EVANSTON-After his team beat Gardner-Webb on Monday, Chris Collins once again emphasized his "one game at a time" mentality when asked about the trip to Sin City for the Las Vegas Invitational.
While a matchup with Missouri was only three days away, the Tigers seemed like a mystery to Collins.
"I really haven't watched any of Missouri yet," he said. "I'll get on that tonight. I know they're really good. I know they have some really good players. They have some transfers that are probably pro-caliber guys. They're going to be bigger than us and athletic."
Missouri isn't nationally ranked, but the Tigers are on the fringe, and they look more daunting than any team Northwestern has played so far this season. That's not Collins' mentality, though. He sees strong parity throughout the country and said it's more about how his team plays than it is about his opponents.
"It's a different time in college basketball," Collins said. "You have to show up every night. It doesn't matter who you're playing or where you're playing them. People have good players, and if you're not ready to play, you will lose."
If his team doesn't want to lose against the likes of Missouri and No. 19 UCLA, they'll have to shore up some things. It starts with Alex Olah. Missouri's starting center, Ryan Rosburg, isn't a major threat offensively, but the Tigers are full of slashers all over the court. Olah will need to deter and block shots while avoiding foul trouble.
Against UCLA, Olah's one-on-one defense will be tested. Tony Parker is a big 6-foot-9 sophomore who's crafty and extremely efficient around the basket. He's backed up by the athletic Wear twins, David and Travis, who aren't afraid to step out and shoot jumpers.
Olah will have his hands full, but he said he won't be distracted by the lights and luster of Vegas.
"It's a business trip," he said. "We're just going to go up there and try to win."
Along with Olah, Sanjay Lumpkin will be an x-factor on Thursday and Friday. The Wildcats are certainly happy that the ramifications of his flagrant-two foul are behind him, and he'll be ready to go.
Lumpkin's got a lot on his plate, as well. As Northwestern's most versatile defender, he'll likely be asked to guard Missouri's Jabari Brown, who's averaging over 19 points-per-game. Brown can shoot from the outside, but he also drives and draws fouls with ease.
When the Wildcats face the Bruins, Lumpkin's focus will be Kyle Anderson, a lanky 6-foot-9 forward and consistent triple-double threat. Anderson averages 11.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 7.8 assists-per-game.
If Lumpkin can be a factor offensively, it will just be an added gift, because his performance on defense is clearly paramount.
Still, Tony Parker and Kyle Anderson probably haven't crossed Collins' mind. All he's thinking about is Missouri. But while the Tigers are certainly talented, the Wildcats are ready to show that some early season slip-ups aren't a sign of this team's abilities.
"I think the most exciting thing is being to go and go out and show what kind of team we are," Drew Crawford said. "I think when we're working our hardest, playing great defensively, bringing a lot of energy, then we're capable of being a great team."