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Hoops Preview: Missouri looks to stop the slide against a hobbled South Carolina

Missouri has lost three in a row, but will be back at full strength against a Gamecocks’ team potentially missing two starters.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The drudgery of the college basketball is hitting hard in Columbia — both east and west.

Out west, Missouri, once a top 10 team and candidate for a potential 2-or-3 seed, is dangerously close to slipping onto the bubble. The Tigers have lost three straight, including two to probable non-NCAA teams. Their defense is slipping, their offense is inconsistent and they’re starting to look more like the team that analytics nerds warned us about rather than the team we wanted them to be. Not the worst place to be, but it’s still no fun.

Things are considerably worse out east, however. The Gamecocks have limped all the way through the 2020-2021 season, struggling with COVID pauses, injuries and generally poor stretches of basketball. Frank Martin’s team is 5-10 with no prayer of reaching March, and they’re currently missing two starters. Count your blessings Missouri fans. Three-game losing streaks may be no fun, but seasons like the one South Carolina is having are worse.

Unfortunately, the respective situations that both programs are in put all the pressure of Saturday’s match up firmly on the Tigers’ shoulders. Win or lose, South Carolina is mostly playing for pride and development at this point. The variation of outcomes matters far more to Missouri. A win would put the Tigers back on solid ground, whereas a loss would continue Missouri’s slide down into the lower seeding groups.

So what’s the difference between a win and a loss at South Carolina? How big is the difference between a 5/6 seed and a 9/10 seed? It doesn’t completely rest on Saturday’s game, but the trajectory Missouri is on early next week could make the difference.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (13-6) South Carolina (5-10)
Position Missouri (13-6) South Carolina (5-10)
PG Xavier Pinson (Jr., 6'2", 170) Seventh Woods (Sr., 6'2", 183)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Sr., 6'3", 203) AJ Lawson (Jr., 6'6", 177)
WING Mark Smith (Sr., 6'5", 220) Trey Anderson (So., 6'6", 205)
PF Kobe Brown (So., 6'7", 240) Keyshawn Bryant (Jr., 6'6", 195)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (Sr., 6'10", 260) Wildens Leveque (So., 6'10", 242)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

For a full scout on South Carolina, you can read our preview from the teams’ previous match up in mid-January.

One thing to keep an eye on will be the availability of starters Justin Minaya and Jermaine Couisnard, who are both dealing with injuries. Frank Martin has all but ruled out Couisnard of Saturday’s match up, and says Minaya is still questionable (though he has practiced in previous days.) Minaya recorded a double-double against Missouri on Jan. 19 while Couisnard struggled, turning the ball over five times to five assists.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. South Carolina 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 111.7 (47) 16.7 (113) 51.1 (120) 19 (166) 28.9 (151) 39 (32) 31 (291) 53.9 (47) 69.3 (225) 12.2 (337) 9.2 (190)
South Carolina 97.4 (84) 16.6 (65) 51.7 (230) 22.8 (22) 32.3 (304) 41.7 (326) 35 (234) 51.3 (224) 75.5 (324) 10.3 (93) 11.8 (22)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | How much will Jeremiah Tilmon be asked to do?

The senior big man will be back in uniform for Missouri on Saturday, and it couldn’t come soon enough as the team is 0-2 without him. Tilmon dominated against South Carolina in the first match up, posting 19 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and three steals. But after missing two games, will the Tigers try to ease him back into the rotation? Or will Cuonzo Martin want to avoid risking any sort of inactivity-related injury this late in the season? It’s hard to say, but Missouri needs Tilmon if it wants to stop the skid.

When South Carolina has the ball...

South Carolina 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%
South Carolina 107 (101) 15.5 (20) 48 (260) 21.2 (277) 35.1 (16) 27.9 (269) 31.9 (262) 48.1 (231) 66.3 (292) 10.8 (299) 10.3 (289)
Missouri 95.9 (57) 17 (141) 47.9 (82) 17.8 (243) 28.9 (214) 36.2 (272) 32.4 (113) 47.5 (99) 70.5 (160) 9.6 (118) 8.9 (185)
NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Will Missouri avoid the second-half collapse?

Over the past few games, a troubling pattern has come into play for Missouri — minutes-long defensive lapses in the second half. Cuonzo Martin acknowledged as much in his media session on Friday.

Perhaps Missouri is hitting a conditioning wall that they just need to get over, and this adjustment will help the defense round back into form. South Carolina’s stats on offense are startling — they’re atrocious at everything except offensive rebounding — but Missouri’s defensive miscues have allowed even some of the worst offenses in the SEC to take advantage over the past few games. Missouri needs to stay sound fundamentally, which may start with the coaching staff keeping them sound physically.

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 77, South Carolina 75 | Not a whole lot to say in conclusion. Missouri is sliding, but they’re still a much better team than South Carolina — especially when the Gamecocks are short-handed by one or two starters. A win in Columbia East wouldn’t mean a lot, but at least it would get Missouri back in the win column and give them something positive to build on. A loss on the other hand... well, let’s not bother to think on that yet.

What’s the adage in road college basketball? “Just win”? Sounds good to us.