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Preview: Kennesaw State is a speed bump that can’t become a roadblock

Frankly, seeing Missouri work out some aggression on an over-matched squad might be the best way to start the Paradise Jam.

NCAA Basketball: Kennesaw State at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Get right.

The objective isn’t anymore complex than that for Missouri as it opens play today against Kennesaw State in the Paradise Jam. Conjuring up intrigue is hard when the opponent is pegged to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Sun and KenPom’s index.

And if we’re honest, that’s all the setup this tilt deserves.

The Scout

NCAA Basketball: Kennesaw State at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The Starters

Position Missouri (1-1) Kennesaw State (1-1)
Position Missouri (1-1) Kennesaw State (1-1)
PG Jordan Geist (Sr., 6-2, 180) Tyler Hooker (Jr., 6-0, 150)
CG Mark Smith (So., 6-4, 220) Kyle Clarke (Sr., 6-5, 200)
WING Javon Pickett (Fr., 6-4, 207) Bryson Lockley (Jr., 6-8, 218)
CF Kevin Puryear (Sr., 6-7, 238) Kosta Jankovic (Sr. 6-8, 210)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (So., 6-10, 250) Issac Mbuyamba (Jr., 6-7, 235)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

When Missouri has the ball...

Mizzou Offense | Playing through Tilmon on the block again seems like a prudent call. Need proof? Look at the box score from KSU’s trip to Kansas State. The Wildcats only went 1 of 13 from long range, but piled up a plus-30 margin in paint points. (Kennesaw has actually proven itself to be solid defending the 3-point line during Al Skinner’s tenure.) A bounce-back outing from Tilmon and a modicum of reliable shooting by Mark Smith, Torrence Watson and Jordan Geist likely lets the Tigers run away and hide. Meanwhile, outside of Isaac Mbuyamba, the Owls’ front line fits the profile of a group Kevin Puryear can exploit.

Kennesaw State Defense | The only compliment you can pay the Owls was already mentioned. This isn’t a team that’s going to get into you and ramp up pressure. You can go to the glass with relative ease, and their rim protection is modest.

Missouri offense vs. Kennesaw State defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Missouri 104.4 (112) 18.7 (295) 50.5 (166) 25.6 (210) 24.6 (255) 27.8 (262) 32.7 (193) 51.8 (140) 60.0 (287) 10.7 (207) 10.7 (256)
Kennesaw State 107.9 (296) 16.8 (166) 49.6 (157) 17.8 (206) 32.3 (233) 18.6 (16) 30.6 (118) 51.2 (194) 59.1 (47) 9.8 (169) 9.3 (144)

When Kennesaw State has the ball...

Kennesaw State Offense | Without James Scott and Nick Masterson, the Fighting Owls are bereft of known scorers. Tyler Hooker needs to push the ball in transition and can hit spot-up jumpers, but too often settles for poor mid-range looks. Kosta Jankovic spaces the floor, but he rarely drives against closeouts. JUCO guard Bobby Parker supplies some outside shooting but little else. All the while, Mbuyamba and Bryson Lockley subsist on putbacks and dumpoffs. Against K-State, which like Mizzou was a top-40 defense last season, Al Skinner’s bunch only averaged 0.61 points per possession, shooting just 28.6 percent from the floor and committing 21 turnovers. If Hooker can’t get traction, there’s a real question about what — if any — production the Owls can yield each trip down the floor.

Missouri Defense | Just execute and defend consistently. Unless Hooker and Parker get rolling, there isn’t a bevy of options KSU can rely on to create instant offense. MU’s front line should also is stout enough to control the lane — 40.0 2FG% allowed — and the offensive backboards. While Mitchell Smith and Kevin Puryear are searching for consistency on the offensive end, the pair of combo forwards are doing a solid job at the defensive end.

Kennesaw State offense vs. Missouri defense

Team Adj. Efficiecy Avg. Poss Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Efficiecy Avg. Poss Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Kennesaw State 92.6 (334) 20.2 (338) 40.7 (323) 23.2 (290) 28.2 (184) 13.3 (341) 38.7 (82) 34.1 (340) 60.0 (287) 9.8 (184) 10.1 (233)
Missouri 95.1 (44) 15.1 (43) 45.5 (89) 14.2 (314) 16.0 (7) 38.4 (218) 34.6 (197) 40.0 (33) 67.4 (154) 5.0 (280) 5.7 (292)

The Matchup

NCAA Basketball: Kennesaw State at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Hooker | Scoring Point Guard

Year Ht./Wt. Pts. Reb. Ast. FG% 3FG% FT% ORTG eFG% TS%
Year Ht./Wt. Pts. Reb. Ast. FG% 3FG% FT% ORTG eFG% TS%
Jr. 6-0/150 15.7 4.0 1.3 33 25.0 75.0 59.2 30 30.6

To thrive, Hooker needs the game to be played in the open floor. Yet he suits up for a team that plods. That incongruity explains in part why Hooker’s game rests on using a high-volume of possessions. When the game moves into the half court, he’s woeful operating in ball screens (0.5 PPP) and is prone to loft up poor mid-range jumpers. That tendency to settle instead of sticking with success as a spot-up shooter — esepcially coming of screens to his right — drags down his overall game.

Defensively, though, Hooker holds his own guarding the 3-point arc — 31.7 3FG% allowed as a sophomore — but can be exploited in pick-and-rolls. If matched up with Geist, it might be worthwhile using early drag screens set by Tilmon to see if Missouri can find way to get quality shots at the rim without throwing the ball inside.

The Breakdown

NCAA Basketball: Kennesaw State at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

There’s not a ton of analytical grist to mill. Kennesaw State isn’t equipped with the kind of experienced personnel to make this a competitive game. The only scenario in which goes sideways is black swan event.

Last season, Long Beach State helped Missouri, which had been putrid from 3-point range against Utah and Emporia State, flush poor shooting from its system. A week ago, Jordan Geist and Mark Smith went a combined 5 of 12 from long distance, hinting that Missouri might have at least two plausible spot-up threats.

Is this the foe, though, that spurs a breakout from Torrence Watson? Given that K.J. Santos remains sidelined with a foot injury, getting the freshman on track would start to make opponents think twice about doubling up Tilmon.

Oh, value the ball, too.

KenPom says...

Missouri 75, Kennesaw State 59 | Barring a total collapse, this tilt isn’t worth putting a charge on your credit card. (FloHoops is worth the price to see EYBL action, though.) The weekend’s fortunes hinge on Saturday’s tussle with Oregon State or Old Dominion, presumably to earn a date with Kansas State on Sunday. Crass at it sounds, seeing Missouri thump the on a the Fighting Owls is the best sign of progress anyone can expect.