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Live Thread: Missouri at Mississippi State

An otherwise bland trek to Starkvegas has little more tension.

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NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Texas A&M C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

Fatalism is a feature of Missouri’s fanbase.

Anyone steeped in Tigers history understands why. Call it the Edney Principle: If emotional trauma is to be inflicted on MU fans, it will be in the most heinously cruel fashion possible. This season, it might be a slow-motion collapse of a renovation that Cuonzo Martin pulled off in a mere three months on the job.

Over the seasons first three months, the Tigers withstood a season-ending injury to best recruit in school history and a pair of transfers that gutted depth at point guard. Then, on Friday evening, Mizzou announced the indefinite suspension of junior Terrence Phillips, whose “future status with the program will be determined in coordination with the campus and department leadership,” the program announced in a statement.

In October, Sam Snelling and I talked about how Martin could feasibly deploy a nine-man roster to run an NBA-inspired offense that allowed MU to run 70-plus possessions a game. Now? Well, it seems quaint.

Tonight, Mizzou suits up just eight scholarship players for a rotation rolling just six deep. Off nights aren’t allowed moving forward. The numbers game forced Martin, who had moved away from the motion-based system ($) that defined Martin’s roots as a Gene Keady protege, to slow his preferred pace to crawl and an attack reliant on jump-shooting. And if the Tigers’ defense slips even in a bit, you can have nights like the one that unfolded Wednesday in 18-point shellacking by Auburn.

While Bruce Pearl’s team is the worst matchup Mizzou can expect in SEC play, it laid bare the deficiencies Martin and Co. will have to overcome. It didn’t cripple the Tigers’ chances for an at-large bid but throws into relief a scenario where matters can get dicey in a hurry.

That’s where today’s showdown with Mississippi State comes into play — one where walk-on Brett Rau could be pressed into meaningful minutes.

On paper, the Bulldogs are a better draw for Martin’s group. The Bulldogs are young. Like Mizzou, they’re unsettled at the point guard position, toggling between Lamar Peters and Nick Weatherspoon. As you’ll see in the KenPom profile below, perimeter shooting is a black hole. Coach Ben Howland does have some size in the paint, but Aric Holman is a pick-and-pop threat, and Abdul Ado can only do one thing — catch, take one dribble and turn to his left shoulder — in the paint.

What Mississippi State can do with some success is attack off pick-and-rolls and try to use turnovers to create easy scoring chances. Here’s how those numbers look for the Bulldogs’ wings, per Synergy Sports.

But there’s a rub, too. Almost all of these plays are run out of high pick-and-rolls, and Mizzou’s defense can neutralize them to a degree. Peters, for example, tends to attack the rim (1.125 PPP) or look for a roll-man (1.583 PPP). The same goes for Nick Weatherspoon. Meanwhile, Quinndary Weatherspoon is equally average pulling up in the mid-range (0.825 PPP) or trying to finish at the tin (1.056 PPP). They all share one thing in common: their kickouts to wing shooters aren’t efficient. Like at all. Take a look:

  • Lamar Peters: 0.600 PPP
  • Quinndary Weatherspoon: 0.654 PPP
  • Nick Weatherspoon: 0.154 PPP

If you’re Mizzou, the scout is simple. You can weak, ice, or go under pick-and-rolls. Or MU can pinch in help from wing defenders. Dare the Bulldogs to beat you from the perimeter. In the event that Howland decides to play through Ado, don’t hesitate to swarm him. When doubled on the left block, Ado’s efficiency is cut in half (0.692 PPP), his passes out aren’t productive (0.556 PPP) and he turns the ball over 30.8 percent of the time.

This assumes, however, that Jeremiah Tilmon isn’t parked on the bench for long stretches with foul trouble. Or that the Tigers can limp through with just one scholarship point guard — Jordan Geist — still in the fold. And speaking of Geist, here’s why I’d expect State to smash him with pick-and-rolls: he’s among the weaker defenders in the SEC in those situations.

If Mizzou can control the backboards, value the basketball and stay sound defending the perimeter, the sources of points run dry pretty quickly for the Bulldogs. We have to acknowledge that Howland’s group is dogged on the defensive end, leading the SEC in efficiency at 0.78 PPP, putting them in the same ballpark as Texas A&M and Auburn. So I wouldn’t expect this game to be up-tempo and fluid.

You’ll hear Sam and I say this a bunch, too: the margin for error is small. Even if Phillips’ minutes dwindled, and perhaps his confidence, whatever action you could get from him was less of a burden you had to place on a player like Cullen VanLeer. While Robertson isn’t awful with the ball in his hands, he’s at his best (1.338 PPP) as a spot-up shooter and working off the ball.

Meanwhile, Jordan Barnett still has a penchant to disappear for stretches. Sometimes, an elite defender is responsible. Against Arkansas, Barnett’s activity was confined to a pair of three-minute stretches in each half. At Texas A&M, he’d later admit, Barnett wasn’t engaged. Finally, on Wednesday night, Barnett went scoreless over the final 15 minutes of the second half and didn’t attempt a shot after the 11:57 mark.

Taken together, MU takes the floor with scant depth at point guard, a big man prone to foul trouble in Tilmon and a star player with a penchant for disappearing. So, not ideal.

Hard as life can be this year on the road, getting a win at The Hump is urgent, and the trend line is moving in the wrong direction.

Finding a way to split matchups against State and Alabama keeps MU on schedule toward a 9-9 or 10-8 in league play. Drop them both, and Martin’s team will have lost four of five, sit at 3-6 in the SEC standings, hold a 1-5 record against the KenPom top-50 and await a visit from Kentucky.

No, the worse hasn’t come to pass. Notching a win today, though, would certainly ease some nerves.

The Review

The Details

Opponent: Mississippi State Bulldogs (14-6, 2-5 SEC)

Time: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss.


WHAT DOES VEGAS SAY? State -1.5, O/U 133

WHAT DOES KenPom SAY? Missouri 66, Mississippi State 65 (Win expectancy: 51%)


Twitter: @MizzouHoops

Facebook: Mizzou Men’s Basketball

Live Stats: StatBroadcast

Five Questions

  1. How many minutes will Brett Rau see?
  2. Missouri will have eight scholarship players tonight. Do all of them make it back?
  3. What is your level of anxiety at this juncture?
  4. (not a question but...) Predict the score!
  5. Who is your trifecta?