COLUMBIA, Mo. — After a rough start to the season, Jordan Geist was Missouri's best player at the Paradise Jam.
Even dealing with a back injury, Geist was named one of the tournament all-stars and averaged 22.5 points in the Tigers' final two tournament games against Oregon State and Kansas State.
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin revealed Monday that Geist hasn't practiced with the team since last week's 82-67 loss to the Wildcats in the championship game.
"Rehab, ballhandling, but he hasn't been in practice," Martin said. "But he's progressing well. I think it was more than he showed, because he's a competitor, more than what he displayed, because obviously he played so well. But it was a big issue."
The Tigers (3-2) and Geist will have had a full week without games to prepare for tonight's 8 p.m. game against Temple at Mizzou Arena. The Owls are 5-1, and their best wins this season are by four points at home against Georgia and by 17 against Cal on a neutral court.
Temple is an experienced team under Fran Dunphy, who has been in charge of the program since 2007 and made seven NCAA Tournament appearances, most recently in 2016.
Guards Shizz Alston and Nate Pierre-Louis are both listed at 6-foot-4, are solid defenders and both are skilled at using their length to turn opponents over on a team that thrives defensively on steals. Those two players, along with 6-foot-8 small forward Quinton Rose, lead a guard-oriented offense that starts four one-on-one playmakers in scoring.
"As active and as much as we foul in practice, I think the guys will be ready for (Temple's defense)," Martin said. "We understand their athleticism. Pierre, their point guard, is as good as anybody in his on-ball defense. He was almost a one-man wrecking crew if you watch VCU (Temple's only loss), how he brought them back, got into passing lanes, really changed the game for them. They were down big and he did a lot of things to bring them back."
Martin did not say if he expects Geist, who has started all of Missouri's games this season, to play against Temple, but he did call the week off "borrowed time" for getting players healthy. After a hot start Mark Smith has shown himself to be the Tigers' best ball-handler, and he and Torrence Watson have turned the ball over twice each all season, so Missouri has options for bringing the ball up the court outside of Xavier Pinson and Geist if needed.
The Owls do not shoot a lot of 3-point shots as a team, but Alston, Pierre-Louis and backup combo guard Alani Moore are all threats from deep. Rose has attempted 26, the second-most 3s on the team, but has made just four, and is averaging 17 points per game while making less than one 3 per game. He is a player the Tigers want to keep cold in today's game.
On the interior, 6-7 power forward De'Vondre Perry and 6-10 five-man Ernest Aflakpui are available mostly as secondary options. Aflakpui's game is similar to Jeremiah Tilmon's: an efficient shooter around the rim and a rim-protector on defense that snags rebounds on both ends of the floor, though Tilmon is much more involved in Missouri's offense and gets more touches.
K.J. Santos, who has not yet played for the Tigers because of a foot injury, continues to progress in individual workouts and Martin said it's possible Santos could be fully back within the next two weeks.
The Tigers host Central Florida on Sunday, Texas-Arlington on Dec. 4 and Oral Roberts on Dec. 7 before a break until the Dec. 18 home game against Xavier. Santos could at least be back to fully practicing with the team during that break and be fully healthy for conference play or even the Braggin' Rights against Illinois on Dec. 22 in St. Louis.
One of the most interesting things Martin shared in his Monday availability was the coaches of the teams Missouri played in the Paradise Jam sat down and shared notes with each other about what they noticed from their opponents.
Teams were complimentary of Geist for his toughness, and his footwork and shot fakes around the rim, Martin said.
There was also information offered about the mental make-up of the team.
"One of the teams said about our guys, 'Great defensive team, but they feed off emotion,'" Martin said. "And that's one thing that we've talked to our guys about, you can't be emotional on defense. You get a steal, all of a sudden you score a 3-point ball and you try to gamble. Then they get a basket, they get to the free throw line and the game changes.
"So it's really being sound from start to finish of games, but I like their desire and their willingness to do it and try to learn. They'll get to that point."