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Missouri needs to be in attack mode against shorthanded NC State

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It's been almost a week since Mizzou was pronounced trounced in Tucson. The embarrassing performance against the Arizona Wildcats left a lot of Missouri fans in a bit of despair, judging by the online comments during the week. However, there's a perfect opportunity to get away from games, regroup, and refocus on what this team is trying to accomplish. While the game looked bad, the goals for this team do not change. From a win-loss perspective, I doubt anyone had Mizzou walking into the McKale Center and pulling out a win. So we move on.

About the North Carolina State Basketball Team

North Carolina State enters the matchup on Saturday with a 7-3 record and ranked 72nd in KenPom. which is good enough to be the 12th of 15 teams in the ACC. The Wolfpack are a little short handed this year, they have an all-world point guard in Anthony Barber (nicknamed Cat) who is playing an astounding 93.8% of his available minutes. In only one game has Barber played less than 30 minutes... he played 29, and still took 17 shots. The Wolfpack typically play a rotation of seven, and the guard rotation is pretty tight, with Caleb Martin and Maverick Rowan playing the bulk of the minutes on the wing.

Despite their depth, the Pack still do a great job of dominating the boards, they rarely turn the ball over, and they get to the free throw line which is three of the four factors of winning. The fourth? eFG. This is where NC State is bad. The Pack is top 45 or better in the other 3, and they rank 245 in eFG. So they can be limited offensively if you force them to shoot from deep. As a team they shoot just 31.8% from 3-point range. So is this a winnable game for the Tigers?

The easiest way to find out is to chat with somebody who knows them best...


A big thanks to Steven Muma for taking some time to talk to us and answer all of our questions about his Wolfpack basketball team. We had hoped to have Steve on the podcast, but I asked him too late and we couldn't quite work it out. Perhaps the Pack and the Tigers will play again soon, and then for sure we'll have him on. But in the meantime, we'll have to enjoy the dulcet tones of his voice through the power of written word...

RockMNation: Mark Gottfried is on 5th season in Raleigh, and has four NCAA tournament appearances under his belt despite never losing less than 11 games. How is Gottfried viewed by the fanbase at this stage?

Steven Muma: I think the opinion of Gottfried is positive at this point, despite some disappointments, like having a preseason top-10 team end up in the NCAAs as an eight-seed. He is personable, which helps, as do those two trips to the Sweet Sixteen over the last four years.

At some point, though, the pressure will start to mount if he cannot get the Wolfpack beyond plateauing as an eight-seed in the NCAAs. Twice the team's just barely snuck in with a double-digit seed, and while those moments are great fun on Selection Sunday when they go your way, they most likely will catch up with you.

I wouldn't expect the heat to turn up any time soon, even with what is increasingly looking like a down season. He also recently signed an extension through 2020.

RMN: Cat Barber has performed like one of the top guards in the country, what makes him so dynamic and a difficult matchup for other teams? And what is the best way to slow him down?

Muma: He is speed personified, and with the rules adjustments that have resulted in the tighter policing of contact by defenders, he is benefitting significantly. He has 101 free throw attempts in 10 games, and has hit 86.1% of those attempts. That's been one of the big changes for him--as a freshman he was under 70% at the line, and last year he shot 73.3%. Free throws developed into a huge weapon for him.

His court vision is good and his handle is excellent--he has a career-low turnover percentage this season. He is inextricably linked to all of the things NC State's offense does well ... and the things it does poorly.

Like shoot the ball.

As for slowing him down, it helps if you've got a quality rim protector, and failing that, if you can make him settle for jump shots. Sometimes he is all to willing to do that, unfortunately.

RMN: One of the biggest issues with the Wolfpack this year has been shooting, they don't commit many turnovers, they get to the free throw line and they get high rates of offensive rebounds, so why are they struggling to get the ball in the hole?

Muma: NC State expected Trevor Lacey to return for his senior season, and when that did not happen, it left the Wolfpack thin in the backcourt. Then transfer guard Terry Henderson got injured during the first half of the first game of the season; he has not played since, and won't probably until late January.

This left the Pack with an incredibly uncertain outside shooting situation, between Barber (career .316 from three), sophomore Caleb Martin, who didn't play much last year, and true freshman Maverick Rowan.

Rowan is shooting only 31.9% from outside, and Barber's outside shooting hasn't materialized as we'd hoped (a lingering wrist injury could be the issue there). Martin, to his credit, has been solid. But those are the only three guys we can reasonably expect to produce from out there.

