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Hoops Preview: LSU is looking for a bounce back after two tough losses

Missouri will carry the motion from Rally For Rhyan to Baton Rouge, where LSU needs to snap its losing streak.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Auburn Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

There was a point this season where a lot of Missouri fans had circled tonight’s game as a must watch.

Missouri, who was supposed to be one of the SEC’s upstart contenders, would have ample opportunity to prove itself against the conference’s established programs. LSU has been in that spot for over a year now, with Will Wade’s ahem innovative methods propelling them to new heights they never seemed to reach under Johnny Jones.

Well, LSU has held up their end, maintaining their spot as one of the SEC’s best — they’re currently tied with Auburn and Kentucky at the top of the standings — while Missouri... hasn’t.

However, that doesn’t mean tonight can’t still be a major bright spot for the black and gold Tigers.

The Rally For Rhyan win on Saturday was a much needed breather in what has become a tedious season. Mizzou had lost six of seven games and was projected for only a handful more over the courts of the last month of basketball. Forget the NCAA Tournament — any postseason birth was looking unlikely.

However, the Arkansas game showed that Missouri still has some fight left. They’re still hobbled by injuries to their two best players, but there’s enough there to scrap a win against a Top 40 KenPom team.

Most importantly, though, was the fact that there were reasons for hope mixed within the Arkansas win. Xavier Pinson had one of his best games of the season, overcoming inefficient shooting by a tenacious desire to get to the rim. Javon Pickett flashed his scrapper ability, further proving that if he can get going, Missouri can will itself to a win. And Tray Jackson, the much called for freshman, energized the program and fanbase with a series of ferocious dunks and some overall strong play.

It’s moments like these that have become almost more important than wins at this point. We can see the end result of this season, and it’s not looking pretty. But with the majority of the roster set to return in 2020-2021, Cuonzo Martin and Missouri need to prove that there’s some hope on the horizon. That even though this year turned out to be disappointing, next year will represent the leap forward.

Tonight against LSU, one of the SEC’s best, could prove to be one of those moments, even if Mizzou doesn’t take home a W.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (11-12) LSU (17-6)
Position Missouri (11-12) LSU (17-6)
PG Xavier Pinson (So., 6'2", 170) Javonte Smart (So., 6'4", 205)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Skylar Mays (Sr., 6'4", 205)
WING Javon Pickett (So., 6'5", 220) Emmitt Williams (So., 6'6", 230)
PF Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) Darius Days (So., 6'6", 240)
POST Reed Nikko (Sr., 6'10", 240) Trendon Watford (Fr., 6'9", 235)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Much like Arkansas on Saturday, LSU will depend a lot on its core rotational players to get the job done in and out of crunch time. However, unlike Arkansas on Saturday, the Tigers do it by choice rather than injury — LSU’s starting five all play at least 62 percent of available minutes, and only two other players on the roster get over 30 percent. By KenPom, Will Wade’s team ranks 331st in bench minutes. And when you look at the starters, there’s not much reason to question why.

Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart start things up front. Mays is having a great senior season, leading LSU is scoring at 15.9 points per game. He’s a dynamo at getting to the bucket and drawing fouls, but is just good enough from deep (35.2 percent) to make you respect his long distance game. He’s also a pest on defense, averaging 3.4 steals per 40 minutes. Smart is less of an offensive threat, but he’s more of a playmaker, averaging a team high assist rate. He still gets his points at 12.3 a game, but he’ll have to work for them a little more, shooting under 30 percent from deep and only managing a 50.9 true shooting percentage all the way around. He’s most effective from the line, where he shoots nearly 81 percent.

LSU’s trio of forwards, though, is where things really get scary. Sophomore’s Darius Days and Emmitt Williams are tanks down low, both sporting offensive ratings over 120. Both are excellent rebounders, though Days has marked himself as one of the best in the country on the offensive glass (12.5 percent.) He’s also incredibly efficient at the rim, where he shoots 74 percent. Williams, not to be left behind, is actually a tad scarier because of his versatility. He shoots nearly 60 percent from two, but also boasts a team high free throw rate at 56.4 percent — he doesn’t miss them either, hitting about 80 percent of the time. He’s the least prolific three-point shooter of the starting five, but he’s also the most accurate at 38.5 percent. Oh, did I mention Williams also average more than 5 blocks per 40 minutes too? Freshman Trendon Watford gets more minutes than the two forwards, but he’s miles ahead of where freshmen big men usually are — he doesn’t foul a lot and draws a lot of contact. He’s not great from the line (67.6 percent), but his efficiency from down low (55 percent) is good enough to get him more than three fourths of the available minutes.

