With all the attention foisted upon the ACC-Big Ten Challenge -- for good reason, too, because it's as compelling an early-season competition as we have in college hoops -- you could be forgiven for missing a rather big game on Tuesday night's schedule, one that has nothing to do with the Big Ten or the ACC.
That game? No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 14 Georgetown.
Yes, it's tonight, and yes, it's a big one. (And yes, thanks to this ACC-Big Ten thing everyone's talking about, it's relegated to the ESPNU airwaves; any other night this game gets top billing. Oh well.)
Any game pitting two top-15 teams is likely to be a good one, but that's not the only reason why tonight's affair is worth your attention. Primarily, that's because the matchup with Georgetown counts as Missouri's first major test of the season. The Tigers have spent their first five games mostly struggling with inferior mid-major teams. Their season opener was a tight 66-61 win over Western Illinois. The Tigers struggled mightily against Wyoming, in which Missouri led by a mere two points with 4:22 remaining before stretching and eventually maintaining their lead. Similar struggles ensued against La Salle, when the Tigers trailed by one with 14 minutes left in the second. Even the North Texas game, which looks like a blowout on paper -- final score: 96-58 -- saw Missouri allow the Ospreys to stay in the game deep into the second half, before a brilliant defensive stretch in the final eight minutes. It's early, sure, but these are not the dominant performances Final Four teams are typically made of.
In the meantime, Georgetown is also undefeated, but the Hoyas have actually beaten good teams in actual road situations. The first was a season-opening win at Old Dominion, as tough a mid-major road nonconference fixture as you'll see on any power-six school's schedule this season. The Hoyas have also topped a pesky Wofford team and a much-improved NC State (albeit one without senior forward Tracy Smith, who was still recovering from arthroscopic surgery when the two teams met) on a neutral floor.
There are stylistic things to look for here: Mike Anderson's team is one of the runningest teams in college hoops; John Thompson III's is one of the most methodical. There's also the matter of home vs. neutral court advantage. You can expect Missouri to have a rather large turnout at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, perhaps rivaling Kansas State's march of the purple people eaters at the CBE Classic last week.
But more than anything, this game is about proof. What should we, even tentatively, think about Missouri? To this point, we don't know. It'll take more than one game to find out. But if all it took was one game, this would be the one to see.