Four keys for the MU men's basketball team's conference season

Friday, January 11, 2008 | 2:23 a.m. CST; updated 7:59 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — With more players recruited by coach Mike Anderson for his up-tempo system and one of the nation’s more challenging nonconference schedules, there was reason to be optimistic in Columbia.

Going into Saturday’s Big 12 Conference opener against Texas, the Tigers are a 10-5 and fans are staying away from Mizzou Arena like it’s poison.

The Tigers have a lot to prove if they are to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002-03. Here are four not-so-simple trends Missouri will have to reverse in the second half of the season.

Win the big games

It looked promising after a three-point loss to then-No. 11 Michigan State and a 14-point win over Maryland in the College Basketball Experience Classic. Things soured after that though.

The Tigers lost by one point at Arkansas and against Illinois and lost handily at Cal and Mississippi State. They beat Purdue at home, but finished 2-5 against big-conference schools in the nonconference schedule.

There’s not a better time for Missouri to make a statement then at home against the star-studded No. 12 Longhorns on Saturday. If not, No. 3 Kansas comes to town on Jan. 19.

Withstand the injuries

When starting forward DeMarre Carroll and guard Jason Horton struggled with injuries, so did the team.

Carroll injured his ankle against Cal on Dec. 1 and, though he played through it, he was visibly slower and less explosive in the next few games. Horton has a stress fracture in his back which forced him to miss most of the Illinios game and all of the Coppin State game.

Both will play through their injuries in the second half of the season and will still be relied on for consistent output. Carroll is Missouri’s leading scorer and rebounder and the senior Horton is one of the team’s top on-ball defenders.

Get Keon his groove back

Keon Lawrence is in a slump. The sophomore guard broke into the starting lineup midway through last season but played his way out of it early in this season.

After a two-for-nine shooting performance for nine points against North Carolina A&T, Lawrence told the media that family problems were taking a toll on his focus. He has shown signs of improvement as of late — he averages 10 points per game — and after Tuesday’s game against UMKC he said he has put all of that behind him now.

Whether as the energetic sixth man or the starting two guard, a consistent Lawrence could be the key this team is missing.

Reverse the road woes

Missouri won all of its nonconference games at Mizzou Arena but won just one of six games elsewhere — a hardly neutral-site game against Maryland in Kansas City. Three of those five losses were by a combined five points.

The Tigers lost winnable road games at Kansas State and Nebraska last year that could have been the difference in a postseason tournament invitation.

Missouri has plenty of winnable road games in conference play this season, including three of its next five — Jan. 16 at Iowa State, Jan. 23 at Texas Tech and Jan. 26 at Colorado.

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