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Hoops Preview: Mizzou will have to beat a tenacious Georgia team without Jeremiah Tilmon

The Bulldogs are vulnerable down low, but Missouri will once again be without its best big man.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a week can make.

Last Tuesday,Mizzou Hoops was the toast of the town. Coming off a white-knuckler over Alabama, the conversation around the Tigers appeared to have shifted into a new gear. Once we were arguing about how good they actually were — now we were wondering just how high they could climb.

Two losses and one notable absence later, and Missouri’s season trajectory has taken a sharp 180.

There was always a chance the Tigers would drop both of last week’s games, but the manor in which it did was discouraging to say the least. The Ole Miss disaster might have been the Tigers’ most uninspired effort yet, and the loss to Arkansas, while not a gut-punch in and of itself, raised the question of how long the Tigers will have to stay afloat without their potentially all-conference big man. As Monday rolled around, we learned quickly that it will be for at least another game.

If you’re an optimist, the next few weeks present a glimmer of hope. After all, the Tigers are entering the squishier part of the schedule. Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, potentially Vanderbilt; these are what we would’ve considered chalk just one week ago. Even now, in the face of two consecutive losses and sinking bracketology momentum, the next few weeks offer a chance for Missouri to weather the storm and hit their stride in March, when it all matters.

However, the loss of Tilmon and Missouri’s continuing defensive struggles also offer fuel to the pessimists. At this point, the Tigers are likely facing an uphill battle to reclaim a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. They’d need to beat Florida in the scheduled season finale and get LSU back on the schedule to add two more Quad 1 wins to the resume.

Even with those potential wins, though, Missouri faces a number of potholes ahead. The Tigers face two consecutive road games against decidedly non-NCAA teams, followed by a rematch with a Mississippi team that thoroughly whipped them in Oxford. It’s easy to see the Tigers holding serve, but it’s just as easy to see how a 1-2 stretch could drop the Tigers even further, possibly into the 8 or 9 seed range where their metrics currently place them.

As games tend to feel in mid-February when your team is still in the thick of it, Tuesday night’s trip to Athens looms large for the Tigers. A win would put the Tigers back on the right trajectory, one that would see them finish with a flourish and high seed in both of the upcoming tournaments. A loss could turn last week’s stumbles into a full-on slide.

Again: What a difference a week can make.


The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (13-5) Georgia (12-8)
Position Missouri (13-5) Georgia (12-8)
PG Xavier Pinson (Jr., 6'2", 170) Sahvir Wheeler (So., 5'10", 180)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Sr., 6'3", 203) Tye Fagan (Jr., 6'3", 195)
WING Mark Smith (Sr., 6'5", 220) Justin Kier (Sr., 6'4", 190)
PF Kobe Brown (So., 6'7", 240) Andrew Garcia (Sr., 6'6", 225)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (Sr., 6'10", 260) PJ Horne (Sr., 6'6", 230)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Anthony Edwards departure after last season left a chasm in the Bulldogs’ lineup, and Tom Crean has spent the better part of a year trying to find ways to piece together that production.

The Bulldogs — one of the country’s shorter teams — rely heavily on their trio of starting guards, especially Sahvir Wheeler and Justin Kier. Both play over three-fourths of the available minutes. Wheeler is a high-risk, high-reward play driver who has team-high turnover and assist rates. He’s not much of a scorer in his own right, but he no doubt drives the Bulldogs’ offensive play. Kier is a much more efficient shooter and can beat you from deep, but he also ranks as the Bulldogs most aggressive defender. Tye Fagan completes the trio as Georgia’s best offensive thread from the back court — he’s a 64.5 percent shooter from two-point range and that’s almost exclusively where he focuses his shot selection. He too is a pesky defender, though not as productive as Kier.

