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Preview: Is Oregon State a sign of things to come?

The Beavers might be the earliest litmus test of where Mizzou stands in what appears to be a transitional season for the Tigers.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon State at UCLA Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, Missouri clearly didn’t follow our advice to use Kennesaw State as a stress ball.

Instead, the Tigers spent the final 25 minutes mired in offensive futility and making people wonder whether it was worthwhile to hunt for the broadcast on a Reddit stream. (Yeah, we know you’re savvy in finding a FloHoops workaround.) Without Kevin Puryear early and Jordan Geist late, MU would likely have been saddled with the worst non-conference loss in the SEC.

Muddling through isn’t an optimal strategy, but it worked well enough to keep the Tigers in the winner’s bracket.

Their reward: a semifinal tilt with mercurial Oregon State, a team with enough skill and experience to make you wonder how coach Wayne Tinkle might be feeling his rump heating up. The Beavers didn’t look any better on Friday, surviving Old Dominion by closing the game with a 17-3 run.

By now, you’ve heard us say MU pushed off the first season of rebuilding by 12 months, pushing in its chips early once it landed Michael Porter Jr. While events didn’t unfold as planned, the program still ended its NCAA tournament drought.

Porter’s tumble in a closed scrimmage and the knee surgery, however, likely initiated a hard reset. Put another way, the bill has come due and with more interest than we might have expected.

Over three games, Martin’s tried to use Jeremiah Tilmon as an offensive conduit, but his backcourt isn’t knocking down enough shots to loosen up the middle of the floor. With the defense compacted, gaps and seams are small or fleetingly open. Even then, the Tigers’ lack a guard who can split the defense open by driving north-south.

During his postgame chat with MU radio, Martin said he might tap Christian Guess and Parker Braun — a pair of freshman who appeared likely for redshirts — to see duty. In Guess’ case, there’s a certain logic I can grasp. While his handle and shooting need work, the Cleveland native and Shaker Heights product’s game is built around slicing into gaps and exploiting angles.

“If you get the game where it’s wide open,” Shaker Heights coach Danny Young told me in September, “he’s going to get to the rim and really, really hurt you.”

And, as you’ll see, Oregon State isn’t a group that relies on applying heavy ball pressure. Having Guess operating off the ball and trying to exploit some space might be worth the experiment. It’s not as if Martin would be subtracting vital spot-up shooting to test the hypothesis.

Labeling this game a bellwether is probably off base. MU will host a pair of AAC foes in UCF, the preseason favorite, and Temple (No. 88 in KenPom) when it returns to Columbia. A retooling Xavier is also a good litmus test. Caveats aside, the Beavers live in the same neighborhood as MU in KenPom and the Sagarin Ratings. They play a similar tempo. They have size along the front line, and they’re also a team searching for perimeter shooting.

Oregon State is also picked to finish near the bottom of a weak Pac-12 pecking order and a reasonable proxy for teams at the bottom of the SEC. How they fare might give us a glimpse at what lies ahead — and how Martin plans to pilot his program through some turbulence.

The Scout

NCAA Basketball: Oregon State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Starters

Position Missouri (2-1) Oregon State (3-0)
Position Missouri (2-1) Oregon State (3-0)
PG Jordan Geist (Sr., 6-2, 180) Stephen Thompson (Sr., 6-4, 190)
CG Mark Smith (So., 6-4, 220) Ethan Thompson (So., 6-5, 190)
WING Javon Pickett (Fr., 6-4, 207) Alfred Hollins (So., 6-6, 195)
CF Kevin Puryear (Sr., 6-7, 238) Tres Tinkle (RS Jr., 6-8, 225)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (So., 6-10, 250) Gligorij Rakocevic (Sr., 6-11, 255)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

When Missouri has the ball...

Mizzou Offense | While Missouri’s pick-and-roll game showed early promise against Kennesaw State, the Tigers’ have settled into an early rut. They tried moving Puryear and Tilmon the elbows and working some hand-off actions, but ultimately the impetus is still to go through Tilmon on the left block. Unless Geist, Mark Smith and Torrence Watson can loosen up Oregon State, the Beavers have the personnel in the paint to negate Tilmon. At that point, it’s anyone’s guess where MU would turn next. Going back high pick-and-rolls, and pulling Gligorije Rakocevic and Kylor Kelley to the perimeter, might be a decent starting point.

Oregon State Defense | Rakocevic and Kelley are allowing less than 0.5 points per possession on post-ups, while Oregon State as a whole is doing a stellar job limiting offensive boards. Oh, and Kelley is sporting a 19.7 block percentage, which ranks seventh nationally, per KenPom. Toss in Tres Tinkle’s 23.8 defensive rebound percentage, and the Beavers have the personnel to wall off the interior. On the wing, Stephen Thompson Jr. can roam passing lanes, while Ethan Thompson and Tinkle have displayed the ability to keep contact and close down space on shooters. (They’re allowing just 0.838 PPP on spot-ups this season.) Now, Alfred Hollins has been prone to losing track of shooters, and you can pick on Ethan Thompson in pick-and-rolls. But a team capable of hassling Tilmon, consistently closing out and going to the boards is built to asphyxiate MU in the half court.

