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Hoops Preview: Tigers hope to avoid an(other) upset versus SIU

Southern Illinois boasts a star freshman and deep bench of veteran reserves. Missouri can’t take them for granted.

NCAA Basketball: Southern Illinois at Buffalo Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri is coming off a very good road win over Temple in Philadelphia. I’d usually call that sort of outing a great win, but let’s be honest — Missouri still hadn’t figured out its offensive woes. The defense returned to form, which is a hopeful sign. But the Tigers are still a one-dimensional team in a lot of ways. If they can’t make you look awful, things could get ugly.

After a week off the Tigers return to their home court, looking to regain some of the pride they lost in their season-tilting loss to Charleston Southern.

With respect to these sort of fluid terms, Southern Illinois is probably the lowest KP-ranked mid-major the Tigers will face this season. The roster has a lot of fresh faces after an offseason that saw the program graduate six seniors and lose head coach Barry Hinson to resignation.

The Salukis haven’t lost any of their respectability, though. SIU has run a tough early-season schedule for an MVC program, sizing up against tough mid-major counterparts such as Oakland, Murray State and St. Louis. After a four-game losing streak toward the beginning of the season, the Salukis are 2-2 in their past four games and have to feel OK about heading to Columbia. After all, the Tigers have shown vulnerability at home.

For Missouri to avoid another upset — one that could potential tilt the scales of their season to disastrous — they’ll need to continue leaning on the defense that’s brought them. Tiger fans can only hope that the week off brought some offensive cohesion as well.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (5-4) Southern Illinois (4-6)
Position Missouri (5-4) Southern Illinois (4-6)
PG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Eric McGill (Sr., 6'2", 180)
CG Mark Smith (Jr., 6'5", 220) Lance Jones (Fr., 6'1", 200)
WING Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) Ronnie Suggs (Sr., 6'6", 205)
PF Mitchell Smith (Jr., 6'10", 221) Marcus Domask (Fr., 6'6", 215)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (Jr., 6'10", 260) Barret Benson (Sr., 6'10", 240)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Don’t look now, but the Salukis may have a burgeoning star on their hands.

Freshman Marcus Domask has been an elite option for SIU on the floor in 10 games this year. Get a load of these stats: 86.7 minutes percentage; 63.6 true shooting; 81.2 free throw percentage; and 42.2 from three-point range. Domask is a problem, and it’ll be interesting to see how Missouri handles him. Given the Tigers’ size advantage — and Mitchell’s defensive limitations — it wouldn’t be surprising to see someone like Mark Smith get the assignment, but that creates a potential mismatch elsewhere.

Benson isn’t necessarily dominant down low, but he’ll take the opportunities given to him. He’s shooting 72 percent from two this year and cleans up on the defensive glass admirably (17.9 percent).

Neither Jones or McGill are proficient shooters and neither take care of the ball particularly well — but they are the Saluki’s primary distributors. McGill can also be a ballhawk on the defensive side, with a steal percentage just over two and a half. Suggs [editor’s note: we know him!] get’s the least amount of attention of the five starters, but is the second best shooter of the five, hitting about a third of his threes on the season.

Off the bench, the Salukis are a bit handcuffed with the loss of senior Aaron Cook to a hand injury. The most notable reserve is Harwin Francois. The sophomore takes three-fourths of his shots from three, where he hits at a team-best 45.2 percent. Freshman Trent Brown gets the most minutes of any reserve and he seems to be a three-and-D rotation guy all the way; he holds the team’s highest steal percentage and takes the third most threes on the squad — though he’s been cold to start the season (25 percent.) Junior Brendon Gooch only gets about 20 percent of minutes available and can’t take care of the ball when he’s in. He’s not always looking to shoot, but has hit four of his seven threes this year.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. SIU 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 (110) 17.9 (250) 48 (218) 21.3 (271) 28.3 (170) 34.6 (122) 25.7 (340) 55 (36) 74.1 (65) 6.4 (39) 8.5 (116)
Southern Illinois 101.8 (204) 17.5 (215) 49.2 (168) 20.2 (141) 32.5 (302) 31.7 (180) 31.8 (129) 50 (204) 71.7 (242) 6.7 (253) 10.3 (105)
Missouri v Temple Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

What to Watch | Bust ‘em down low

The Salukis may cast a long shadow in the starting lineup, but don’t let that fool you — SIU ranks 254 in average height for Division I teams. With Missouri’s three-point shooting down for the count, the Tigers will have to take advantage of their size differential near the basket. One hiccup in that plan? Saluki center Barrett Benson is very good at drawing fouls. If Jeremiah Tilmon can stay out of foul trouble, the Tigers should be able to give him a steady diet of entry passes for him to work with down low. An active day from the guards in the cutting lanes would also be advisable.

When Southern Illinois has the ball...

SIU 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%
Southern Illinois 97.7 (222) 20.1 (342) 52.1 (80) 20.2 (211) 20.8 (335) 33 (158) 34.6 (112) 52.3 (80) 70.9 (148) 9.5 (198) 12.3 (341)
Missouri 90.2 (31) 17.6 (229) 43.1 (22) 21.3 (92) 23.7 (37) 32.9 (204) 27.8 (30) 43.9 (50) 72.3 (261) 9.1 (150) 9.8 (131)
Missouri v Temple Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

What to Watch | Locking down the three-point arc

The biggest disparity on the above chart is offensive rebounding, and I’ve been fooled into thinking the Tigers could lock a team up by limiting their second chances. However, Missouri out-rebounded Charleston Southern by 17 and still lost by 8 points at home. Most of that had to do with the fact that the Buccaneers were lethal from behind the three-point arc. The Salukis aren’t exactly pinpoint in their accuracy, but they’re respectable — they’re top two shooters are about 42 percent on the year. If the Tigers can limit SIU to their season average as a team, they should be fine. But any defensive lapses could be costly.

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 68, Southern Illinois 54 | I may have been a bit callous about these types of games heading into Charles Southern. They’re the match ups you take for granted, where the Tigers’ abundance of talent should outweigh anything and everything these teams can bring to the floor. But after the CSU blunder, it’s hard to feel that way about anyone moving forward. the Salukis may be overmatched, especially if the Tigers defense comes to play. But there are plenty of ways to imagine another back-breaking loss at home. If the Tigers prevent another three-point outburst and dominate the boards, they should be in the clear no matter how bad the offense is.