Missouri at Tennessee preview: Tigers' list of ifs is a lot longer than Vols'

Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

Last Time

From Study Hall:

If you had told me that Tennessee was going to be almost +5 in terms of expected rebounds, and that Jordan Clarkson was going to have a mostly terrible (by his standards) game, I'd have assumed Tennessee won by 13. Instead, Mizzou won the ball-handling battle (!!!) and simply shot its way to victory.

With Josh Richardson guarding him, Jabari Brown actually seemed to disappear for a while. He scored 11 points in the game's first seven minutes, then went 0-for-3 with three turnovers over the next 23 minutes. He even missed the front end of a one-and-one! But then he drew a Richardson foul and made two free throws with 10:29 left. Then he converted a tough and-one with 9:21 left. Then he made a jumper with 8:08 left. In the last 10 minutes and change, he scored 13 points on 4-for-5 shooting, made five of five free throws, grabbed a rebound, and made two steals, including the game clincher with four seconds left. Up, down, and then really up. (And you know you've got a high ceiling when you play listless ball for more than half the game and end up with 24 points.) [...]

Damn, would it have been a shame to lose this game when getting a "WHERE HAS THIS BEEN ALL YEAR???" level of production from Torren Jones and Keanau Post. J3 was able to recover and play better late, in part because these two softened Tennessee up, and if they deliver something close to this production moving forward, Mizzou's ceiling just got much, much higher.

Jabari Brown caught fire, and Keanau Post played some strong minutes for one of just a couple of times all season. Mizzou's ceiling is indeed high when those things happen, but they've barely happened since this game. Brown is still scoring, mind you; he's averaging 18.2 points per game since the first game against the Vols. But he's shot just 6-for-25 on 3-pointers in that span. He's scoring because he's a great scorer -- he's driving more, he's shooting 51% on 2-pointers, and he's getting to the line -- but Mizzou will probably need him to hit a few 3s to have a chance in this one. And the Tigers will likely need Post to show up again. Odds: not amazing.

Tennessee Volunteers (19-11, 10-7)

Since last time...


Tenn. Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
62.4
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.16 0.94
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.30 1.13
2-PT FG% 53% 42%
3-PT FG% 31% 35%
FT% 74% 71%
True Shooting % 55.4% 49.2%




Tenn. Opp.
Assists/Gm 12.7 9.3
Steals/Gm 5.8 5.3
Turnovers/Gm 9.8 10.7
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.88 1.38




Tenn. Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 10.8 11.2
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 11.7 7.8
Difference +0.9 -3.4

Like Missouri, Tennessee has been dead and alive a few times in recent weeks. The Vols were knocked off the bubble by Mizzou, climbed back up, then lost to A&M.

In the last week, however, they've found a groove, beating Vanderbilt and Auburn by an average score of 79-46. They've shrunk the rotation, they've absolutely dominated near the rim, and they've minimized ball-handling issues. Two games does not equal a full-season turnaround, but the bottom line is that the Vols are 14th in Pomeroy's rankings at the moment. They've lost five games by five or fewer points (they're 0-5 in such games, actually), which is why they're still only going to end up a 10 or 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament (barring a further late surge), but they're much, much better than that. It will take Missouri's best performance of the year to win on Saturday.

Ken Pomeroy Stats (Conference Play Only)

UT Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

UT Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 2 12 UT big
Effective FG% 3 12 UT big
Turnover % 10 12 UT
Off. Reb. % 2 7 UT big
FTA/FGA 10 8 MU
MU Offense vs UT Defense Ranks

MU Offense UT Defense Advantage
Efficiency 3 2 push
Effective FG% 2 5 MU
Turnover % 8 13 MU big
Off. Reb. % 6 1 UT big
FTA/FGA 2 1 push

Mizzou won the BCI battle last time these teams played; it was a bit of a surprise, but UT's defense really doesn't force that many turnovers. That's one of the Tigers' few advantages, though. Tennessee dominated Mizzou on the glass, even with Jones and Post playing well, and that will almost certainly happen again in Knoxville. Mizzou will simply have to make shots to give itself a chance. Lord knows the Tigers didn't waste any makes against A&M on Wednesday.

UT's Season Since Last Time

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    No. 77 Georgia (67-48)
    No. 102 Vanderbilt (76-38)
    at No. 135 Auburn (82-54)
    at No. 225 Mississippi State (75-68)

  • Losses
    at No. 64 Missouri (70-75)
    at No. 122 Texas A&M (65-68, OT)

Again, Tennessee has been absurdly hot the last week, but that's only two games. Since these two played, UT has been great three times and mediocre twice. (Mizzou, of course, has been mediocre or worse in four of five games.)