Off the bench, there’s not too many guys to note. Sophomore Charles Manning is 6’5”, but averages nearly as many blocks as Williams while quietly sporting a three-point percentage over 40 percent. Junior Marlon Taylor also shoots over 40 percent from deep, but neither have taken more than 25 shots from long range this year. Taylor plays more for contact at the rim while Manning seems to thrive on jump shooting a bit more. Freshman Aundre Hyatt is the only other player to get more than 12 percent of available minutes. He’s more of a warm body at this point, though it should be noted that he’s not afraid to shoot — he’s taken more three-pointers than his other two benchmates.

Freshman James Bishop, the only rostered player under 6’4”, gets clean up minutes. He’s not a bad jump shooter (35.7 from deep), but doesn’t shoot well from the line and has a turnover rate more than three times his assist rate.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. LSU 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 102.9 (175) 17.7 (209) 46.7 (299) 21.5 (310) 30.4 (101) 35.2 (103) 30.1 (313) 47.7 (238) 77.4 (12) 11.9 (338) 9.1 (175)
LSU 101.8 (161) 17 (75) 48.7 (137) 17.5 (268) 27.9 (166) 24.1 (24) 34 (224) 46.9 (92) 71 (195) 11.6 (58) 9 (165)
NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri
Xavier Pinson got to the rim (and line) at will against Arkansas. Can he do the same against LSU’s athletic front?
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Get to the line and pray that shots fall

There’s only one place where you know Missouri is going to rack up points on any given night — the free throw line. They were once again able to do so against Arkansas, netting 34 points on 44 attempts. With inconsistent shooting everywhere else, the Tigers will have to stick to this strategy: Draw fouls at the rim and pray the shots drop elsewhere. This will be easier said than done, though. LSU’s FT attempt to FG attempt ratio is 24th best in the country.

When LSU has the ball...

LSU 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%
LSU 118.2 (4) 16.9 (117) 53.1 (40) 18.6 (146) 35.9 (10) 35.5 (96) 31 (285) 56.3 (7) 76.9 (26) 7.1 (34) 8.4 (105)
Missouri 97.9 (88) 18.1 (297) 45.7 (37) 22.1 (38) 28.9 (218) 43.4 (333) 29.6 (26) 46.5 (80) 73.3 (297) 9.1 (146) 10.7 (70)
NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri
Missouri was able to fluster Arkansas into committing 17 turnovers. Can they do the same against LSU?
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Can Missouri stop big runs?

LSU’s offense is elite — they’re fourth best in KenPom’s Adjusted Efficiency and have green all the way down the matrix. This makes for a troubling match up against Missouri, whose defense has faltered with the loss of Mark Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon. Missouri’s one hope will be to keep the game close by finding every opportunity to disrupt the flow of LSU’s game. The Tigers can get a little loose with the ball, and Missouri would be wise to win the turnover battle by quite a bit. They don’t take a ton of threes, but if Missouri can prevent LSU from hitting daggers to punctuate scoring runs, that will go a long way as well. Finally — and this is a big ask — LSU ranks 10th in the country in offensive rebounding. If Missouri can channel the same energy they had against Illinois, when they out-rebounded one of the best board teams in the country, they could give themselves a fighting chance.

KenPom predicts...

LSU 80, Missouri 68 | LSU comes into Tuesday night cold, and Missouri is riding high off the emotion of Saturday’s OT win. However, LSU is still one of the best teams in the SEC and will be fighting to regain footing in a suddenly tight race for the conference’s top spot. Missouri will need hot shooting and a whole lot of energy if it wants to steal a big win in Baton Rouge.