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Missouri’s trip to Utah represents the Tigers’ biggest test yet

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Michael Porter Jr is set to miss another game as the Tigers travel to Utah.

NCAA Basketball: PAC-12 Conference Tournament-Southern California vs Utah Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers are 2-0 after only getting 2 points and 2 rebounds in 2 minutes from Michael Porter Jr. Other than the concerning and somewhat strange injury to the Tigers most prized recruit ever, the season has gotten off to a terrific start with two blowout wins over Iowa State and Wagner. The start has been exciting but the team faces a big task by going on the road to face a solid experienced Utah team. Let’s check them out...

Previewing your Mountain Standard Time Zone Rivals, the Utah Runnin’ Utes

NCAA Basketball: California at Utah Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Utes under Larry Krystkowiak have been solid, and sometimes very good (once he went through an ugly rebuilding in his first two seasons). Since his second season the Utes have not finished outside of the KenPom top 50, which is impressive when you consider they were 302nd his first season.

The hiring of Krystkowiak corresponded with the Utes move to the Pac12. So considering he rebuilt the program in a power league versus the WAC or the MWC shows how underrated the job he’s done in Salt Lake City has been. So the turnaround has been impressive, but they haven’t quite reached the heights of some of the Majerus years. But Utah is a very good opponent to take on and should provide a good measuring stick for the Tigers first road game.

They missed the NCAAs last season but the two previous years they were a three and a five seed in back to back years. Though this year they are likely a bubble team at best, so considering both teams are hoping for NCAA tournament bids, this is a good win for each squad to present to the selection committee when it comes time.

Oddly enough Cuonzo Martin and Krystkowiak have a history due to Martin’s time at Cal, and Krystkowiak is 4-3 against the Tigers coach. Time to even the score?

UTAH: Stats ‘N Stuff

player year pos %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos %min %pts ts% %ov
Sedrick Barefield JR CG 45.11% 12.64% 90.02% 11.61%
Tyler Rawson SR POST 61.40% 14.94% 74.54% 22.47%
David Collette SR POST 50.13% 14.37% 100.48% 6.23%
Gabe Bealer SR WING 50.13% 13.22% 79.64% 7.74%
Justin Bibbins SR PG 57.64% 10.34% 95.34% 22.40%
Chris Seeley FR CF 31.33% 8.05% 61.19% 5.79%
Donnie Tillman FR CF 47.62% 6.90% 80.65% 8.95%
Parker Van Dyke JR CG 55.14% 6.32% 40.92% 5.41%
Kolbe Caldwell SO WING 38.85% 6.32% 40.92% 5.59%
Jake Connor JR CG 25.06% 3.45% 35.55% 3.55%
Jakub Jokl SO POST 13.78% 2.30% 81.97% 1.12%
Christian Popoola FR PG 23.81% 1.15% 22.52% -0.87%

Two games in and we have a few trends to see already.

Barefield is an important player for the Utes, and he missed last game due to a stomach virus. For Missouri to have success they’ll need to watch his production, and that of David Collette. Collette is a model of consistency and an important part of their offense. Justin Bibbins formulates a lot of their offense without taking a lot of shots, he still gets his fair share but very clearly looks to setup the many others floating around him.

One of my favorite stats is Krystkowiak has basically gone from a slow plodding pace to a relatively (okay, average) paced team in a short time span. This is helping produce some nicer offensive numbers than he’s had in the past.

PROJECTED STARTERS

  • PG: Justin Bibbins vs Kassius Robertson
  • CG: Sedrick Barefield vs Cullen VanLeer
  • WING: Gabe Bealer vs Jordan Barnett
  • CF: David Collette vs Kevin Puryear
  • POST: Tyler Rawson vs Jeremiah Tilmon

Michael Porter Jr isn’t walking through that door. But Mizzou is walking through the door with a roster that has played really pretty well over the course of the first two games. Kassius Robertson has shown up and shot well (7-14 from 3 on the season), Jeremiah Tilmon has been a monster when not in foul trouble, and Jontay Porter has come off the bench and showed flashes of brilliance.

And those are just the new guys. Jordan Barnett and Kevin Puryear have been near revelations. Barnett is playing with passion on both sides of the ball and Puryear has exceeded my expectations by every bit so far.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Things are going well.

But this is the first real test. Beating a downtrodden Iowa State team at home with a packed crowd is no big deal. Slapping Wagner out of the gym early is par for the course. Now the newly remade Tigers have to play 4200 feet above sea level (that’s roughly 3400+ higher elevation than Columbia, MO), in a dark gym far away from home where they only serve 3.2 beer.

On top of the foreign ground, they play a team who starts four seniors and a junior and have aspirations of playing in the NCAA tournament this year.

mizzou utah kenpom

Missouri has the better and more talented roster. If they play two halves like they played the first half against Wagner, or even the first half against Iowa State, I think Missouri wins this game without too much problem. But part of the Tigers early success has come from getting highly efficient shots and making them. They’re currently second (IN THE COUNTRY) in effective FG% and they’re one of the better rebounding teams as well. The Tigers one weakness so far has been turnovers and Utah simply doesn’t force them, giving Missouri another advantage.

Overall this is a good matchup for Mizzou and I think they have the advantage, even on the road. I’ve seen the Vegas odds makers putting the line at everything from Mizzou +8.5 to Utah +3.5. I think the comfort zone for me would be Mizzou +3.5. I think the Tigers take this one, but it’s close. I’ll say 78-71.