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Hoops Preview: Missouri travels to Tuscaloosa to take on the rising Tide

Alabama plays fast and could be rising faster after beating Auburn this week. Missouri will have its hands full in seeking its second conference win.

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

There will always be an ongoing debate about the impact of momentum in sports. It’s inherently unquantifiable and could be chalked up to execution, but anyone who has watched sports for long enough understands that it exists in some form or another. And if ever there was a matchup where momentum existed for one side and not the other, it’s the basketball that’s going to be played in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.

Nate Oats’ Alabama Crimson Tide are coming off of their biggest win of the season, and probably the best win in the SEC so far this season, an 83-64 thrashing of previously undefeated Auburn. The win jettisoned the Tide up nine spots in the KenPom rankings, and the Tide suddenly have a potential case as one of the SEC’s rising teams.

By contrast, Missouri is coming off possibly its worst performance of the season, a pounding at the hands of Mississippi State that dropped them 19 spots in KenPom’s rankings. Missouri, which started the season in the 30s, now finds itself at 73, worlds away from an NCAA Tournament bid that they had openly pined for at the season’s beginning.

Still, I suppose there’s always hope? The road date with Alabama is the end of this daunting five-game stretch to start conference play, and things get a little easier from here. If the goal was to go 10-6 or 11-5 in SEC play, the margin for error is getting considerably thin. But it’s not as if Missouri is actually as bad as it looked on Tuesday.

Saturday’s matchup provides another opportunity for a reset, something the Tigers have taken advantage of several times this year already. The win over Illinois looks better and better every day, and we’re one week removed from a convincing performance to topple Florida.

Missouri certainly has laid a few eggs in 2019-2020, but there’s still half a season to be played. If they’re hoping to realize any of the goals they set for themselves, Saturday provides yet another opportunity to get the ball rolling.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (9-7) Alabama (9-7)
Position Missouri (9-7) Alabama (9-7)
PG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Kira Lewis Jr. (So., 6'3", 165)
CG Mark Smith (Jr., 6'5", 220) Jaden Shackelford (Fr., 6'3", 195)
WING Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) John Petty Jr. (Jr., 6'5", 184)
PF Mitchell Smith (Jr., 6'10", 221) Herbert Jones (Jr., 6'7", 205)
POST Reed Nikko (Sr., 6'10", 240) Alex Reese (Jr., 6'9", 245)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

If you want to talk about balance, take a look at the Crimson Tide. Of the starting lineup, four players average in double digits for points. The other averages 9.2.

There’s still a hierarchy, of course. Kira Lewis Jr. and John Petty Jr. are the main ticket items, both averaging north of 16 per game. They attack in different ways, though. Petty has turned into a lethal shooter from the outside (48.2 percent) while Lewis is more of a slasher, getting to the rim with abandon and not exactly putting up efficient numbers while he’s there — his true shooting percentage is 52.3, which is fine but not great. Both are willing to adapt (Petty is the team’s leading rebounder and Lewis has taken 74 threes on the year), but that’s where you’re likely to see them grab their points.

The other two double-digit scorers, Jaden Shackelford and Herbert Jones are much more likely to earn their scratch at the line or down low. Both draw more than four fouls per 40, and while Shackelford makes his free throws at an 82.4 perent clip, Jones is much more likely to just finish, shooting 51.4 percent from two. Alex Reese rounds out the starting five as the most efficient shooter on the inside (57.9 percent). He’s also good for about four blocks per 40 minutes, although he plays less than any of the five starters.

Senior James Bolden is also a name to know off the bench. He’s not exactly a lightning rod, but is certainly capable of burning you for big games. He shoots the second-best percentage from deep (36.7) on the team and will hit free throws if you give him the chance. He’s foul prone, though, averaging just over six per 40.

Freshman Javian Davis and junior Galin Smith are Nate Oats’ preferred size options off the bench. Davis has already proven to be a gifted offensive rebounder and is best on the team at drawing fouls. He’s much more comfortable shooting from inside, though, posting a 60 two-point percentage. Smith plays adequate offense, but is much more of a rim protector, blocking almost eight shots per 40 minutes. Freshman Jaylen Forbes is the last man off the bench, and he’s not asked to do much. He’s a willing shooter (32 shots on only an only 21.5 minutes percentage), and he’s much more effective inside than out. The biggest issue with these three are fouls — all of them average more than 5 per 40 minutes. For the most part, Oats will lean on his top six, as evidenced by Alabama’s 237th ranking in bench minutes (per KenPom.)

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Alabama 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 103.5 (117) 17.9 (242) 49.8 (154) 21.6 (295) 30.6 (94) 30.8 (215) 31.5 (247) 51.7 (85) 73 (91) 11.2 (313) 8.4 (103)
Alabama 94 (67) 15.8 (7) 46.8 (91) 18.3 (236) 28.2 (177) 32.9 (193) 31.2 (94) 46.8 (107) 70.9 (208) 10.1 (119) 7.9 (260)
NCAA Basketball: Chicago State at Missouri
If Missouri wants to win in Tuscaloosa, Reed Nikko and company will have to convincingly win the battle of the boards.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Getting (and capitalizing on) second chances

Alabama may be one of the most athletic teams in the SEC, but there’s one thing that athleticism can’t always cover for — size. The Tigers are undoubtedly a bigger team than the Tide (47th in average height vs. 127th) and must use that size to their advantage. This hasn’t been an issue for much of the season — Illinois was one of the country’s best rebounding teams, and Missouri won the battle — but the loss of Jeremiah Tilmon has complicated matters. If Missouri wants any realistic chance at knocking off Bama, they’ll not only need to win the offensive glass, they’ll need to capitalize on their second chances.

When Alabama has the ball...

Alabama 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%
Alabama 108.4 (39) 15.1 (12) 51.8 (78) 19.4 (180) 29.7 (121) 35.2 (100) 35.9 (69) 50.2 (131) 71 (157) 12.4 (336) 10.5 (296)
Missouri 93 (57) 18.3 (326) 44.4 (26) 23.5 (25) 26.5 (101) 37.9 (284) 29.3 (35) 44.7 (54) 76.9 (347) 9.4 (135) 11.6 (40)
NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Alabama
Nate Oats has the Crimson Tide playing fast and loose in 2020. Can Missouri slow the game down to their liking?
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Can Missouri set the tempo early?

Alabama is go-go-go under Nate Oats. Under his watch, Alabama averages 15.1 seconds per possession, the 12th fastest in Division I. The Tigers, as you may well know, like to play things much slower. If this is a game that gets into the 70s possession-wise, Missouri will need a Florida-like shooting performance to win. However, if the Tigers can grind the game down to their pace and get Alabama out of the rhythm they like to play in, they’ll be well-placed to come away with an upset.

KenPom predicts...

Alabama 76, Missouri 70 | At this point, there’s no reasonable way to pick a Missouri win over a team like Alabama. The Tigers aren’t as bad as they showed against Mississippi State, but they aren’t as good as they showed against Florida either. Facing another potential Quadrant 1 victory, the same questions apply: Will shots fall? Can they hang onto the ball? Will one of their more talented scorers show up? Until the Tigers can answer those questions consistently, it seems near impossible to pick a road upset over the team that just knocked off Auburn.