Missouri at Auburn preview: So what's it going to be, Mizzou?

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Solid size, ability to draw fouls, one good 3-point shooter ... seems like Missouri may have played a team like this recently.

LEAVE YOUR TRIFECTA PICKS IN COMMENTS.

Like Georgia, Auburn draws contact and has the size to hit the glass effectively. And like N.C. State, the Tigers are full-strength now and better than they were a month or two ago. Thanks to Wednesday's loss, this is as close to a must-win as you can have in early January, and Missouri is facing a team that, despite its overall ratings, should put up a pretty strong fight.

Auburn Tigers (8-4)


AU
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
67.8
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.12 1.04
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.33 1.24
2-PT FG% 53% 44%
3-PT FG% 31% 39%
FT% 69% 63%
True Shooting % 55.6% 52.7%




AU Opp.
Assists/Gm 14.0 14.0
Steals/Gm 5.9 5.8
Turnovers/Gm 12.5 12.4
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.59 1.60




AU Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 10.8 11.6
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 12.3 11.3
Difference +1.5 -0.3

Auburn's non-conference strength of schedule, according to Pomeroy, was 327th. So between that and the fact that the Tigers were missing some pieces early on, this table isn't incredibly useful this time. We do see that, against mostly bad teams, Auburn was indeed relatively strong in the rebounding category, but the two most useful numbers here are probably a) Auburn's 53% 2-point shooting (very good), and b) opponents' 39% 3-point shooting (very bad/unlucky).

Opponents take a lot of open 3-pointers (AU is 283rd in 3PA/FGA on defense), and they make a lot, and despite Pomeroy's theory of 3-point defense being relatively random, that tells me opponents are looking to shoot them. And combined with the percent at which they're making them, that tells me opponents are getting very good looks. Saturday would be a very good day for Jabari Brown or Earnest Ross to get dialed in.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

AU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

AU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 128 82 MU
Effective FG% 109 20 MU
Turnover % 154 300 AU big
Off. Reb. % 72 64 push
FTA/FGA 96 55 MU
MU Offense vs AU Defense Ranks

MU Offense AU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 56 207 MU big
Effective FG% 36 168 MU big
Turnover % 220 202 push
Off. Reb. % 80 125 MU
FTA/FGA 28 153 MU big

Where the Tigers are weakest

On defense, they are 325th in 3PT% and 283rd in 3PA/FGA. As mentioned above, opponents seem to have no problem finding acceptable looks from long range. Auburn is also 306th in Assists per FG Made on defense, which suggests that you can pass to an open 3-point shooter. So Jordan Clarkson's ability to drive and dish (instead of forcing difficult shots near the rim) will be key. The shots should be there if Missouri is looking for them.

On offense, we find some symmetry. Auburn also stinks at 3-pointers, ranking 282nd in 3PT%. They also don't make free throws with regularity (173rd); Chris Denson takes basically half of Auburn's FTs and makes just 64% of them.

This isn't a particularly good ball-handling team, as you see above, so at the very least perhaps Auburn won't be able to take advantage of Missouri's own weaknesses there. The Tigers also aren't particularly deep (191st in Bench Minutes). They play a lot of guys, but not for very long.

Where they are best

They're not incredibly deep, but they're big. Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7'0), Chris Griffin (6'7), Matthew Atewe (6'9), and Benas Griciunas (7'0) have combined for 574 minutes this year, about 48 per game. They might not rebound quite as well as you'd expect with that size, but they're still pretty good at it, as you see above (72nd in offensive rebounding, 125th in defensive rebounding). And with size sometimes come good looks near the basket on one end and obstructed looks on the other. Auburn ranks 32nd in 2PT% (107th in Block%) on offense and 64th (and 40th) on defense. As with Georgia, what they do well, they do pretty damn well. It's just a question of whether they do enough of it.

Auburn's Season to Date

In bold are the Tigers' last five games.

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    No. 48 Clemson (66-64)
    No. 171 Boston College (77-67)

    No. 219 Murray State (75-67)
    No. 284 Florida A&M (81-50)
    No. 291 Jacksonville State (78-54)
    No. 303 Tennessee State (78-73)
    No. 304 Nicholls State (76-54)
    No. 329 UAPB (91-59)
  • Losses
    at No. 11 Iowa State (70-99)
    vs. No. 49 Illinois (62-81)
    at No. 88 Ole Miss (62-65)
    No. 209 Northwestern State (92-111)

There are some unimpressive results above, but most of them came at least a month ago. With home wins over Clemson and BC on the same weekend and a tight road loss to Ole Miss, this team seems to be playing pretty good ball at the moment.

