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Basketball Preview: Will Hilton Magic cast its spell on Missouri?

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It’s been six years since MU visited Ames, where Lindell Wigginton and Iowa State await.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Iowa State Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Note: This preview was written, edited and published before we formally learned that Iowa State will be without Lindell Wigginton tonight with a left foot strain.

With Wigginton sidelined, Iowa State’s only proven backcourt piece is Nick Weiler-Babb, with Marial Shayock and Talen Horton-Tucker now having to shoulder a larger burden.


The last time Missouri crossed the threshold at Hilton Coliseum, its magic, aura, spell, voodoo or whatever you might call it, nearly spoiled the Tigers’ farewell tour of the Big 12.

After muddling through the first half, Scott Christopherson’s halfcourt heave banked in, staking ISU a three-point lead at the break. Yet MU sloughed off its malaise, retook a four-point lead and brushed back Fred Hoiberg’s squad for another 10 minutes. Marcus Demon’s four free throws over the final 21.2 seconds helped cement the victory over six years ago.

Tonight, the former rivals meet for the 235th time, with the Tigers looking for a 11th consecutive win before the series goes dormant again. Conditions, though, might be ripe this evening for MU to fend off the anxiety induced in Hilton, a venue that yields a home-court advantage ($) that rates among the nation’s best.

Already dealing with the loss of Solomon Young, who is sidelined until January with a groin injury, and Cyclones coach Steve Prohm announced Tuesday that Cameron Lard and Zoran Talley Jr. are suspended until Dec. 3.

Playing shorthanded is an all-too-familiar feeling, too. Last season, the Cyclones saw five players — half their available roster — miss 38 combined games. The attrition exacted to steep a toll and Prohm’s program, which ended its 13-18 season on a six-game losing skid.

Shallow depth up front is a boon for Jeremiah Tilmon, who showed signs of making a quantum leap as a sophomore. You can also make the case that the outings by Jordan Geist and Kevin Puryear against Central Arkansas on Tuesday almost rate as outliers. Meanwhile, Mark Smith exorcised demons from a rough freshman season at Illinois, a tour of the Big Ten that exposed him to a fair number of hostile venues.

However, MU’s freshmen guards — Torrence Watson, Javon Pickett and Xavier Pinson — still need another turn in the sorting bin for Martin to figure out a rotation. All while K.J. Santos, who could theoretically supply spot-up shooting is still on the mend from a foot injury.

Coming out of Tuesday, our analysis was painted in broad strokes. When the opponent is UCA — a team who wants to play fast, bomb away from deep and all but bails on rebounding — getting a fixed reading on any of those questions is tough. The barometer in Ames should give us more gauge.

Yet this game is also a phantom limb — a vague sensation of shared history that becomes less frequent and elicits less pain as the years pass.

Or at the very least you hope it doesn’t manifest itself Friday.


The Scout

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Iowa State Reese Strickland-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 | After halftime on Tuesday, Missouri made a concerted effort to pump possessions through Tilmon in the post, letting him go to work with his left shoulder or make reads for kickouts. Given ISU’s personnel shortage along the frontline, prudence probably demands playing a form of bully ball. The Tigers’ base offense looked stilted and stagnant at times, and — as Sam Snelling said on Dive Cuts this week — Martin might decided calling specific plays to get the ball to certain spots is worthwhile.

On the perimeter, Wigginton and Weiler-Babb can struggle at times containing the dribble, particularly if wings attack closeouts. That could be a boon — if Mark Smith, Watson and Pickett make enough shots to force those defenders to rapidly close down space. Virginia transfer Marial Shayock ’s stint with Tony Bennett made him a reliable perimeter defender, so it’ll be interesting to see how Prohm deploys him.

Iowa State Defense | I skipped a little bit ahead in saying Wigginton and Weiler-Babb struggle at times, but it’s worth monitoring whether they’re engaged. I’m more interested in what ISU does in the post and whether they send extra help on Tilmon. In the absence of Lard, Talley and Young, that’s a bigger task than usual, and if they dig guards down, it could open up looks for young shooters.

Then there’s rebounding. Personnel woes effectively means ISU only has a roster that returns 30 percent of its rebounding. Who is going to keep Tilmon, Mitchell Smith or Puryear from wrangling second possessions if MU’s wings still struggle to hit shots?

Missouri offense vs. Iowa 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 104.3 (97) 19.2 (184) 48.4 (122) 15.6 (59) 26.2 (144) 20.3 (193) 30.8 (128) 50.0 (102) 46.2 (207) 7.9 (94) 8.5 (112)
Iowa State 92.9 (32) 18.4 (165) 44.5 (71) 28.2 (17) 23.7 (54) 18.2 (22) 34.6 (131) 37.9 (34) 40.7 (7) 17.2 (29) 16.9 (8)
National rankings are in parentheses. KenPom

When Iowa State has the ball...

Iowa State Offense | When Prohm took over in Ames, the transition was largely seamless. His offense plays with tempo, utilizes a four-out setup and deploys the kinds mechanics — handoffs, dragscreens and high pick-and-rolls — the Cyclones used under Fred Hoiberg. The only difference is his fleet of guards play more downhill than rise-and-fire.

Wigginton can knock down shots, but Weiler-Babb thrives in ball screens and can score in mid-range. Shayock left Charlottesville to play at a faster clip and brought with him the ability to hit spot-ups and drive into gaps. Lastly, freshman Talen Horton-Tucker, a top-40 talent, is a sturdily built handler that can navigate a crowded lane to finish and use his 7-foot wingspan to finish at the rim.

