Rick Stansbury’s eyes lit up as he made his way towards the Memphis basketball locker room.
Following Monday’s win over Jackson State at FedExForum, Stansbury − deputized by coach Penny Hardaway as acting head coach − could not mask the exhilaration. At that moment, the topic of conversation was the Tigers’ upcoming game against Missouri (1-0) on Friday (8 pm, SEC Network). More specifically, facing a team that received votes in the preseason AP Top 25 poll at Mizzou Arena, where a hostile environment will almost certainly greet them.
Stansbury can’t wait.
“That will grow us up. That will make us better,” he told reporters a few minutes earlier. “Nothing more special than going on the road and winning. That’s our next challenge now.”
Hardaway has two games left on his three-game NCAA suspension.
Here are three things to watch ahead of Friday’s game:
Penny Hardaway’s thoughts on a starting lineup
The Tigers went against the grain in the season opener, starting Nick Jourdain and Malcolm Dandridge, leaving Caleb Mills and Jordan Brown to come off the bench.
For a variety of reasons that Hardaway had no problem explaining Wednesday.
“I just tried to get (Mills and Brown) with a group to get them more opportunities,” Hardaway said. “Because there was so much scoring in the first group (that included top scorers Jaykwon Walton and David Jones). I wanted them to come in the game and get going and not get lost in all the alpha males going in the first group.
“(I wasn’t) sending a message. Neither one of them did anything wrong. I just wanted to switch it up.”
Despite Mills and Brown coming off the bench, they played more than 20 minutes apiece and combined for 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Hardaway, as of Wednesday, had not made up his mind about Friday’s lineup.
A sign of things to come?
The contributions Memphis has gotten off the 3-point shot have been minimal in recent years.
The Tigers finished outside the top 325 in percentage of points scored via 3-pointers in each of the past two seasons. In 2022-23, only 76.8% of the team’s points came inside the arc, which ranked it 341st out of 368 Division I teams.
Memphis appears to have addressed that discrepancy. In the win over Jackson State, the Tigers made 11 3-pointers, highlighted by Jones (four) and Walton (three). They met or exceeded that total just three times in their previous 69 games.
Missouri scouting report
As explosive as Memphis’ offense could be this season and as deep as its bench could be, the same can be said of Missouri.
Missouri dropped 101 points in a win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Monday, connecting on a dozen 3-pointers. The free-wheeling Tigers put up a whopping 30 attempts from long range. Guard Nick Honor was 4-of-10, while Tamar Bates came off the bench to hit all three of his attempts.
Missouri, picked to finish ninth in the SEC, will be somewhat shorthanded as 7-foot-5 center Connor Vanover (a name that might be familiar to Memphis fans) will not play. Vanover, who signed with Memphis in 2018, only to ask for his release when the school fired coach Tubby Smith, is serving a three-game suspension due to his participation in the Portsmouth Invitational earlier this year. The annual event showcases players in front of pro scouts.
But coach Dennis Gates still has 7-2 center Mabor Majak (who did not play in the opener) and 6-8 forward Aidan Shaw (who had nine rebounds Monday) along the interior.
Grad transfer guard John Tonje (Colorado State) also sat out, although Gates told reporters after the game that he had been practicing at full speed.
MEMPHIS BASKETBALL: Returning strength coach Darby Rich breaks down the Tigers’ revamped roster
Memphis vs. Missouri score prediction
Memphis 91, Missouri 85: This game represents an opportunity for Memphis to make a statement. The veteran, transfer-heavy Tigers understand the stakes.