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Hoops Preview: Mizzou welcomes Oral Roberts to kick off 2020-2021 season

So we’re really going to try out this non-conference thing, huh? OK, here we go...

NCAA Basketball: Oral Roberts at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

So. We’re doing this. We’re reeeeeeeeally doing this? We’re sure this is a good idea? We don’t just want to give it a couple more weeks and contain this thing for conference play?

No? Alright! Let’s try this out...

Welcome to hoops season, everyone! It’s going to be weird, but let’s try to get through it together, shall we?

Just to set the stage that we’re all (probably) aware of: We’re entering year four of the Cuonzo Martin era in Columbia, and it feels safe to say that we’re all a bit unsure as to where this phase of the program is headed. No doubt things aren’t as bad as they were before Martin arrived — the day things get worse than that is the day we should all just pack it in. But there’s still no definitive ETA on Missouri’s return to the days of the late 2000s, when the Tigers were NCAA Tournament staples and often a threat to move into the second weekend.

If you haven’t been paying much attention to our hoops coverage at Rock M Nation — to which I should say that I don’t blame you; it’s been a wild football season — we’re all feeling a bit on the edge re: Mizzou Hoops. In truth, deja vu is probably the governing feeling. This time last year, we were asking many of the same questions we have now: Can Jeremiah Tilmon stop fouling? Will the Tigers avoid catastrophic injuries? Can the offense play more up tempo? Those questions were all answered in the negative last season, and it still feels like just one or two positive steps could get the Tigers back into tournament territory.

On the precipice of what will surely be the strangest season in college basketball history, making a determinant call on the direction of Mizzou Hoops seems premature, if only by a few months. Despite the past three years — the injuries, the recruiting losses, the Porter of it all — there seems to be a clear answer on the horizon, and it all comes down to how this year goes. Should the Tigers find themselves back at .500 by the time March rolls around, there’s no doubt that Martin will have a lot of questions to answer with his team set to lose a sizable chunk of production.

However, if March rolls around and the Tigers find themselves on the inside of the (probable) Indianapolis Madness Bubble, we might find ourselves wondering aloud what the next five years under Cuonzo Martin look like.

That is, if we make it to the other side of this season alive. Literally.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (0-0) Oral Roberts (0-0)
Position Missouri (0-0) Oral Roberts (0-0)
PG Xavier Pinson (Jr., 6'2", 170) RJ Glasper (Rs. Sr., 6', 180)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Sr., 6'3", 203) Max Abmas (So., 6'1", 165)
WING Mark Smith (Sr., 6'5", 220) Kareem Thompson (So., 6'6" 190)
PF Kobe Brown (So., 6'7", 240) Kevin Obanor (Rs. Jr., 6'8", 225)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (Sr., 6'10", 260) Elijah Lufile (Rs. Jr., 6'8", 275)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

NCAA Basketball: Oral Roberts at Iowa
Max Abmas is one of few returning contributors on a Golden Eagles squad that figures to be near the top of the Summit League.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

To be honest, this may be my single least favorite thing to write in the entirety of basketball season: the starting scout for the first game of the year.

This is mostly because Missouri is usually playing a mid-major — or even non-Division I — school, which makes getting scouts/information on that team difficult. Enter Oral Roberts, a team that lost six of its top nine contributors from 2020. They’ve padded their roster with a combination of freshmen and JUCO/Division II transfers, making this starting projection a total wash. I started with Obanor and Abmas since they’re the only major returners and added Lufile since he’s the guy that can most challenge Missouri’s size inside. Thompson and Glasper are transfer additions, but I have no way of knowing how impactful they’ll be. The rest of the team is made up of freshmen, transfers, and a few players who took redshirt years in 2019-2020. I am no Summit League scholar, so take this projection with an entire salt grinder.

On Missouri’s end, I went with a starting lineup that matches Missouri’s true talent level and their trend of starting Pinson and Smith together at the end of last season. I toyed with the thought that Buggs might get a start as well, but I can’t see Martin wanting to get too fancy against Oral Roberts. He’s best served putting as much talent on the floor as he possibly can and getting some distance on the scoreboard before he starts playing with lineups.

Candidly, I am very much looking forward to who gets the first substitutions, or at least who the first three or four guys are off the bench. We can probably write in Drew Buggs, and it’s safe to assume Javon Pickett gets an early look as well. Do Torrence Watson and Mitchell Smith get the call before Ed Chang, Jordan Wilmore or Parker Braun? I can’t see Martin being all that comfortable with Smith playing the five, so maybe Tilmon gets some extended minutes before Wilmore gives him a breather? I’m probably overthinking this and Watson/Smith will round out the top nine. But I am excited to see Martin use all of his new pieces.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. ORU Defense (2019)

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 104.1 (150) 17.7 (226) 47 (287) 20.9 (302) 31.4 (67) 35.7 (91) 29.7 (326) 48.7 (204) 78 (11) 10.4 (299) 8.8 (147)
Oral Roberts 104.9 (231) 17.2 (143) 51.6 (276) 18.1 (215) 26.8 (132) 31.7 (166) 34.1 (231) 51.9 (272) 73.8 (317) 6.6 (290) 8.8 (189)
NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Missouri
Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson are the de-facto leaders of the Missouri offense. Will that be enough?
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Let the great three point guard experiment begin!

There were surprised reactions galore when Missouri, rich in point guard talent, went out and signed graduate transfer Drew Buggs for the 2020-2021 season. After all, what more could they want out of the point position?

We discussed this a little bit in our position preview, but now we get an in-game look at how Martin plans to deploy his three-headed monster. Does he start all three? Does Xavier Pinson come off the bench as a spark plug? Is Buggs the leader of the second team? It’d be foolish to assume we’ll get any definitive answers from the first game of the season. But Missouri won’t let off the gas until this game is firmly in hand. Therefore, we should get a glimpse at how Buggs, Pinson and Dru Smith will be working together.

When Opponent has the ball...

ORU 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%
Oral Roberts 108.2 (70) 16.1 (43) 50.9 (114) 13.9 (2) 29 (138) 28.2 (287) 33.3 (173) 51.4 (99) 76.4 (25) 8.7 (159) 6.2 (4)
Missouri 96.7 (71) 17.8 (270) 46.3 (39) 20.9 (59) 27.7 (160) 47.8 (346) 28.8 (12) 48.2 (134) 72.7 (274) 10 (106) 10 (99)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Illinois
Missouri’s defense should be solid, led by upperclassmen like Dru Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Who does the coaching staff trust?

As mentioned above, there probably won’t be a lot we learn about Missouri on defense. We know Cuonzo Martin’s defensive strategies at this point, and the scheme should be pretty vanilla against a mid-major team.

However, we do know that players can quickly endear themselves to this staff by playing good defense. While the rotation will likely be longer than the rest of the season, it will still be revealing to see who gets a first crack at their spot. Who does Cuonzo Martin trust to play the early minutes? Does he lean on experience? Will there be any surprise additions to the rotation — Jordan Wilmore, Ed Chang, etc.? These are answers we likely won’t get for a while, but in a game like this, we’ll glean anything we can.

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 80, Oral Roberts 65 | This seems like a pretty cut-and-dry outing... that is, as cut-and-dry as a game can be in 2020.

If Missouri aspires to be an NCAA Tournament team in Cuonzo Martin’s fourth year, this is a game that should never be in doubt. Get the first game jitters out of the way, bury the Golden Eagles early, and spend the second half getting some quality run for your reserves. Anything less would be legitimate cause for concern.