clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Hoops Preview: Surprise! Tennessee is even better now than in January!

One month ago, Missouri was able to hang around before Tennessee lit them up. Doing the same this time will be a tall task.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

On January 9, 2019, things were still unclear as to how the rest of the season would play out for the Missouri Tigers and Tennessee Volunteers.

This isn’t to say the two programs were in the same place. Tennessee had completed a strong non-conference slate with wins over Georgetown, Louisville and Gonzaga, assuming a place in the top five of the national polls. Meanwhile, Missouri had gone a respectable 9-3 out of conference with decent wins against UCF and Oregon State, along with its first Braggin’ Rights victory in five years. By and large, the two were both respectable, if not comparable.

Still, there was hope for more on each side. Tennessee was halfway through a season-long quest to avenge last year’s second-round NCAA loss to Loyola-Chicago and realize its potential as a new college basketball superpower under Rick Barnes. Missouri, on the other hand, was seeking to once again prove it didn’t need a star named Porter to compete in the SEC.

Since that first meeting — when Missouri started hot, but ended up at the Volunteers’ mercy — we’ve seen a clearer picture of where each team sits. Tennessee is the country’s No. 1, a complete outfit led by a host of juniors and seniors with legitimate national title aspirations. Missouri couldn’t fight off the “transition year” bug, and is now in the middle of a partially realized rebuild.

So, as the two teams meet for the second (final?) time in 2019, what can Missouri fans look forward to? A few weeks ago, Keegan Pope of PowerMizzou pointed to Tennessee as a model of success for Missouri to follow. So if the Tigers are busy getting shellacked tonight — and let’s hope that’s not the case — enjoy the way Rick Barnes has built that program and hope the Tigers are there in the near future.

The Scout

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Starters

Position Missouri (11-10, 2-7 SEC) Texas A&M (8-13, 1-8 SEC)
Position Missouri (11-10, 2-7 SEC) Texas A&M (8-13, 1-8 SEC)
PG Xavier Pinson (Fr., 6-2, 170) TJ Starks (So., 6-2, 196)
CG Jordan Geist (Sr., 6-2, 180) Wendell Mitchell (Jr., 6-3, 185)
WING Javon Pickett (Fr., 6-4, 207) Brandon Mahan (So. 6-5, 200)
CF Kevin Puryear (Sr., 6-7, 238) Savion Flagg (So., 6-7, 217)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (So., 6-10, 250) Christian Mekowulu (Sr., 6-8, 245)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

It really surprises me how big Tennessee’s starters are. My perception of them — which mostly comes from Grant Williams dominance as an undersized forward — is that they’re a small, scrappy team that’s found a way to be dominant by the way of hyper-efficiency.

But then you look down their lineup and they’re just stacked. Williams is essentially Puryear if Puryear were an All-American. Jordan Bone has an inch and 10 pounds of pure muscle on Pinson. Admiral Schofield looks like a linebacker. Even Alexander, who is much more svelt than Jeremiah Tilmon, seems to tower over anyone on the court with his massive reach.

The only real questions here come from Missouri’s side, unless you want to debate the merits of starting Lamonte Turner (12.3 PPG, 3.3 APG) over Jordan Bowen (11.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG). With Mark Smith still questionable — and, according to this writer, he should be kept out of action in a game Missouri has little chance of winning — Martin can continue to run out two ball-handlers in Geist and Pinson while saving Torrence Watson’s scoring punch on the bench. The freshman seems to be finding his groove on both ends of the court right now, so there’s no need to mess with a good system.

The real question is who starts opposite potential Player of the Year Grant Williams at the combo forward. Kevin Puryear, for all his wonderful traits, is lost offensively and only seems to be able to help on the defensive glass (where he, in all fairness, is still quite good.) K.J. Santos has been missing in action apart from a few flashes here and there. And while Mitchell Smith is coming off one of his better games in a Tiger uniform (five points, two rebounds and one assist, block and steal), there’s still no reason to believe he can maintain a starter’s minutes.

Missouri has been able to stymie William’s production in the past just by the way of throwing length at him. But it’s hard to see Martin diverting from Puryear after his 10 rebounds performance against Vanderbilt.

Missouri offense vs. Texas A&M 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 104.7 (159) 18.6 (311) 50.6 (189) 21.1 (303) 29.9 (124) 32.0 (221) 37.1 (57) 47.0 (279) 69.5 (200) 11.0 (288) 8.6 (160)
Texas A&M 101.0 (122) 16.7 (57) 49.3 (112) 18.5 (197) 32.9 (322) 27.2 (34) 34.1 (162) 47.9 (78) 70.0 (162) 13.6 (24) 9.0 (160)

Texas A&M 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%
Texas A&M 105.9 (137) 17.3 (157) 49.3 (236) 20.1 (262) 33.2 (47) 33.9 (177) 30.5 (313) 51.3 (142) 68.1 (256) 12.9 (345) 10.0 (295)
Missouri 96.4 (56) 17.6 (243) 49.7 (132) 18.5 (199) 26.4 (87) 35.8 (248) 32.6 (98) 50.1 (173) 68.4 (85) 5.3 (335) 6.7 (317)

KenPom predicts...

Tennessee 80, Missouri 62 | We’ve already seen that the Tigers would have a hard enough time with the Volunteers in Columbia... with their most consistent scorer playing completely healthy. On the road, and potentially without Mark Smith, the Volunteers should be able to coast with a B-game or less against a Tiger team that is trending upward, but still prone to mistakes and crippling scoring droughts.