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Hoops Preview: Missouri returns to action against Texas A&M

The Tigers will try to shake off the rust against a scrappy Buzz Williams team.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, hey! Basketball is back! That’s neat!

It’s been a long week since Missouri’s game with LSU was postponed (cancelled? who knows anymore?). With the lack of news on the defensive coordinator front and the pause in women’s basketball, it’s felt like one of the slowest winter weeks of Mizzou sports in a long time. But hey! We’re back! So let’s do a quick recap!

Mizzou is currently ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press poll and No. 26 in the NET rankings. The last time we saw Missouri undoubtedly left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, but the Tigers are still well-positioned to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017. The Tigers have struggled in SEC play, particularly on the offensive end, but have plenty more opportunities to keep themselves in the top half of the league... and maybe even move into the top four.

So that’s where we’re at as Missouri returns to action on Saturday in College Station.

Unfortunately the COVID pause prevented Missouri from getting another shot at both a Quad 1 win against LSU and a bankable win against Vanderbilt. By KenPom, Texas A&M will be the worst team Missouri has faced in conference play, but they will have to go on the road. And as we’re about to learn, while Texas A&M has plenty of flaws, they’ll take what you give them and are good enough to threaten anyone, especially a team shaking off the rust of an unexpected week at home.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (7-2) Texas A&M (7-4)
Position Missouri (7-2) Texas A&M (7-4)
PG Xavier Pinson (Jr., 6'2", 170) Hassan Diarra (Fr., 6'2", 197)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Sr., 6'3", 203) Andre Gordon (So., 6'2", 188)
WING Mark Smith (Sr., 6'5", 220) Hayden Hefner (Fr., 6'6", 182)
PF Kobe Brown (So., 6'7", 240) Emanuel Miller (So., 6'7", 208)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (Sr., 6'10", 260) Jonathan Aku (So., 6'10", 263)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

The Aggies aren’t lacking for senior talent, and Missouri fans should recognize several faces they’ll see on Saturday. Savion Flagg is back for his final(?) year in College Station, and has had a strange year. His shooting efficiency has dipped almost everywhere, a seeming trade off for some more dynamic playmaking and rebounding ability... though it doesn’t seem like a net positive. Jay Jay Chandler is also back to eat minutes, though he’s not a standout in any one area. Quenton Jackson has been the Aggies most efficient offensive player from a shooting perspective, hitting 63 percent from two and 44 percent from three. He’s also proven adept at getting to the line, but it comes at a cost — his turnover rate is extremely high.

Sophomore combo forward Emanuel Miller has been the Aggies’ go-to guy thus far, and he’s enjoying a breakout season. He’s rebounding incredibly well on both ends of the court, plays sound defense and generates a ton of fouls by getting to the rim and creating contact. He’s also an efficiency two-point shooter, though he doesn’t have a three to speak of. Andre Gordon and Hassan Diarra lead the starting back court as the team’s primary playmakers. Neither are particularly strong shooters, though they’re both stingy defenders.

Past those six, things start to look a little dire for Buzz Williams. Jonathan Aku gets starts, and provides a modicum of interior defense, but only a modicum. He’s not much of a threat offensively and has foul troubles. The same can be said of senior Kevin Marfo who provides some additional interior size, though he’s a much better rebounder in limited minutes. Freshmen Jaxson Robinson and Hayden Hefner also give Williams some long, rangy pieces to play with, though neither has provided substantial impact thus far. LaDamien Bradford rounds out the spot contributors, though he’s only made one basket on the season — a solitary free throw.

When Missouri has the ball...

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 108.2 (69) 16.4 (101) 49.4 (191) 19.7 (190) 29.7 (119) 42.1 (22) 27.3 (321) 54.5 (55) 73.3 (86) 11.5 (305) 9.5 (203)
Texas A&M 95 (55) 18.1 (320) 52 (240) 24.7 (14) 30.8 (259) 27.1 (66) 34.5 (222) 52.2 (243) 61 (7) 6.7 (244) 11.1 (52)
NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Can Missouri effectively attack the paint?

Texas A&M’s defense rates out well by KenPom, but the numbers are somewhat deceiving. Despite ranking 55th in adjusted efficiency, A&M only ranks in the Top 200 in four categories — turnover percentage; free throw attempts to field goal attempts; free throw percentage; and steal percentage. So the Aggies are great at turning you over and not putting you on the line too much. But they’re not strong — or even good — at anything else.

That includes two-point defense, where Texas A&M ranks 243rd. With Missouri’s jump shooting woes, it has to find some solace in the paint. So while A&M may not put the Tigers at the charity stripe as much as they’d like, Missouri will have opportunities to get to the rim and find Jeremiah Tilmon down low. Some second chances wouldn’t hurt either — A&M ranks 259th in defensive rebounding.

When Texas A&M has the ball...

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 102.1 (158) 17.7 (249) 49.5 (189) 24.6 (328) 32.8 (53) 43.2 (13) 29.9 (278) 52.6 (82) 71.8 (122) 11 (285) 10.2 (263)
Missouri 92.2 (27) 17.2 (202) 44.1 (13) 16.4 (299) 28.7 (199) 35.1 (229) 27 (15) 45.9 (62) 70 (165) 5.8 (288) 7.2 (275)
NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Who contains Emanuel Miller?

Amongst its top seven contributors by percentage of minutes played, Texas A&M only has one player with an offensive rating above 100. That would be Emanuel Miller. Miller isn’t a scoring threat at all three levels, but he’s both big and strong enough to muscle his way to the rim. It’s been an effective strategy, as he shoots 61 percent from two-point range and draws almost seven fouls per 40 minutes. Texas A&M will have to find a way to keep up with Missouri, and Miller is their best bet. If Missouri can effectively contain the sophomore, A&M will have to depend on above average performances from the rest of the regulars to keep up.

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 67, Texas A&M 63 | On paper, this shouldn’t be all too difficult. Texas A&M’s efficiency numbers are not good, and they only really excel at one or two things on both ends of the court. Missouri is older, bigger and, quite frankly, better.

But, of course, it’s not always as easy as that. After all, Texas A&M is coming off a road win at Mississippi State, something Missouri couldn’t pull off just a few weeks ago. Not to mention, A&M prefers to play at a slow pace, which Missouri has struggled with this season. Oh, and remember how they haven’t played in over a week due to COVID-19? There will be plenty of rust to shake off. Don’t chalk this up as a loss just yet, but don’t be surprised if the Tigers have a dogfight to get out of College Station with a win.