UT Player Stats Since Last Time

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Jarnell Stokes (6'8, 260, Jr.) 20.3 0.56 36.0 MPG, 15.8 PPG (65% 2PT, 57% FT), 10.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.5 BPG, 2.0 TOPG
Jordan McRae (6'6, 185, Sr.) 15.0 0.47 31.7 MPG, 18.8 PPG (47% 2PT, 36% 3PT, 81% FT), 4.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.7 TOPG, 2.8 PFPG
Jeronne Maymon (6'8, 260, Sr.) 9.9 0.34 28.7 MPG, 9.5 PPG (58% 2PT, 62% FT), 8.2 RPG, 1.8 TOPG, 3.2 PFPG
Antonio Barton (6'2, 180, Sr.) 8.5 0.33 26.0 MPG, 9.2 PPG (27% 2PT, 38% 3PT, 83% FT), 3.0 APG, 2.3 RPG, 1.2 TOPG
Josh Richardson (6'6, 196, Jr.) 8.4 0.24 35.0 MPG, 10.5 PPG (38% 2PT, 25% 3PT, 87% FT), 2.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.2 TOPG, 2.2 PFPG
Armani Moore (6'5, 215, So.) 3.7 0.23 15.7 MPG, 3.2 PPG (64% 2PT, 9% 3PT, 50% FT), 2.7 RPG
Darius Thompson (6'5, 181, Fr.) 2.5 0.15 16.0 MPG, 2.8 PPG (71% 2PT, 25% 3PT, 50% FT), 2.0 RPG, 1.2 APG
Derek Reese (6'8, 220, So.) 1.9 0.14 13.5 MPG, 1.8 PPG (29% 2PT, 29% 3PT, 50% FT), 3.2 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%: McRae (30%), Stokes (21%), Barton (20%)
  • Highest Floor%: Stokes (53%), Maymon (42%), McRae (41%)
  • Highest %Pass: Thompson (66%), Barton (63%), Stokes (56%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Reese (60%), Maymon (45%), Richardson (42%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Maymon (21%), McRae (17%), Richardson (14%)
  • Highest %T/O: Maymon (13%), Reese (9%), Thompson (8%)
  • Highest OR%: Stokes (14%), Maymon (14%), Reese (6%)
  • Highest DR%: Reese (22%), Stokes (21%), Maymon (20%)

  • This is basically a two-man team with role players. McRae takes most of the shots, Stokes cleans up underneath, Maymon helps on the glass, Richardson plays defense and drops plays into each category in the box score. The three bench players don't contribute much of anything, but they haven't been needed. If the Tigers can get Maymon into foul trouble (not the most difficult thing in the world), that will open up at least a little bit of opportunity on the glass. And if Brown can beat Richardson man-to-man like he did in the second half in Columbia, Mizzou's offense could find some success. But the margin for error is obviously small.

Keys to the Game

  1. The 3-pointer. Always. Tennessee made only four of 21 3s the last time these teams played, and Mizzou won by five. They've actually only shot well from 3-point range once in the last six games. The wounded Mizzou fan in you assumes they're due, then, and you may be right; really, though, that's just proof that 3-point shooting is a luxury for Tennessee. The Vols can play well even when those shots aren't falling. (And when they're falling, the Vols dominate.) Mizzou made only three of five 3s in Columbia the last time these teams played, but I get the feeling the Tigers will need to shoot and make more in Knoxville. I could be wrong (it wouldn't be the first time), but this is a category Mizzou needs to win dramatically, either because of its own makes or Tennessee's misses.

  2. The glass. Tennessee's going to win the rebounding battle. That much is certain. But it took a phenomenal shooting performance to keep Mizzou ahead last time, and going minus-5 again in this category will make it awfully tough to steal a win. Keep it to minus-2 or 3, and you could have a chance.

  3. The supporting cast. Both of these teams have won plenty of games this year while getting contributions from only their main players -- Stokes and McRae for Tennessee, Brown, Jordan Clarkson, and Earnest Ross for Mizzou. But when others show up, these teams actually begin to look really good. If Jones and J3 play like they did against A&M, if Post plays like he did against Mississippi State, if Wes Clark can make a couple of outside shots, Mizzou can hang with most teams. Meanwhile, if Richardson or Barton is hitting from outside, or if Tennessee's bench is doing anything on the scoreboard, Tennessee is almost unbeatable. Who gets the better contribution here?

Prediction

Four games ago, I said Missouri needed to finish 3-2 to feel good about its NCAA Tourney chances. At the time, I figured that meant beating Mississippi State and Texas A&M home (check) and splitting the two road games against Alabama and Georgia (whoops). I assumed a loss to Tennessee.

I still do assume a loss. This is an enormous game, and Mizzou can all but punch its ticket to the Dance with a win (as strange as that seems), but I just don't see that happening. Mizzou's list of ifs is a lot longer than Tennessee's in this game -- if Jabari finds his 3-point shot again, if the rebounding isn't a complete mismatch, if Tennessee is missing its 3s again, if Jones/J3/Post all play well -- and while a win is possible, it's in no way likely. Pomeroy projects a 75-65 UT win (win probability for Mizzou: 17%), and that sounds about right to me. Prove me wrong, guys.

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