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Hoops Preview: Missouri heads to Starkville to face a very, very tall Mississippi State

The Bulldogs’ height may seem a trivial thing to point out, but it dictates much of the success they have.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a week makes, right?

Last week, we were wondering how Missouri could possibly wiggle their way up the SEC totem pole. An expected loss to Kentucky and an ugly loss to Tennessee seemed to have knocked the Tigers squarely back into the third tier of SEC teams. If you include the loss of Jeremiah Tilmon, it was a pretty brutal week.

But, hey, there’s nothing that a little 91-point outburst can’t fix, right?

Missouri’s putdown of the Gators wasn’t exactly a paradigm shift in the 2019-2020 season, but it did feel pretty damn good. Missouri hasn’t backed away from fans’ high expectations this season, not even in the midst of a disappointing non-conference schedule. Like we’ve said many a time, the relative weakness of the SEC is ripe for a team like Missouri to take advantage of, and you figured two or three wins in the first five SEC games would set up well for the rest of SEC play. And while the Tigers looked primed to drop all five, they’re now in a position where a road win over Mississippi State or Alabama don’t seem impossible tasks to overcome.

Of course, that’s all easier said than done, especially when you’re on the road. Florida was a especially ripe for the picking, a talented team that relies on a lot of youth to support Kerry Blackshear, Jr.

Mississippi State is not Florida. You can take that statement in many directions, the most obvious of which is that the Bulldogs are not nearly as talented as the Gators. They’re still relatively young, yes, but they actually fall in the middle of Division I in terms of minutes continuity. And unlike the Gators, who have above average, but not overwhelming, size, the Bulldogs are big. Like, big big. Missouri’s mission, should they choose to accept it, is to head to Starkvegas and fell these mighty tall men in their own backyard.

I’d say that’s a much [glasses off] taller task than doing so in Columbia, wouldn’t you?

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (9-6) Mississippi State (9-6)
Position Missouri (9-6) Mississippi State (9-6)
PG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Nick Weatherspoon (Jr., 6'2", 185)
CG Mark Smith (Jr., 6'5", 220) Tyson Carter (Sr., 6'4", 175)
WING Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) Robert Woodard (So., 6'7", 235)
PF Mitchell Smith (Jr., 6'10", 221) Reggie Perry (So., 6'10", 250)
POST Reed Nikko (Sr., 6'10", 240) Abdul Ado (Jr., 6'11", 255)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

You may have read the headline to this piece and done a quick glance over this here starter’s table. “Oh, they’re not that much taller than Missouri, you may be thinking.” Well maybe not on first glance, but we’ll get into that.

What you should notice is that manning the power forward and post positions are two behemoths in Reggie Perry and Abdul Ado. These aren’t your willowy combo forward bigs like you may see roaming around the modern-day basketball landscape. Perry and Ado are tanks inside and their numbers reflect it. Both have true shooting percentages above 55 percent; they sport offensive rebounding numbers at 14 percent and over; Ado averages 7.6 blocks per 40 minutes, and Perry averages only 4.4. Perry draws 5.2 fouls per 40 and Ado has a free throw rate of 75.9 percent! Perry is the more dominant player (28.1 possession%), but both are formidable on the block.

On the outside, the Bulldogs are a bit smaller, but they’re still fairly dangerous. Sophomore Robert Woodard is a balanced player on the wing, where he shoots a torrid 50 percent from three while boasting above average rebounding, block and steal numbers. Senior Tyson Carter isn’t quite the sharp-shooter that Woodard is, but runs a decent assist to turnover ratio while getting to the rim at a good pace. He’s not an efficient shooter, but has proven fairly adept at drawing fouls and hitting free throws (83.6 percent.) Junior Nick Weatherspoon gets a lot of run for the ‘Dogs, but is still shaking off the rust from a 10-game suspension. He shot 38.5 percent from three last season while proving to be somewhat of a pest on defense.