Despite not having any bigs that can challenge the tallest in the SEC, Georgia is well-stocked with large wings and combo forwards. PJ Horne leads the way for this group, and the senior may be the Bulldogs’ biggest offensive threat. He’s excellent on that end of the glass and shoots well from all three areas — 69.4 from two, 83 percent from the line and 35 percent from deep, where he chooses to take most of his looks. Sophomore Toumani Camara also gets starter’s minutes and may be the team’s best player around the edges. He boasts the Bulldogs’ best block percentage and a high steal rate as well as being the team’s leading rebounder overall and an efficient two-point shooter. Andrew Garcia is Crean’s preferred option off the bench, and he’ll even get some starting assignments here and there. He’s likely the team’s most aggressive driver and is able to bank a lot of high-percentage looks — but he’s prone to foul trouble.

From there, a large number of players get looks off the bench. Freshman KD Johnson serves as a spark plug scorer for the back court. He fouls a lot and is loose with the ball, but he can shoot from deep (42.5 percent.) Christian Brown follows the Andrew Garcia mold of getting to the rim and looking for contact with his big frame, though he’s not nearly the scorer Garcia is. Tyron McMillan is the team’s tallest player, but doesn’t factor too heavily into areas like rebounding or interior defense; he’s mostly just a clean-up man. Sophomore Jaxon Etter also gets some mop-up minutes in the guard position, where he’s been incredibly efficient, logging an 82.7 true shooting percentage. Mikal Starks will also get the call if necessary, though he doesn’t contribute enough offensively to justify the turnovers he gives up.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Georgia 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 111.9 (40) 16.7 (107) 51.3 (111) 19.1 (167) 29 (140) 39.8 (23) 31.5 (273) 53.7 (50) 68.9 (233) 12.1 (335) 9.2 (181)
Georgia 100.9 (139) 16.4 (40) 52.7 (269) 22.1 (38) 33.5 (330) 31.3 (163) 34.7 (222) 53.1 (279) 70 (142) 6.1 (294) 11.4 (33)
NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Press the issue down low

This admittedly sounds a bit strange coming off of Missouri’s best three-point performance of the season, but Georgia offers Missouri another opportunity to do what it does best — get to the rim. Even without Jeremiah Tilmon, Missouri should still have plenty of opportunities in the paint. Georgia is dreadful in both eFG defense and defensive rebounding. Not only that, but Missouri has a distinct size advantage. Don’t overthink it — pound away near the bucket and make Georgia defend like it hasn’t all season.

When Georgia has the ball...

Georgia 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%
Georgia 109.6 (62) 15.5 (22) 51.2 (114) 22.1 (310) 35.1 (17) 33.6 (127) 31.4 (276) 53.2 (58) 68.9 (234) 10.2 (269) 11.3 (325)
Missouri 95.4 (57) 17.1 (148) 47.5 (64) 17.7 (256) 29 (216) 35.5 (265) 31.7 (88) 47.4 (96) 69.8 (135) 9.1 (141) 8.9 (187)
NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Use Georgia’s speed against them

Missouri has played a lot of fast teams this year, but few play faster than Georgia, who rank 15th in adjusted tempo on the season. They’re decent shooters from two-point range and they crash the offensive glass effectively. But if there’s one way Missouri could turn this into a boat-race, it would be with turnovers. The Tigers aren’t particularly adept at forcing turnovers on the season, but Georgia’s fast and loose style means they’ll be there for the taking. If Missouri can take advantage of UGA’s poor ball-handling, the transition opportunities that follow will be a boon to the Tigers’ offensive health.


KenPom predicts...

Missouri 79, Georgia 76 | There’s no way to put it nicely — Missouri is fading a little bit and needs a good stretch of games to pick itself up. A return to protected seed territory isn’t off the table, but it’ll start with taking care of business in winnable games, something Missouri didn’t do at all last week. Georgia isn’t great — they’re not even good, honestly — but they’re more than capable of beating Missouri on a bad night, of which the Tigers have had a few lately. Given that they’ll once again be without Tilmon, it should be a tense night as Missouri looks to get back in the win column.