri basketball returns to national television today.
The last time the Tigers graced the airwaves of CBS, Earnest Ross was all over Julius Randle and Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson both scored 28-plus points in a five-point loss to the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats during the 2013-14 season.
Had things gone differently in non-conference play for today's opponent, the Florida Gators would be a higher-ranked opponent after a double-overtime win against Gonzaga in their fifth game of the season.
Instead, Florida (10-4, 2-0 SEC) followed that game with three straight losses, two to ranked ACC opponents Duke and Florida State and one at home to Loyola Chicago. The emotional see-saw continued with a win against a very good Cincinnati team, a two-point loss to a tough opponent in Clemson, and then wins in the Gators' final two non-conference games.
Today's game tips off at noon at Mizzou Arena.
Florida began SEC play with a seven-point win at home against Vanderbilt, then went to College Station and demolished a Texas A&M team missing three of its best players due to suspension for violation of team rules.
Missouri (11-3, 1-0 SEC) will have its hands full. Florida is one of the nation's best teams on offense and defense. The Gators turn the ball over on just 13.9 percent of their possessions, third-best in the nation according to KenPom, and force opponents into turnovers on 21.3 percent of defensive possessions, a top-70 rate nationally.
In Year 3 under Mike White, and led by guards Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen and forwards Egor Koulechov, Jalen Hudson and Kevarrius Hayes, Florida has one of the most efficient offenses in the country, centered primarily around their ball control and a team 39.5 percent 3-point percentage.
Koulechov averages 30 minutes and 15 points per game for the Gators, and Chiozza (13.1 ppg) and KeVaughn Allen (11.8 ppg) also score in double figures while both averaging 31.6 minutes per game.
Missouri would do well to eliminate Florida's second-chance scoring opportunities and feast on the offensive glass. The Tigers are plus-10 in rebounding on average through 14 games, while their opponent is even in rebounding on the season and minus-5 on average through two conference games.
It would help, too, if Missouri's 3-pointers fell like they did Wednesday against South Carolina. The Tigers made 14-of-24 shots from deep, and they needed to in order to win with any certainty as the game was basically even otherwise.
Jordan Barnett (averaging 15.1 points per game in 32.1 minutes per game) and Kassius Robertson (15.6 in 32.6) have emerged as legitimate offensive weapons for Martin. Robertson is the first Missouri player to score 20-plus points in three straight games since that season the team was on CBS, and Barnett is averaging nearly 19 points per game since the second round of the AdvoCare Invitational. He scored 14 points in three games against Utah, Emporia State and Long Beach State, and has not scored fewer than 15 points in a game since.
The Tigers will need others to step up, and who has answered that question asked of this team so far has changed on a game-by-game basis. Will Jeremiah Tilmon be able to stay out of foul trouble and bully the Gators — who have two players over 6-8 that play significant minutes — down low? Will Jontay Porter or Jordan Geist get hot from 3-point range? Will Kevin Puryear, who started the year with four straight games in double figures and scored 20 against Miami (Ohio) a month ago, but who has scored 26 points across Missouri's last five games, break out of his relative slump?