Losing Lard, though, saps the rotation of its best roll-man and a big who can be productive without need post-ups, whether its cuts, rim runs or sealing off this defender for a dump-off in the short corner. Michael Jacobson, who sat out last season after transferring from Nebraska, has experience but posted mediocre numbers on post-ups (0.806 PPP), cuts (0.857 PPP) or as a roller (0.714 PPP) while in Lincoln.

Missouri Defense | We can’t really predict how Mizzou will handle the step up from UCA to ISU, especially in ball-screen defense. Last season, Jordan Geist rated out well in those situations, while Tilmon was good at tagging rollers. Yet its unclear how well Mark Smith, Javon Pickett, Torrence Watson and Xavier Pinson will handle acquit themselves. UCA only ran four pick-and-rolls in the opener, but Martin’s last three teams ranked among the top 75 nationally for defending the action. We’ll see how quickly his roster can put those techniques into practice.

Iowa 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%
Iowa State 111.1 (21) 15.2 (44) 55.2 (56) 19.7(130) 36.1 (63) 10.4 (224) 38.5 (58) 53.7 (77) 71.4 (87) 7.3 (86) 5.6 (51)
Missouri 95.1 (49) 14.8 (33) 41.0 (37) 18.4 (114) 17.1 (16) 13.1 (2) 37.0 (150) 29.4 (7) 62.5 (69) 5.9 (156) 8.5 (110)
National rankings are in parentheses. KenPom

The Matchup

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Lindell Wigginton | Combo 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%
Soph. 6-2/189 13.0 5.0 3.0 45.5 50.0 0.0 112.2 59.1 59.1
Sports Reference, KenPom

Is Lindell Wigginton a floor general? A scoring point? Both?

The distinction defined the sophomore’s spring after he submitted his name for the NBA draft. Evaluators told Wigginton his future was likely as a point guard and his decision-making needed sharpening and his shooting stroke needed consistency.

Ultimately, Wigginton pulled his name from the pool after he didn’t receive an invite to the league’s scouting combine. And over the course of the summer, he set off for the Chris Paul Elite Camp and the Nike Basketball Academy. On Friday night, Mizzou will be one of the first to see the fruits of his labor.

Last season, Wigginton soaked up possessions out of necessity. The injury-plagued Cyclones needed someone who could generate offense, and it’s how the Canadian wound second in usage and shot percentage during Big 12 play. His raw production filled the gap, but his overall efficiency – 98.7 offensive rating, per KenPom – hinted at the room for growth.

As a freshman, Wigginton was a potent spot-up shooter, but he had a knack for taking inefficient mid-range jumpers (0.571 PPP) when driving left to counter a closeout. On pick-and-rolls, he could finish with ease at the rim but his vision and distribution, especially on high ball screens, was a tad scattershot. He had no trouble whipping the ball to shooters (1.128 PPP) but struggled to value the ball (35.3 TO%) when feeding a roller.

At Paul’s camp, though, Wigginton’s performance proved a mix bag. While he showcased improved shooting mechanics, he vision was still poor while on the move. MU will see a bouncy, attack-minded guard, but scouts were blunt in their appraisals. There are a lot of guards in Wigginton’s mold in the G League,” ESPN analyst Mike Schmitz wrote in his takeaway ($) afterward.

For now, Iowa State can offload some of the ball-handling duties on Weiler-Babb and rely on Shayock as a lock-down defender. That means Wigginton can try to do what he does best against a young backcourt.

It won’t matter what label is affixed to Wigginton if he’s cracking open Mizzou’s defense.


The Breakdown

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

New year, the same crux for Missouri’s offense: “Are the 3’s going in? Yes? MU has a shot. No? Not a chance.”

On Tuesday, Missouri spent the second half bludgeoning UCA in the paint, going 12 of 18 around the rim. Blunt force trauma works when the opponent is a weak foe out of the Southland Conference, but the core processor of this Tigers’ offense is 3-point shooting, and a win over the Bears did little to change its hard-wiring.

You’d just rather not see the kinds of blips the Tigers put on display.

Imagine if Geist had gone 2 of 6 from deep. Those hypothetical makes would have lifted the Tigers to 38.5 percent from the 3-point arc — a mark that would have aligned with the team’s average from last season. One more 3 from Watson would pushed it to 42.5 percent and settled MU at 1.11 PPP, which would have mirrored their efficiency mark from a year ago.

Three shots kicking off the rim were all that separated the Tigers from a buttoned-up affair.

No, the Tigers weren’t always fluid in their cuts and ball movement, but they still generated quality looks. If the offense still bears a resemblance to this ahead of Braggin’ Rights, you can start grinding your teeth to fine powder. Maybe, the cutting remains stilted and the spacing cramped. But one game isn’t enough to render a verdict.

If MU goes into Hilton, shows a little smoother action and creates quality shots, that’ll be a sign of growth in what we all assume is a transitional year.


KenPom says...

Iowa State 76, Missouri 67 | The door cracked open a bit this week, but I’m not sure MU can pry it open. Iowa State’s depth in the backcourt has enough proven production and diversity to offset the deficit down low. Until Missouri has reliable production elsewhere on its roster, it’s hard to call an upset.