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Hoops Preview: Mizzou faces Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament’s first round

Both teams struggled down the stretch, and Oklahoma will be missing its second-leading scorer.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Oklahoma Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

While Missouri’s lot in the NCAA seeding pool seems unfair, there’s a certain poetry to the way the whole thing shook out.

Missouri, who probably didn’t deserve the nine seed it received from the Selection Committee, will face 8-seed Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday evening. In this particular match up, the committee has given both the Tigers and the Sooners an opportunity — prove that you’re better than your recent struggles.

In pitting these two teams together, the committee is holding a mirror up to both programs, forcing them to confront themselves. Both teams were once thought of in protected seed territory, only to see their ambitions slip away over the last month of the season. Missouri lost six of its last nine. Oklahoma lost five of its last six. Both teams are more than a little shaken heading into Indianapolis.

For Missouri, this sort of identity crisis serves as the thesis to their season. Once ranked as a top 10 team in the country, Missouri’s metrics never looked the part of a true title contender. As Matt Harris has pointed out, their recent skid actually brings them in line with what the numbers have always said.

But there was a time when Missouri, despite its lacking measurables, looked capable of a deep March run. The team boasts wins over one, two, three and five-seeds. It has the veteran experience (especially in the back court) that can fuel a long NCAA Tournament stay. The players are hungry to prove that a lack of health, not a lack of skill, has held them back over the past several years.

Despite the low seeding (and the potential match up with the overall favorite in round two), Missouri has been given a task by the Selection Committee: Prove you’re the team you were a few months ago by beating a team that looks a lot like you do right now. After all, Oklahoma isn’t a world-beater. They’re a more efficient team overall, but they don’t excel at any one thing — just like the Tigers. If Missouri can fulfill its Marching orders from the committee, they’ll have a real shot at doing something special in round two.

But that’s in the future. For now, Missouri needs to prove it’s better than what it has shown over the past six weeks by beating a team that looks similar in nature.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (16-9) Oklahoma (15-10)
Position Missouri (16-9) Oklahoma (15-10)
PG Xavier Pinson (Jr., 6'2", 170) Umoja Gibson (Jr., 6'1", 176)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Sr., 6'3", 203) Elijah Harkless (Jr., 6'3", 195)
WING Mark Smith (Sr., 6'5", 220) Austin Reaves (Sr., 6'5", 206)
PF Kobe Brown (So., 6'7", 240) Alondes Williams (Sr., 6'5", 201)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (Sr., 6'10", 260) Brady Manek (Sr., 6'9", 231)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Obviously the big news of the week pertains directly to the scout. Oklahoma will be without starting guard Da’Vion Harmon the team’s top minutes eater, one of its best defenders and arguably its best interior scorer. It’s a massive loss for the Sooners.

Luckily, Lon Kruger has another guard who is more than willing to shoulder the load. Senior Austin Reaves, one of the Sooners’ tallest players at 6’5”, has been a force on both ends of the court. He’s not a prolific jump shooter, but he draws contact, converts at the line, creates and defends well. He’s also one of the more durable players on the court at all times, and is fully capable of playing close to 40 minutes a game.

To fill in for Harmon, Lon Kruger could turn to one of his two junior reserve guards, Umoja Gibson or Elijah Harkless. Gibson is already a starter who plays a lot of minutes, but the Sooners may call on him to do even more. Gibson is the team’s best jump shooter and a capable defender, but doesn’t possess Harmon’s size to body up bigger guards. Harkless does, however, and plays a similar game to Harmon. He hunts for steals on defense and prefers getting to the rim, though he’s not as efficient as Harmon once he gets there.

In the front court, Oklahoma, only has two real options of notable size. Brady Manek is the main guy to look for, a long defender who becomes more rangy on the offensive end of the court. Missouri fans may remember Manek as the combo forward who burned the Tigers from long-range in Kansas City last season. He’s a 36.2 percent three-point shooter and is capable from close-range too. He doesn’t draw a lot of contact, though and can be pushed around in the block. Kur Kuath is the Sooners’ biggest player on the inside and could be used against the taller Tigers. Kuath is an old-fashioned big man who looks for post-ups, offensive boards and blocks — and is better than average at all three.

