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Hoops Preview: Morehead State offers Missouri one last tuneup

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The Eagles are 4-0 on the season, but shouldn’t offer much resistance as one last tuneup game before the meat of the non-conference schedule.

NCAA Basketball: Morehead State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Thank god there won’t be many more games like this.

One of the hallmarks of non-conference basketball is the endless slog of playing over-matched teams. It’s a fine line to walk for a program like Missouri that often can’t attract marquee national match-ups before conference play. Do you pad your record against blood donors, or do you risk a not-so-tournament-friendly record to play lots of high majors? Oftentimes the choice is out of the hands of the athletic department — they can only play who will schedule them.

Luckily, there won’t be many more games like this, especially in quick succession.

The Morehead State Eagles visit Missouri for the second time in as many years tonight, a picture of consistency. In each of Preston Spaldin’s first three years, the Eagles have ranked in the 200s of KenPom (203, 273, 245) and currently sit at 245.

It’s a tough situation to be in for the Eagles — they currently sit firmly in the second tier of the Ohio Valley Conference, which has long been dominated by mid-major stalwarts Belmont and Murray State. The Eagles have the best record in the OVC so far, but haven’t played anyone higher than Samford in the KP ratings.

Wednesday’s match up with Missouri starts a four-game road trip that also includes a trip to Butler. KenPom predicts them to have a 17-14 record by year’s end, which would be the best in the Spaldin era and best since 2016 when Sean Woods led the Eagles to a 23-14 record.


The Scout

Starters

Position Missouri (3-1) Morehead State (4-0)
Position Missouri (3-1) Morehead State (4-0)
PG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Justin Thomas (Rs. Jr., 5'11", 185)
CG Mark Smith (Jr., 6'5", 220) Jordan Walker (Sr., 6'0", 185)
WING Javon Pickett (So., 6'5", 220) Djimon Henson (Sr., 6'3", 200)
PF Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) James Baker (Jr., 6'6", 209)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (Jr., 6'10", 260) LJ Bryan (So. 6'9", 250)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Morehead State’s starting lineup may be upperclassmen-heavy, but it doesn’t reflect the reality of how the Eagles’ minutes are distributed.

Baker, Thomas and Walker all eat up more than 66 percent of the available minutes, and it’s through them that the offense will run. While Baker has the highest usage rate and shot percentage, Thomas is the most dangerous threat, posting team high effective field goal and true shooting percentages (57.1 and 56.6, respectively.) He also boasts the team’s highest assist rate.

The two names you’ll see a lot of outside the starters are freshmen Tyzhaun Claude and Ta’lon Cooper. Both get about 50 percent of available minutes, and the 6’8” Claude is used more often than Bryan, mostly because of his strengths as a rebounder. Cooper has seen very limited touches, but has made seven of his nine field goal attempts so far, including four of five three point attempts.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Morehead 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 103.3 (75) 17.8 (245) 50.2 (124) 19.6 (172) 24.6 (264) 32.8 (147) 28.6 (255) 55.7 (47) 74.7 (67) 3.8 (19) 6.6 (44)
Morehead State 102.5 (273) 16.8 (135) 42.9 (51) 20.5 (143) 28.3 (175) 27.5 (121) 25.6 (37) 45.9 (125) 61.5 (55) 9.0 (158) 11.2 (83)

On the whole, it’s hard to point out any interesting matchups here. Missouri’s offense has predictably run through Tilmon for the better part of four games, and the junior has responded beautifully, becoming an efficiency monster down low. Morehead State doesn’t have anyone that can match up with him physically, so Tilmon should be able to do just about whatever he wants on the block tonight.

I suppose if there’s one thing to be mindful of, it’s the Eagles’ three-point defense. Missouri had its best shooting night of the season against Wofford (39.1 percent from deep), but Morehead State boasts one of the country’s best three-point defenses... so far, that is. The Eagles haven’t exactly played any sharp shooting teams. So while it would be good to see Missouri continue to make progress in the shooting department, it won’t be necessary to bagging another W.

What to Watch | What will the true freshmen do?

This is a bit of cheating. Maybe a more accurate thing to watch for would be, “Can Jeremiah Tilmon continue dominating lesser opponents,” or, “Can the three-point shooting continue to trend in the right direction.” However, there’s such a talent disparity in this one that it feels silly to harp too much on things that should be obvious. Instead, watch out for the true freshmen, who have struggled in the past few games. I’d expect to see Tray Jackson and Mario McKinney, Jr get a little more run than they have been, and it’d be nice to see either one of them, along with Kobe Brown, have a nice game against a lower-level opponent.

When Opponent has the ball...

Morehead 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%
Morehead State 96.3 (218) 18.1 (277) 53.7 (60) 20.5 (215) 40.2 (6) 35.6 (109) 26.2 (294) 61.1 (13) 55.9 (329) 13.5 (314) 11.6 (294)
Missouri 86.3 (8) 16.9 (152) 37.4 (9) 22.4 (81) 22.7 (49) 31.4 (187) 22.6 (13) 39.6 (26) 71.4 (215) 12.2 (80) 10.5 (114)

It might be a long night for the Eagles.

One of the biggest developments on the young season has been Missouri’s elite defense, which held Wofford’s dangerous offense without a field goal for more than 14 minutes on Monday. By comparison, Morehead State isn’t much of a threat. The Eagles thrive on two-point efficiency, shooting over 61 percent. However, they haven’t played a team higher than 157 in KenPom and definitely haven’t seen a team with Missouri’s size before. To top it off, the Eagles aren’t much of a three-point shooting team. No one player has attempted more than 10 threes on the season, and the team ranks 257th in the country in three-pointers attempts to field goal attempts.

What to Watch | Can the Tigers limit second chances?

As noted above, Morehead State depends on two-point efficiency to prop up their slow pace. Part of the Eagles 4-0 start can be attributed to their elite offensive rebounding rate. But — as also noted above — Missouri is faster, longer and more talented than any team the Eagles have seen this year. If the Tigers can limit their second chances, there’s probably no feasible way the Eagles can keep up.


KenPom predicts...

Missouri 77, Morehead State 57 | It’s not quite Incarnate Word, but Morehead State has no business even making this close. Here’s to hoping for a game that’s over by half and sees some of the young guns getting heavy minutes in the second half.