COLUMBIA — The problems have just been compounded for the Missouri men’s basketball team in its game against Nebraska tonight.
The Tigers were already going to be without starting point guard and leading scorer Stefhon Hannah because of the broken jaw he sustained outside of Athena Night Club early Sunday morning. Now, with the suspensions of guard Jason Horton and forwards Marshall Brown, Darryl Butterfield and Leo Lyons, MU will have just eight players available on its roster when it plays the Cornhuskers at 7 p.m.
Two of the eight, Michael Anderson Jr. and Nick Beradini, are walk-ons. Anderson Jr., MU coach Mike Anderson’s son, has played just 26 minutes this year, Beradini has played only 11.
That leaves six scholarship players who have logged significant minutes this year: forwards DeMarre Carroll, Justin Safford, and Vaidotas Volkus and guards Keon Lawrence, Matt Lawrence and J.T. Tiller.
That seems bad enough. But perhaps the biggest problem has not been mentioned - biggest in the literal sense of the word.
Nebraska’s Aleks Maric stands 6 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 275 pounds. He was already far larger than MU’s biggest player, who is Lyons at 6 feet 9 inches and 240 pounds. Carroll is the biggest MU player who is allowed to play tonight with Lyons out. He is an inch shorter and 15 pounds lighter than Lyons.
“We know Nebraska’s a good team, but we know what beat us last year, obviously, with big Maric on the inside,” Lyons said before he was suspended. “So I think if we keep him out, if we play good defense like we always do and bring a lot of energy from the beginning with the home crowd involved, I think we’ll get a win.”
Lyons’ statement has a different meaning now, because it is going to take more than a lot of energy and the home crowd for MU to win against Nebraska.
Last season, Maric scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds when the two teams played in Columbia. He totaled 31 points and 19 rebounds when the teams met in Lincoln, Neb. The Cornhuskers won both games.
Another element to the mass suspensions is Anderson’s basketball philosophy, to press the opposing team and play a fast-paced game to force them into mistakes. MU has relied on its bench this season, playing between nine and 11 players on most nights. Either the Tigers’ game plan will change or the available players for tonight’s game are going to be very tired.
MU has been playing more half-court zone defense in recent games. The combination of not having anybody who matches up size-wise with Maric and that MU will be trying to conserve as much energy as possible with the short bench means the zone-defense trend will likely continue.
Guard Keon Lawrence’s role will increase with Hannah and Horton out. When it was only Hannah who was going to be missing, Anderson said he was looking to Keon Lawrence as someone to step up.
“Last year he started for us and he did well,” Anderson said of Keon Lawrence, before the suspensions. “I think he’s been playing well in some games and this will give him an opportunity to get some more consistency.”
That opportunity has just gotten a lot bigger, and the game against Nebraska just became more difficult.