From there, the Sooners bench starts to get a little thin, with only three additional players getting more than 20 percent of available minutes. Senior Alondes Williams could provide some extra size on the wing, though he’s no bigger than Reaves. Williams mostly operates from two-point range, and is a more than capable defender as a bench option. Jalen Hill gives the Sooners some more front-court depth and is capable of burning you from deep if you’re not careful. He is a bit one-dimensional, however, and lacks the rebounding and defensive production that would earn him more minutes. Victor Iwuakor also gets some spot minutes as a bigger forward, but he’s a bit too physical for Kruger’s taste. He easily tops the team in fouls given, but he’s a monster on the boards when he’s playing.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Oklahoma 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 110.4 (52) 16.8 (121) 50.9 (123) 18.9 (171) 28.6 (150) 37.5 (40) 32 (253) 52.6 (68) 69.8 (221) 11.2 (325) 8.8 (140)
Oklahoma 94.8 (54) 17.4 (207) 48.9 (122) 18.7 (167) 27.5 (156) 22.8 (12) 35.4 (257) 46.3 (51) 73.5 (283) 9.2 (131) 10.5 (68)
NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Missouri vs Arkansas Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Push the pace and exploit the depth

Oklahoma’s season-long numbers suggest the Sooners have enough depth to cover the loss of De’Vion Harmon, but the last two games have shown how much Kruger trusts that depth. In both of Oklahoma’s Big 12 Tournament games, only five players more than 20 minutes, with only six getting double digit minutes in the loss to Kansas. Williams is the second-leading minute getter, meaning a number of players will likely be playing more than they’re used to. Missouri isn’t a run-and-gun team, but the Sooners play at a much slower pace. Missouri should look to force the issue, get the Sooners tired and catch them slipping on defensive rotations for open threes or open lanes to the hoop.

When Oklahoma has the ball...

Oklahoma 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%
Oklahoma 111.5 (36) 17.3 (174) 50.8 (129) 15.8 (27) 27.3 (185) 29.1 (236) 33.8 (161) 50.8 (126) 74.4 (64) 8.2 (141) 8 (70)
Missouri 95.2 (58) 17 (108) 48.5 (104) 18.3 (204) 29.2 (223) 36.4 (285) 32.8 (120) 48.2 (115) 70.9 (182) 9 (146) 9.4 (141)
NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Oklahoma vs Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | For once, try to avoid foul trouble

Oklahoma’s offense is more efficient than Missouri’s namely because they avoid turnovers, but the Sooners don’t shoot the lights out — they 126th and 161st in two-and-three-point shooting, respectively. Where the Sooners do excel is at the free throw line, where they shoot a well above average 74.4 percent. Without Harmon, their second-leading scorer, they’ll be looking to make up his lost points somewhere, and the easiest place would be at the free throw line. The Sooners aren’t great at drawing contact, but Missouri doesn’t seem to need anyone’s help getting themselves in foul trouble. If the Tigers can avoid putting Oklahoma at the line, they’ll likely force the Sooners to shoot above their season averages to make up for lost production.

KenPom predicts...

Oklahoma 71, Missouri 70 | KenPom has this as a 54-46 matchup, so we’re in tossup territory. Both teams struggled down the stretch and mostly got in on the strength of 4-6 weeks of strong play earlier in the year.

The big delineator here may be the Sooners’ loss of Harmon, who was the KenPom MVP in two of their biggest wins of the season (vs. Kansas and Alabama.) The Tigers, on the other hand, are healthy and motivated to win the program’s first NCAA Tournament game in more than a decade. We’ve seen Missouri play well against other tournament-caliber teams, but will that make a difference in the actual capital-t Tournament? We’re about to find out.