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Hoops Preview: Auburn brings its heart-pounding, high-flying act to Columbia

Auburn has played four of its last five games in overtime. Can Missouri take advantage of a team that plays it close?

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

Luck is not a quantifiable statistic in the world of sports. But based on the cosmic rules of coin-tossing, we know that generally things tend to even out over time.

If you’re an Auburn fan, you might read that lede, and then the rest of this introduction, and feel as if I’m calling your team, “lucky.” Well, I am. But not in the sense that “lucky” is opposed to, “good.”

Auburn is undeniably good. They’re 22-2 and well on their way to a third straight year of 26 or more wins under Bruce Pearl. Out of all the programs in the SEC not named Kentucky, Auburn is the picture of a well-oiled machine.

THAT BEING SAID! The Tigers have been riding an enormous string of good fortune these past few weeks. In their past five games, the Tigers have played in a combined five overtimes (two against Mississippi on January 28) in four of their past five games and have come away with — you guessed it — four wins. That likely means that Auburn is an experienced, veteran-heavy team that’s used to playing in crunch time.

But eventually, as is the case in all games involving a ball and a bucket or an end zone or a glove, the bounces just don’t go your way. And lately, they’ve all been going Auburn’s way.

That doesn’t mean their fortunes will change on Saturday against Mizzou — the Good Tigers haven’t necessarily been in the business of making their own good luck these days. But eventually Auburn’s habit of playing with fire is going to burn them. Why not against Missouri, who has looked something like a cohesive team in this last week. Missouri seems to have found a groove without Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith, and while their margin of error is much slimmer, the Tigers seem to be gutting it out in the midst of a season that has turned out miserably compared to preseason expectations.

True, Auburn has more on the line than Missouri does — they’re playing for high-seeding in March. At this point, Mizzou just has its pride. But as we’ve mentioned, the Tigers need to find ways to look forward, to find hope in what is now a somewhat hopeless season. There’s no better time than the present, and against no better team than the one that’s been pushing its luck, to find another beacon of hope onto which they can grasp.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (11-13) Auburn (22-2)
Position Missouri (11-13) Auburn (22-2)
PG Xavier Pinson (So., 6'2", 170) J'Von McCormick (Sr., 6'0", 185)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Samir Doughty (Sr., 6'4", 195)
WING Javon Pickett (So., 6'5", 220) Danjel Purifoy (Sr., 6'7", 230)
PF Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) Anfernee McLemore (Sr., 6'7", 220)
POST Reed Nikko (Sr., 6'10", 240) Austin Wiley (Sr., 6'11", 260)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

To a less extreme degree, Auburn is much like LSU in the way that it leans heavily on its starters. Only for these Tigers, they’ve got a few more weapons in their arsenal — or at least they did before Isaac Okoro went down with an injury this past week.

The Auburn attack starts with Austin Wiley, a dominant force in the paint who ranks in the Top 10 nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding rates as well as fouls drawn per 40 minutes. He’s a 68 percent shooter from the line and only 55.4 percent from the floor, but he’ll get a lot of touches, and it’ll be up to Reed Nikko to suppress his impact on the game without fouling too much. Oh, and Wiley blocks about 8.5 shots per 40 minutes, so don’t expect to sneak a lot by him at the rim either.

After Wiley, Auburn doesn’t have a ton of size that should be overwhelming to Missouri. McLemore has started all season and is an efficient player and spreads out his shots pretty evenly. He’s not great from behind the arc (33.8 percent) but is good enough to have to respect. He’s not an elite rebounder, but does offer some backup rim protection, boasting 7.1 blocks per 40 minutes.

Samir Doughty is the team’s biggest non-Wiley threat as he takes the most shots. He’s the team’s best free throw shooter and gets to the line pretty frequently, though he’s not partial to either twos or threes — his shots are split almost down the middle. Missouri would do well to force him deep, where he’s only shooting 30.7 percent. McCormick is the primary distributor and can be a bit unreliable from the floor. He’ll get to the line at a decent clip, but only shoots 58 percent. He might be the only player the Tigers can feel comfortable fouling.

Danjel Purifoy plays starters minutes off the bench and will likely get the starting nod with Okoro out (injured hamstring during Wednesday’s Alabama game). He actually has the team’s highest free throw percentage (on far fewer attempts than Doughty it should be noted), and is more likely to fire from deep than close range. He’s only shooting 31 percent, but his past percentages suggest he’s more consistent than that. Freshman Jamal Johnson may be the team’s best option off the bench — the 6’4” frosh shoots 41 percent from deep and 74 percent from the free throw line. Only his 16.7 percent two-point rate is holding his true shooting down. Sophomore Allen Flanigan is more of a threat to score down low. Both get about 30 percent of available minutes and can be coaxed into foul trouble. Freshman Devan Cambridge gets the rest of the non-benchwarmer minutes, and Missouri would be wise not to lose him — he’s a 38 percent three point shooter on the year.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Auburn 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 103.2 (162) 17.7 (216) 47.2 (274) 21.5 (308) 30.6 (89) 34.5 (122) 30.6 (301) 48.2 (221) 76.8 (28) 11.7 (334) 9 (157)
Auburn 94.9 (57) 17.4 (173) 47 (81) 18.4 (207) 27 (128) 31.1 (153) 32.3 (127) 46.2 (68) 69.5 (117) 13.8 (18) 8.4 (218)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Louisiana State
Xavier Pinson played the hero against Arkansas. Can he do it against Auburn a week later?
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Will Missouri make enough shots?

Yes, again. If you go down the list Auburn is not exactly a great match up for Missouri, and that’s being a bit generous. In the areas Missouri is weak, Auburn tends to be at worst decent and at best pretty good. And in the areas Missouri is strong, Auburn isn’t so much worse that the good Tigers could reasonably exploit a game-breaking matchup. So once again, Missouri’s fate will come down to the simple question of, “Can they outperform their season averages?” If so, a win is possible. If not...

When Auburn has the ball...

Auburn 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%
Auburn 112 (28) 16.6 (76) 50.5 (126) 17.7 (80) 35.7 (12) 44.2 (5) 31.2 (282) 53.5 (32) 67.4 (274) 8.8 (163) 9.2 (189)
Missouri 97.9 (91) 18 (286) 45.9 (39) 21.8 (41) 29.1 (231) 44.3 (335) 29.4 (25) 46.9 (91) 74 (323) 9.1 (143) 10.5 (73)
NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Auburn
Samir Doughty is Auburn’s best free throw shooter at 77.5 percent. Can Mizzou keep him off the charity stripe?
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Can Missouri keep Auburn off the charity stripe?

While Missouri arguably played well enough to pull off the upset win over LSU, there was almost no way Missouri was going to overcome a 4:1 free throw disparity. But while LSU is merely good at getting to the free throw line, Auburn is great. The Tigers rank 24th in the country at the amount of points scored from the line and 5th in free throw attempts to field goal attempts. If Missouri can stay controlled and not give up too many free points, Auburn’s outside shooting is sketchy enough to make this a potentially tight game.

KenPom predicts...

Auburn 71, Missouri 66 | KenPom has Missouri at about a 34 percent chance to win, and that would certainly be an accomplishment — only two teams have beaten Auburn this season. However, the matchups — specifically with Auburn’s strength at getting to the line — will make this a tough outing for Mizzou. They’ll need some heroic offensive performances in order to come away with the win.