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Hoops Preview: Butler is the most well-rounded team the Tigers have faced

The Bulldogs combine an efficient offensive attack with a better-than-average defense. Will another elite defensive performance be enough for Missouri?

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Butler Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

It always feels good to be back in Kansas City, doesn’t it?

Having personally only been to two games in the Sprint Center, I can still say with confidence that it’s the highest ceiling venue to watch a Missouri basketball game. Not in terms of the actual ceiling (duh), rather the most potentially exciting place to watch the Tigers take on whomever they will.

It might be the fact that the Sprint Center doesn’t have a firm identity of its own. Playing in an occupied NBA or NHL arena is fine, but there’s a certain sort of malleability at Sprint that makes it feel like a home away from home. It’s a reminder of better times in the past and a hope for similar times in the future. Combine that with the gritty obstinance of KC Mizzou fans — the proximity to that school to the west really builds a fire in them — and Kansas City feels like the ideal place to watch the Tigers hit the hardwood.

Missouri returns to the Sprint Center this year hoping to springboard itself into the next great era of Tiger basketball. This year’s Tigers haven’t been perfect, but they play a decidedly blue collar brand of basketball, one that has already pushed one of the nation’s best teams to its limit.

The Tigers kick off their short stint at the Hall of Fame Classic against the Butler Bulldogs, another team looking to get back to its winning ways. In the Bulldogs, the Tigers will face the most balanced team on their schedule so far, one that combines a multi-faceted offensive attack and a defense that, while not quite elite, is good enough to capitalize on any mistakes the Tigers will make.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (4-1) Butler (5-0)
Position Missouri (4-1) Butler (5-0)
PG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Aaron Thompson (Jr., 6'2", 190)
CG Mark Smith (Jr., 6'5", 220) Kamar Baldwin (Sr., 6'1", 190)
WING Javon Pickett (So., 6'5", 220) Sean McDermott (Sr., 6'6", 195)
PF Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) Bryce Nze (Jr., 6'7", 235)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (Jr., 6'10", 260) Bryce Golden (So. 6'9", 245)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Once again, the Tigers have a size advantage, though the claim becomes more dubious in this case.

Butler returns a starting lineup of four upperclassmen and will typically stick to its core guys — the Bulldogs only have seven guys who run minutes percentages above 25 percent. Thompson, Nze and McDermott will almost always be out on the court as the focal points of the offense. Thompson acts as more of a distributor (31 percent assist rate), but is also pretty keen at getting to the line.

Nze and McDermott, however, are more pure scorers, albeit in different ways. Nze muscles his way to the rim, where he’s shooting 67.4 percent and is prone to grab all sorts of offensive boards. McDermott is more content to sit and wait for his shot out deep — he’s taken nearly as many three-pointers as free throws and two-pointers combined. It’s not as though that’s much of a problem, though — he’s hitting 52.2 percent of his shots from deep.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Butler 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 (83) 17.8 (238) 49 (163) 20.6 (215) 28 (178) 34.3 (131) 26.7 (314) 55.4 (41) 77.6 (29) 6 (53) 7.6 (77)
Butler 89.2 (29) 17.8 (262) 41.8 (27) 22 (84) 23.8 (52) 27.6 (101) 23.5 (8) 45.9 (115) 68.1 (129) 9.4 (141) 8.7 (204)

What to Watch | Can the Tigers generate second-chance looks?

Missouri has slowly been rounding into shape as a Cuonzo Martin Approved™ rebounding machine, and Butler will test them on the offensive end. Assuming the Tigers continue to struggle in finding their jump shot, they’ll be well-served hitting the glass hard and getting more overall looks than the more efficient Bulldogs.

When Opponent has the ball...

Butler 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%
Butler 107.7 (28) 19.7 (336) 55.3 (37) 12.7 (3) 30 (132) 29.3 (218) 37.1 (61) 55.2 (45) 69.9 (172) 9.8 (210) 8.1 (109)
Missouri 86.4 (6) 17 (151) 38.5 (5) 22.6 (64) 21.6 (25) 31.5 (180) 24.5 (15) 39.4 (14) 68.6 (145) 12 (74) 9.9 (133)

What to Watch | Can Missouri force Butler out wide?

Butler has been a far more steady team from three-point range, but shot only 21.4 percent when facing the 59th ranked defense in Minnesota. Missouri has been particularly adept at choking teams down low and forcing them to try their fortunes out wide. If the Tigers can keep the Bulldogs from getting high-percentage looks, it’ll take a big game from the streaky Sean McDermott (or the less dynamic Kamar Baldwin) to outrun the Tigers.

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 63, Butler 62 | KenPom seems to be factoring in Missouri’s semi-home court advantage as reason to believe the Tigers can knock off a more well-rounded Butler team. However, one look at the projected score also tells us that KP seems to believe in Missouri’s elite defense. If the Tigers can continue to lock down the paint and keep damage on the perimeter to a minimum, they can walk away with a Quadrant I win and an opportunity for another tomorrow.