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Hoops Preview: Mizzou looking for a more positive result in rematch with Tennessee

Tennessee has looked beatable since they pounded Missouri. Is a revenge game in the works?

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when OK Go was the sensation of the early internet because they made a music video incorporating synchronized treadmill dancing?

The name of the song in that video is, “Here It Goes Again,” — I don’t know, it’s fine — and to be completely honest, I feel like rewriting previews for teams Missouri has already faced is kind of like that music video: You try to put together something really splashy and fun to cover up a thing that’s been done before.

Missouri’s trip to Knoxville will mark the first time this season that the Tigers have faced an opponent twice. And if you had to pick one team to play again during this season, I think all of us would rather just skip over Tennessee.

But, alas, we are not the schedule-makers; we are but the dreamers of dreams. And while the first game against Tennessee felt like a nightmare, the Tigers do have some hope of returning the favor when they head to Knoxville on Saturday evening.

For one thing, Missouri seems to have found its rhythm again. The Tigers struggled entering SEC play, losing two of the first three games, including a disastrous second-half collapse in Starkville. But after an 11-day COVID pause, Missouri has looked much more like the team we saw in non-conference, roundly whooping Texas A&M and South Carolina while getting dominant play from some of their best players. Xavier Pinson is not one of those, however, and a return to form from him would make the Tigers even scarier.

As for Tennessee, the road demolition of Missouri seems to have been their high point thus far. The Volunteers are 3-2 since the SEC opener, losing to Alabama (acceptable) and getting road-graded by Florida (less acceptable). The Vols also struggled to get past Arkansas in Knoxville and had uneventful outings against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. So while they’re still an elite team contending for the top of the SEC, they look a lot less like a juggernaut than they did a few weeks ago.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (9-2) Tennessee (10-2)
Position Missouri (9-2) Tennessee (10-2)
PG Xavier Pinson (Jr., 6'2", 170) Santiago Vescovi (So., 6'3", 188)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Sr., 6'3", 203) Keon Johnson (Fr., 6'5", 186)
WING Mark Smith (Sr., 6'5", 220) Josiah-Jordan James (So., 6'6", 207)
PF Kobe Brown (So., 6'7", 240) Yves Pons (Sr., 6'6", 215)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (Sr., 6'10", 260) John Fulkerson (Sr., 6'9", 215)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

For a full breakdown of Tennessee’s roster, you can visit our preview from the beginning of SEC play.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Tennessee 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 109.2 (61) 16.7 (136) 51 (126) 20.5 (222) 30.1 (107) 41.7 (27) 27.9 (322) 56.3 (25) 72.5 (113) 10.5 (280) 9.2 (183)
Tennessee 87.5 (2) 17.7 (281) 45.7 (33) 25.1 (8) 26 (107) 27.3 (67) 30.4 (67) 45.8 (57) 68 (95) 16.3 (2) 11.6 (35)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Jeremiah Tilmon’s biggest test yet

There are quite a few things to watch against Tennessee’s elite defense (turnovers, three-point shooting), but I think most Missouri fans are curious how Jeremiah Tilmon will respond.

In the four games since Missouri lost to the Vols, Tilmon has been playing at an All-SEC level, averaging close to a double-double. He wasn’t terrible against Tennessee the first time around, but they mostly forced him into a background role. But what does Missouri look like with a dominant Tilmon against Tennessee’s interior? Do Pons and Fulkerson still contain him as much? Or was Tilmon’s last box score against them just a result of good defense? It’ll be fascinating to see if Tilmon’s ascendance continues against the SEC’s best defense — and only in small part because of what it means for the game on Saturday.

When Tennessee has the ball...

Tennessee 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%
Tennessee 110.3 (53) 17.3 (195) 50.4 (154) 15.5 (23) 32.9 (50) 38.8 (52) 33.2 (186) 50.6 (152) 72 (126) 5.4 (15) 7.6 (55)
Missouri 92 (22) 17.3 (204) 44 (14) 17.4 (264) 30.3 (248) 33.4 (210) 27.4 (16) 45.4 (46) 67.1 (70) 7.1 (234) 8 (235)
NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Force the Volunteers to shoot from deep

Tennessee ranks as one of the most hesitant three-point shooting teams in the country, as they’re much more comfortable using their athleticism and strength at the rim. In the 73-53 demolition in Columbia, Tennessee only took seven three-point attempts.

The common element in the Volunteers two losses since? They were forced outside. Against Alabama and Florida, the Vols went 4-21 and 3-18 from deep, respectively. For the Tigers to have much of a shot, they’ll need to create situations where Tennessee feels the need to look for jump shots. Perhaps Cuonzo Martin considers moving to a zone to pack the paint? Maybe not... but the Tigers need to find a way to prevent Tennesssee from feasting inside.

KenPom predicts...

Tennessee 68, Missouri 62 | Matt Harris and I discussed this game in the briefest of ways on Dive Cuts this week and came to this conclusion — just don’t die.

That may seem like a pessimistic way to look at the Tennessee rematch. After all, the Vols have dropped two games (including one at home) since their first meeting with Missouri. But Rick Barnes’ squad is still one of the very best in the country, and they’re likely motivated after getting embarrassed in Gainesville earlier this week. While a road win would do wonders for the resume, Missouri needs to focus on the basics on Saturday.

Don’t get injured.

Avoid large offensive dry spells.

Put forward a better effort than the first time.

If they do those things and still come away with a loss, it’ll be hard to look at this game as a failure.