Inside, we thought Abdul-Malik Abu might be in line for a breakout season, but that has yet to materialize. Of course, it doesn't help that he was in a car accident earlier in the season and is now sick to the point his status was in doubt on Wednesday night. (It's been a rough couple months for this team.)

BeeJay Anya and Lennard Freeman are pretty much afterthoughts in the post game, so their impact on the scoring tends to be minimal. Usually comes from put-backs or the good old fashioned alley-oop.

So this leaves Barber, Caleb Martin, Rowan, and Abu as the core offensively, with three of the four off to slow shooting starts.

RMN: Mizzou is young and have struggled away from home, but they've played well at home. Does this game concern you, and what do you think the Wolfpack need to do to leave Columbia with a win?

Muma: True road games are always gonna scare me; I'm extra scared after Cody Martin suffered an ankle sprain against High Point on Wednesday. If he can't play--and all indications at the point are that he'll be out--then NC State is effectively six players deep. Barber played the full 40 against High Point. Cody has at times played everything from backup point guard to four-man, so losing his versatility hurts, and there are no replacements. And Barber just lost a little bit more help.

The Pack needs a big man to step up, the frontcourt guys need to avoid major foul trouble, Cat needs to be Cat, and it'd help if the guys hit a decent percentage from outside. They do all that and I think they can win this game despite being so shorthanded. A couple of Mizzou's defensive weaknesses (TO%, FT rate) do play into NC State's hands, so those will be areas to watch.

RMN: Last, how do you see this game playing out, and what is your final score prediction?

Muma: I don't have confidence in more than like 1.5 of those keys I listed above actually happening, so give me Missouri by like six. The Pack gets one day of rest before traveling, then has to play with practically no bench. This just feels like a tough turnaround to me.

Thanks again to Steven for taking the time to answer our questions. Feel free to wander over to Backing the Pack and check out my Q&A with them, as well as their Preview of the Missouri game.

So is this game the one where Missouri finally takes down a High Major opponent? From the sounds of things, NC State is ripe for an upset. Shot bench, long travel, quick turnaround, and it's finals week. What are we watching for in this game to determine Mizzou's success at the end of the game?

Mizzou NC State KenPom

1) Make Cat Barber beat you from distance

Of the teams and players Mizzou has played so far, Barber might be the best, or at least, the most challenging matchup. If his jumpshot is falling, he's nearly impossible to slow down, much less stop. Barber has an incredibly high usage rate, by playing 93.8% of the available minutes, and a %possession near 30%, all the while hitting an assist rate near 30%, and a turnover rate of just 10%. These are pretty impressive numbers. He's averaging over 20 points per game, over 5 rebounds, and nearly 6 assists. The one weakness is he's shooting just 21% from three point range.

2) Force the issue

Missouri needs to be in attack mode on offense 100% of the time. With NC State being shorthanded, the more fouls you force, the faster they get into foul trouble, the easier it will be to control the outcome. If the Mizzou guards are able to attack the defense, I like their chances to get to the line for easy points, and make the depth of the Wolfpack an issue.

3) Limit Second Chances

This is one of the "broken record" keys, something-something rebounding. Truth is Mizzou is not a good rebounding team. NC State is a good rebounding team. The one way NC State negates their poor shooting is by hitting the glass hard. And they do. Make this as close to even as possible and your chances of winning go up greatly.

The last four times Missouri has played a team from a high major conference, they've lost. The only caveat is none of those games have been at home, where the Tigers are unquestionably more confident. If the Tigers can get some shots to fall early, it will go a long way in building their confidence they can play with this higher level teams. North Carolina State is not Arizona nor are they Xavier. According to KenPom they aren't even Northwestern. They are ranked higher than Kansas State, and they have similar rebounding ability. Rebounding is where Mizzou has been crushed in the past, so here's a chance at redemption.

Prediction wise, I'm skeptical they'll be able to pull this out, mostly because I have yet to see them put together a full game against anyone, much less a high major opponent. KenPom projects an NC State win 72-70. Honestly this feels pretty close to what I was thinking, with the Wolfpacks shooting and rebounding, i think the score stays lower than we've seen to date. I'll take a guess and say NC State wins 68-64. This is absolutely a game Mizzou can win, and quite honestly, I feel they should win this game. If they do win, they're able to push pace more and the game plays into the high 70s and low 80s. I guess we'll just hope we see that game.