Auburn Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Chris Denson (6'2, 181, Sr.) 18.8 0.62 30.5 MPG, 19.8 PPG (58% 2PT, 22% 3PT, 64% FT), 5.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 SPG
K.T. Harrell (6'4, 216, Jr.) 15.7 0.53 29.5 MPG, 18.7 PPG (55% 2PT, 42% 3PT, 89% FT), 3.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 2.9 TOPG, 2.3 PFPG
Allen Payne (6'6, 225, Sr.) 9.9 0.35 27.9 MPG, 6.9 PPG (52% 2PT, 71% FT), 6.5 RPG, 2.2 APG
Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7'0, 226, Sr.) 7.7 0.35 22.2 MPG, 6.3 PPG (62% 2PT, 41% FT), 6.0 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 1.8 TOPG, 3.1 PFPG
Tahj Shamsid-Deen (5'10, 163, Fr.) 6.7 0.26 26.0 MPG, 7.8 PPG (47% 2PT, 33% 3PT, 72% FT), 3.3 APG, 1.5 RPG, 1.4 TOPG, 2.4 PFPG
Chris Griffin (6'7, 229, Jr.) 5.1 0.31 16.7 MPG, 5.7 PPG (47% 2PT, 33% 3PT), 4.0 RPG, 1.1 TOPG
Dion Wade (6'5, 190, Fr.) 4.3 0.37 11.5 MPG, 3.9 PPG (43% 2PT, 43% 3PT, 63% FT), 1.6 RPG, 1.1 APG
Malcolm Canada (6'3, 224, Jr.) 4.1 0.26 15.9 MPG, 4.5 PPG (45% 2PT, 74% FT), 2.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.4 TOPG
Matthew Atewe (6'9, 250, Fr.) 3.5 0.26 13.3 MPG, 2.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.2 PFPG
Benas Griciunas (7'0, 225, Fr.) 1.4 0.14 10.1 MPG, 2.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls. It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Denson (31%), Harrell (29%), Griffin (21%)
  • Highest Floor%: Denson (44%), Payne (43%), Harrell (41%)
  • Highest %Pass: Shamsid-Deen (66%), Wade (63%), Payne (60%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Griffin (57%), Griciunas (48%), Harrell (39%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Atewe (31%), Denson (20%), Harrell (14%)
  • Highest %T/O: Atewe (19%), Dixon-Tatum (16%), Griffin (11%)

  • This team runs through Denson and Harrell. That much is obvious. They're the only two with a usage rate of better than 21% (20% is average), and they're unique enough -- Harrell's a 3-point shooter and more of a distributor, while Denson lowers his head and gets to the free throw line a ridiculous amount -- that one can potentially pick up the slack if the other is struggling. The best hope is that Clarkson, Brown, or whoever guards Denson can stay in front without fouling, and that Harrell isn't too hot from 3-point range. Like most 3-point shooters, his shooting percentages are all over the map -- 4-for-18 against NW ST, Jacksonville State, and Murray State but 14-for-27 in his last four games.

  • If Denson and Harrell are both scoring well, there are interesting role players for doing everything else. Shamsid-Deen is tiny but a solid passer. Dixon-Tatum is a hellacious offensive rebounder (be prepared, Ryan Rosburg), Payne's a decent on-ball defender and defensive rebounder. There are interesting pieces here, but the scoring belongs to Denson and Harrell. And the defense isn't very good outside of Payne.

Keys to the Game

  1. The whistles. Once again. We know by now that if Clarkson's drives are getting cut off and aren't resulting in either a decent shot or a foul, he doesn't necessarily shift to Plan B very well. He's reliant on getting to the line, but Denson is even more reliant on it. So this game could be determined in part by who's getting the calls and how Clarkson/Denson are reacting if they aren't getting calls.

    Fouls are also important because of Auburn's size. The Tigers have some interesting, big options, but Dixon-Tatum and Atewe in particular are quite foul-prone, as is Dion Wade. If Mizzou is drawing contact and getting to the line, it will not only result in chances for free points, but it will also potentially hinder Auburn's rebounding ability because of foul trouble.

  2. The glass. Once again. We saw exactly how important it was on Wednesday night. Even with Clarkson struggling on offense, Mizzou would have won had the Tigers not been trounced on the glass for the first 20-25 minutes. On average, Mizzou is a strong rebounding team, but "on average" clearly doesn't mean "every game," especially considering what Johnathan Williams III has (hasn't) done on the glass the last couple of games.

  3. The 3-ball. Once again. Like Georgia, Auburn basically has one 3-point shooter (Harrell), but he's a pretty good one. Meanwhile, Auburn allows pretty open looks to all of your good shooters. If, say, Brown matches Harrell's 3-point output and someone else (Earnest Ross?) hits a few, Mizzou's in good shape. But if Harrell gets hot and Mizzou shoots 25% or something, Mizzou is in serious trouble.

Prediction

I didn't even know this was possible at this point in the season, but Missouri played so terribly against Georgia that the Tigers' Pomeroy ranking sank from 41st to 58th. In one game! That dropped the predicted conference record from 11-7 to 9-9 and made games like this one a virtual tossup. Mizzou is projected to win a tight one, 74-71. I'd like to expect more, but I'm in "prove it" mode at the moment. The Missouri team that won at N.C. State would beat Auburn by 10-15. Does that team still exist? How much of a kick in the butt did the team decide to accept after Georgia?

Like we said yesterday, it's up to the team to determine exactly what the hell that Georgia game meant. If it was a one-off, "we fell asleep for a bit, and basketball's dumb sometimes" game, then Mizzou will bounce back against Auburn and get back to moving toward 11-7 or 12-6 in conference. If it was a sign of things to come, then Auburn is more than good enough to take Mizzou down, too. Let's hope for the former, huh?

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