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Hoops Preview: Missouri’s path to .500 (or better) starts with the lowly Aggies

Expectations have been tempered, but a run to the NIT is possible if the Tigers take care of business at home on Saturday.

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

After a surprisingly successful non-conference schedule and a five-game losing streak at the beginning of SEC play, Missouri fans seem to have fully embraced the transition year in Columbia.

It was always going to be this way, barring any freakish recovery from Jontay Porter. Of Missouri’s top nine rotation players, six are underclassmen. With Mark Smith out, three of the top six are freshmen.

As the losses in conference play have mounted, fans have slowly tempered their expectations. Pickett, Pinson and Watson have had their respective troubles, but each also seems to be realizing some of the potential they bring to the table. As building blocks of Cuonzo Martin’s rebuild, they’re being used earlier than anyone had hoped, but they’re also being fortified at the same time.

So as expectations have lowered (for now), our collective sights have been set on a more realistic prize. The National Invitational Tournament is this year’s big ticket in Columbia, a worthy consolation for a program one year separated from a 27-wins-in-three-years stretch.

For the Tigers to get there, however, they’ll need a bit of a run in the back half of conference play. The next three games offer ample opportunity to build momentum, with home dates against Texas A&M and Arkansas and a road date with vulnerable Ole Miss.

It starts at Mizzou Arena on Saturday against the Aggies, a team that was already drubbed in College Station by these same Tigers. However, Billy Kennedy’s squad is always prone to breakout, as evidenced by their lone SEC victory — a road win against Alabama — and their triumph in the SEC-BigXII matchup — a 13-point victory over Kansas State, a team Missouri failed to dispatch earlier in the year.

The Scout

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Texas A&M John Glaser-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.

Saturday would seem to be the perfect opportunity for the injured Mark Smith to make his return. The Tigers wouldn’t need his potent shooting touch as much as usual, and Martin would be able to run him out in short bursts to rest the freshmen who may be feeling the wear of a college season.


It’s probably prudent to keep Smith on the bench until he’s 100 percent ready to hit the court. Smith has been Missouri’s most consistent offensive threat and, as a sophomore, it would be unwise to risk further injury by running him hobbled in what amounts to a foundation-building year.

For now, we’ll say that Xavier Pinson gets another start. Missouri has had fewer troubles turning the ball over in its past few outings. The ability to shift Jordan Geist over to combo guard gives Martin a bit of a safety blanket as Pinson works out the kinks of being a primary ball-handler.

Puryear should also remain in the starting lineup after his eight point, six rebound performance against Tennessee. The senior has struggled mightily this season, particularly on the offensive side. However, if the Tigers are to reach any sort of postseason goals, they’ll need him to continue chipping in a handful of buckets and boards.

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...

Missouri 69, Texas A&M 63 | Normally, this would be a game without much concern for the Tigers. However, Mark Smith’s continued absence hobbles their biggest strength, and Texas A&M has the ability to make things uncomfortable. Missouri’s freshmen, though, have been slowly emerging throughout this stretch. In a friendly environment, the Tigers should be able to dispatch Texas A&M, even if everyone’s blood pressure has to rise just a little bit.