OK, remember those tall guys we talked about earlier? Let’s get to them. Three of the four regulars off of Ben Howland’s bench are 6’6” or taller, the one exception being freshman Iverson Molinar. Molinar has a few typical freshman issues (namely turnovers), but has proven to be a useful offensive spark off the bench — he shoots 38.5 percent from deep while managing a 59.7 true shooting percentage. Fellow freshman DJ Stewart gets more run (66.3 minutes percentage), and has also proven to be an adept scorer. He shoots a little lower percentage from deep (35.3), but attacks the rim more often, where he’s also more efficient. KeyShawn Feazell gets defensive rotation minutes, but is another big body the Tigers will have to look for at 6’8” and 225 pounds. Finally, sophomore Prince Oduro, a 6’8”, 250 tree trunk, will play the role, “foul or be fouled.” Oduro’s free throw rate is a hilarious 155.6 percent (I feel like that can’t be right), but he also racks up nearly nine fouls per 40 minutes.

So yeah, despite their starting lineup’s similarity to Mizzou, don’t get it twisted — Mississippi State is tall, y’all.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. MSST 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 105.1 (82) 18 (259) 50.4 (128) 21.1 (271) 31 (86) 31.4 (193) 32.4 (206) 51.7 (83) 73.5 (81) 10.5 (281) 8.2 (77)
Mississippi State 96.5 (97) 17.7 (267) 47.7 (123) 19.3 (172) 30.9 (285) 32.1 (185) 32.9 (166) 46.8 (101) 70.1 (177) 15.1 (15) 9.5 (140)
NCAA Basketball: Florida at Missouri
Mitchell Smith has been asked to do more in Jeremiah Tilmon’s absence. Will he and other Tigers be intimidated by Mississippi State’s bigs?
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Will Missouri play strong at the rim?

Throughout the season, Missouri has been a bad three-point shooting team and a pretty good two-point shooting team. Now we may have expected some regression to the mean, but SEC play has been more than that — it’s been a complete 180 in the way Missouri scores. In three conference games, the Tigers are the second best three-point shooting team in the conference, yet have fallen to 10th in two-point percentage. Missouri won’t shoot like this forever, though, and will need to back to the rim. Mississippi State’s length (2nd in KenPom) will make things difficult, but they are prone to fouling. If the Tigers can play to and through contact against Perry and Ado, they could lighten the pressure on their shooters.

When Mississippi State has the ball...

MSST 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%
Mississippi State 108.5 (36) 18.1 (270) 50.2 (141) 22.1 (308) 40.9 (2) 39.4 (40) 32.9 (172) 50.5 (115) 71.3 (143) 7.7 (79) 11 (317)
Missouri 92.3 (45) 18.1 (314) 43.3 (16) 23.5 (28) 25.8 (81) 39.9 (304) 28.9 (25) 43.3 (28) 76.1 (341) 9.6 (129) 11.5 (45)
NCAA Basketball: Florida at Missouri
Mark Smith and Missouri’s big guards will have to fight for rebounds to stop Mississippi State from getting second chances.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Missouri’s ability to neutralize the boards

Despite a 36th ranked KenPom offense, Mississippi State is pretty mediocre across the board. That is, until you look at their rebounding. The Bulldogs ranked second in the country in offensive rebounding, mostly on the backs of their starting bigs. Mitchell Smith and Reed Nikko will need to step up, yes, but the onus also falls on Missouri’s guards and wings. If guys like the Smiths and Kobe Brown can snatch up any rebounds that aren’t being fought over by the front court, it’ll go a long way to neutralizing the second chances Mississippi State has.

KenPom predicts...

Mississippi State 66, Missouri 63 | It’s not exactly a coin toss game — KenPom only gives Mizzou a 39 percent chance to win in Starkville. That may seem confounding in the glow of the Florida win, but remember: Missouri hasn’t been much better than the Bulldogs over the course of the entire year.

So really tonight comes down to this: do you believe the Tigers are genuinely making progress on offense and are still the same defensive team we’ve seen over the entire campaign? If you do, it shouldn’t be hard to see the Tigers stacking another Quadrant 1 win. However, Missouri’s offensive surge has corresponded with a minor letdown in its defensive numbers. There’s a chance the Tigers turned a corner on Saturday, but they’ll have to do so in more than one game to convince anyone outside of the most faithful True Sons and Daughters.