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Notebook: Missouri prepares for a strong West Virginia front court

Missouri travels to Morgantown for perhaps its most difficult test this season

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia’s frontcourt is the backbone of the squad’s offense, with two of its forwards, freshman Oscar Tshibwe and sophomore Derek Culver, averaging double figures for the Mountaineers.

Reed Nikko, who has seen his role increase since Tilmon went down with a stress fracture in his foot, said practice has seen a strong focus on the post game with the major challenge looming Saturday.

“The biggest thing for me is just being ready for the posts to duck in,” Nikko said. “As a big man, I’ve gotta do that. They’re gonna do that every possession, and just be ready for a physical game down low.”

Against Texas A&M, injury and illness robbed Missouri of two of its most important frontcourt pieces, Jeremiah Tilmon and Kobe Brown. Despite that, the Tigers were outrebounded by just one, and hauled in three more offensive rebounds, 12 to the Aggies nine.

Performances like that are an indicator that Missouri, who will most likely have Kobe Brown back but not Tilmon, will likely be able to at least hold its own down low.

“We’ve just got to keep our feet moving at all times and try to outwork them,” Mitchell Smith said.

Better Starts, Better Finishes

The end of Tuesday night’s game felt all too familiar. The recipe has been a close game, and somewhere around the final media timeout, and then the game slips away. Missouri was tied with Tennessee with six minutes to go. It lost by 10. Missouri trailed Alabama by three with six minutes to go. It lost by 14.

In SEC play, faltering near the end of games is a relatively futile approach Missouri simply has to fix. With the score being within two or three points for most of the second half, the Tigers got down by as much as nine before the furious rally to end the game that saw several well-executed plays. It was still not enough in the end.

“One of our biggest problems has been digging ourselves in a hole and then trying to come back,” Torrence Watson. “It’s something that we’re not going to be able to do, especially playing at West Virginia.”

End of game execution must be better, but the Tigers would also do well to avoid the scoring droughts that have occasionally plagued them this season as well. The field goal droughts that can drag on for more than five minutes have killed Missouri in games that otherwise might have ended neck and neck.

“We’ve just got to stay locked in and focused throughout the whole course of the game. I think we’re doing a better job of that, especially with Xavier and Dru talking to us, keeping our confidence up,” Watson said.

Evolution of Dru Smith’s role

Missouri has relied on Dru Smith to be a steady presence on the court, and he has done as much this season. Now, it needs him to score the ball more, while also handling the role of facilitator. He has stepped up for the Tigers on the offensive end as well.

Smith is coming off of back-to-back 18 point performances against Alabama and Texas A&M. 10 days ago, he tied his career high with a 22 point performance in the dominating win over Florida.

“He has a big role for us,” Mark Smith said. “We do rely on him a lot.”

Smith has averaged 12.1 points a game, shooting the ball at a clip of 46.3% from the field. He has been the steady hand Missouri has needed to run the offense consistently, but doesn’t seem to mind the team’s increased reliance on him.

“It’s a little bit of a different role, but I don’t think it’s any more responsibilities than I’ve had in the past,” Dru Smith said.