Missouri offense vs. Oregon 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 102.9 (142) 18.7 (300) 46.6 (245) 23.9 (310) 27.1 (212) 31.1 (215) 29.0 (271) 48.9 (195) 64.0 (252) 9.8 (192) 10.2 (255)
Oregon State 98.0 (84) 18.7 (325) 45.3 (86) 17.1 (233) 22.8 (57) 24.4 (39) 30.6 (121) 45.0 (85) 54.8 (17) 14.0 (65) 8.6 (180)

When Oregon State has the ball...

Oregon State Offense | Will the Thompson brothers be dialed in? Both have struggled to connect from long-range early on, while Thompson’s been turnover prone pushing the ball in transition. The cumulative effect is — as usual — Tinkle bears the brunt of generating offense, which he can do at all three levels. Inside, Rakocevic and Kelley exist as release valves and the clean up misses. Meanwhile, Hollins, who in the past got by the occasional jumper and cutting into gaps, has tried to become a reliable catch-and-shoot threat — only to see it fail so far. Coming into the season, the hope was Jordan Campbell or Antoine Vernon could emerge as a lead guard, pushing Stephen Thompson — a dead-eye shooter — off the ball. That hasn’t transpired, which leaves the Beavers playing with a short bench.

Missouri Defense | There’s early evidence the Tigers’ interior defense might be stout, even if rim protection has been relatively modest. Meanwhile, Mark Smith looks vastly improved as a perimeter defender. That being said, you can still target Geist in ball screens. At times, Kennesaw State picked on Javon Pickett. And the Tigers are letting opponents shoot 37.7 percent from behind the arc. In Ames, we saw Iowa State put a bigger wing (Marial Shayok) or quicker lead guard (Nick Weiler-Babb) into high ball-screens and just mash Tigers guards. Even if Oregon State doesn’t go that route, it has three skilled players who can hit jumpers and effectively attack the rim via straight-line drives at the top of the key. If either of the Thompson’s get going, trouble could be brewing.

Oregon State offense vs. Missouri 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%
Oregon State 106.1 (82) 17.8 (249) 52.0 (136) 16.6 (75) 33.0 (91) 31.2 (213) 30.8 (233) 54.5 (93) 66.7 (202) 4.1 (30) 7.0 (84)
Missouri 94.8 (42) 15.1 (30) 44.2 (66) 18.0 (202) 20.5 (34) 37.4 (207) 36.7 (243) 37.9 (12) 63.9 (92) 4.9 (297) 8.8 (169)

The Matchup

NCAA Basketball: Oregon State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Tres Tinkle | Stretch Forward

Year Ht./Wt. Pts. Reb. Ast. FG% 3FG% FT% ORTG eFG% TS%
Year Ht./Wt. Pts. Reb. Ast. FG% 3FG% FT% ORTG eFG% TS%
RS Jr. 6-8/220 20.0 10.3 5.7 48.0 37.5 60.0 122.2 54.0 54.8
Sports Reference, KenPom

If Cuonzo Martin could show an example of a combo forward, he might just call up highlights of Tres Tinkle.

The redshirt junior isn’t an explosive athlete, but he’s a smooth and savvy lefty that can score at all three levels. A former top-100 talent, he’s shored up his right hand, sped up his shot release and — so far — curbed his turnover rate. More importantly, Tinkle’s healthy after foot and wrist injuries cost him large chunks of his freshman and sophomore campaigns.

Tinkle’s rebounding ability gives him the ability to grab-and-go, getting the Beavers into transition chances with the Jackson Brothers working down the flanks. In the half court, Tinkle’s a constant spot-up threat, but he thrives attacking defenses down hill from the top of the key. And if you overplay him to deny a catch, he’s adept back cutting into gaps.

How the Tigers try to match up with Tinkle is the riddle. The only opponents who slowed him last season were the usual suspects: Arizona, Oregon, USC and Washington — opponents with the kind the length and switchability on the wing that MU lacks on its roster.

The Breakdown

NCAA Basketball: Oregon State at Oregon Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers won’t have to fit to play this game on their terms.

In Corvallis, Tinkle’s kept playing at a deliberate pace, ranking an average of 294th nationally in adjusted tempo. Add in defenses that typically finish inside the top-100 for efficiency, and you can see that goal is to grind down the opposition.

Down the sideline in the other coach’s box, Cuonzo Martin won’t shy away from that type of affair.

If this one turns into a wrestling match, possessions take on larger value. Oregon State might not push the tempo, but they have a backcourt that can convert on the run. And given the struggles the Tigers have had getting production from their backcourt, they’ll need all the offensive trips they can get.

The formula for this one is familiar: value the ball, find some jump-shooting and hope your perimeter defense keeps the Thompsons in line.

KenPom says...

Oregon State 67, Missouri 66 | Despite its youth, Missouri has shown an ability to defend the rim and hold teams off the glass. Yet Oregon State has shown the same mettle in the the paint. The outcome might hinge on which backcourt can boost its productivity enough to move on. If that’s the case, the scales tip toward OSU and the Thompson brothers in a game that figures to be played a trudging clip.