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Hoops Preview: Ole Miss comes to Columbia on a hot streak of its own

The Rebels were five points away from a road win in Lexington. Can Missouri keep up their solid play against another grooving team?

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve been feeling pretty good about Missouri basketball lately. So good, in fact, that it’s easy to forget the Tigers are still under .500 in the midst of a disappointing season by our preseason expectations.

That’s not to take anything away from how Mizzou has played of late. The Tigers were a late run away from going 3-0 against Top 40ish KenPom teams and legitimately dismantled No. 11 Auburn on Saturday (Isaac Okoro’s absence notwithstanding.) Missouri has found its groove in the absence of Mark Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon, and could be poised for a late season run that could put them back into consideration for postseason play of some sort.

Just because the competition seems to be weakening, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t other programs heating up down the stretch. For all the good will Missouri has built up over the past week, Kermit Davis’ Mississippi Rebels have done nearly as much. The Rebels soundly whipped Florida last Saturday before absolutely brutalizing Mississippi State last Tuesday to the tune of a 25-point win. (That’s the same Mississippi State that nearly 30-balled the Tigers earlier this year.) Ole Miss closed their week with a tight five-point loss at Kentucky, nearly capping a week that would’ve topped Missouri’s in impressive wins.

So Missouri and Ole Miss come into Tuesday’s match up as hot teams bound for a collision. How the wreckage turns out could signal how the coming SEC Tournament will shape up. The two are currently tied with Arkansas at 4-8 in league play, and only one can escape the dreaded play-in games on Wednesday night in Nashville. Arkansas may be in the midst of a four-game slide, but the Razorbacks’ schedule favors them the rest of the way — as does Missouri and Mississippi’s.

Tonight’s match up would do either team wonders in setting itself up for success down the stretch. Despite their straddling-500 records, both teams still have something to play for, and Tuesday night could give them a much-needed boost down the home stretch.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (12-13) Mississippi (13-12)
Position Missouri (12-13) Mississippi (13-12)
PG Xavier Pinson (So., 6'2", 170) Breein Tyree (Sr., 6'2", 195)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Devontae Shuler (Jr., 6'2", 192)
WING Javon Pickett (So., 6'5", 220) Blake Hinson (So., 6'7", 229)
PF Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) KJ Buffen (So., 6'7", 220)
POST Reed Nikko (Sr., 6'10", 240) Khadim Sy (Jr., 6'10", 244)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Mississippi runs a deeper bench than many of the teams Missouri has faced of late, but there will be only one Rebel who Tiger fans can’t escape — Breein Tyree. The senior guard does a little bit of everything for the Rebels, leading the team in points while grabbing about 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal and a half per game. Tyree runs a usage rate at least eight points higher than anyone on the team and a shot percentage at least 11 points higher. He’s not what you’d call a distributor, but he is solid with the ball and will take advantage of opportunities Missouri gives him. He’s adept at drawing fouls and shoots well from the line (78 percent), though he’s generally more dangerous from three (38 percent) than close in. You’ll see a lot of Tyree tonight. Get used to him.

That’s not to say the rest of the Rebels’ roster is a bunch of slouches, though. Devontae Shuler is a menace of a guard, averaging over three steals per 40 minutes while shooting 35 percent from deep and seemingly never fouling. Khadim Sy is the Rebels’ traditional big man and should present a challenging match up for Reed Nikko; he’s pretty good on the defensive glass and a decent free throw shooter, though you can neutralize him by getting him in foul trouble (over six fouls per 40.) KJ Buffen is the most dedicated rim attacker of the starting five and shoots well from two-point range, if not great from anywhere else. And one-time Mizzou recruit Blake Hinson is rounding out well in his sophomore season, averaging a cool 10 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 53. He’ll take a lot of threes, though he’s a little more efficient from inside.

The Rebels run quite a few men off their bench, if only because many of them can’t stay out of foul trouble. Junior Bryce Williams is a chaos agent on the floor, averaging around 5 fouls per 40 minutes and running a 32 percent turnover rate while shooting 50 percent from three and 82 percent from the line. Freshman Austin Crowley is a long, lanky guard who doesn’t contribute a lot in the way of the scoreboard, but he’s acquitted himself well to SEC defense and can hit a three if you leave him open. Fellow frosh Sammy Hunter can’t stay on the floor as often as Kermit Davis may like, though at 6’9” and 228 pounds, he’s a force to be reckoned with and match up problem down low. Antavion Collum and Franco Miller are two other freshmen who get mop up minutes and turn the ball over a lot when they’re on the floor.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Ole Miss 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 103.9 (146) 17.8 (218) 47.8 (254) 21.1 (300) 30.2 (97) 35.4 (104) 31.2 (278) 48.5 (206) 76.7 (25) 11.3 (327) 8.8 (145)
Mississippi 94.7 (60) 17.3 (136) 47 (71) 20.3 (97) 26.5 (108) 40.6 (317) 28.2 (7) 49.5 (184) 74.1 (325) 7.8 (217) 10.6 (70)
NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Missouri
Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith have been hot, hot, hot lately. They’ll need to keep it up against Ole Miss.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Play for the contact (and hit your open threes)

I apologize to Ryan Herrera, who took time out of his Saturday to write up this lovely sidebar on why fouling contests are no fun for anyone. But you want to know how Missouri wins tonight’s game? That’s right — make it a foul contest.

Mississippi is one of the country’s most foul-happy teams (not as much as Missouri, but still). In conference, they’re even worse, going from a 40.6 to 46.4 opponents FTA/FGA. If Missouri can get to the rim and put themselves on the foul line, they’ll put Ole Miss at the mercy of the Mizzou Arena crowd and establish a plodding pace early on. And while Kermit Davis’ team is one of the best in the country at defending the arc, it shouldn’t matter too much. If Missouri can knock down just a few open threes, that’ll be enough to buoy them against the Rebel offense.

When Ole Miss has the ball...

Ole Miss 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 103.5 (154) 17l7 (208) 48.9 (208) 18.5 (144) 26.2 (239) 35.8 (96) 32.9 (184) 48.6 (202) 72.2 (131) 10.1 (284) 9.1 (180)
Missouri 97.7 (99) 17.9 (274) 45.9 (41) 21.5 (49) 29.2 (237) 46.3 (344) 28.6 (10) 47.8 (118) 73.3 (298) 9.3 (138) 10.3 (81)
NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Mississippi
Breein Tyree has been the Rebels’ best player, averaging nearly 20 points a game.
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Make life hard (but not too hard) on Breein Tyree

Over the past few games, Missouri has found a winning formula against some of the SEC’s better competition — let the main guy get his (with difficulty) while preventing big games from everyone else. This worked like a charm against Arkansas, where Mason Jones finished with 17 points on a ghastly 3-14 from the field. It also worked against Auburn, who got big performances from Austin Wiley, Samir Doughty and J’Von McCormick, but no more than 7 from any of their other five players. Against LSU? Eh, not so much, but you could see how Missouri was trying to limit the Tigers’ role players.

Breein Tyree is Ole Miss’ big threat, which should be a nice test for Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson. There’s no guaranteeing he’ll have a night like Jones, but if the Tigers can force him to take all the tough shots, it could be a big ask for the Rebels’ supporting cast to clean up the leftovers.

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 67, Ole Miss 65 | Missouri has been playing some of its best basketball of the season, but that’s no guarantee of victory. Ole Miss is 3-1 in their last four, including a toughly-played five-point loss to Kentucky in Lexington over the weekend. The Rebels will test the Tigers, but Missouri has shown it can best good competition, especially if they get a crowd at their back.