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Hoops Preview: Vanderbilt, like Missouri, enters the home stretch short-handed

The Commodores have struggled after the loss of Aaron Nesmith, and find themselves in the basement of the SEC.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

We’re down to the last four games of the season, and Missouri is playing... kind of better, kind of the same?

Sam summarized it really well (and with lots of data!) in this piece yesterday that I’d highly recommend everyone read. The last two weeks have given Missouri fans some hope about the future, but haven’t done much to blunt the disappointment of this season.

Still, the Tigers’ small surge has put them on the right side of the SEC Tournament play-in game bubble, and the schedule could favor them. After tonight’s trip to Vanderbilt, Missouri gets its two hardest match ups for the rest of the season (Mississippi State and Alabama) in Columbia, finishing off their road schedule with a trip to Ole Miss. It’s probably asking too much for the Tigers to sweep that slate, but you don’t have to squint too hard to see a 3-1 stretch and final record of 16-15. That likely puts them in decent position to make the NIT (especially if they can notch a win in the SEC Tournament), giving them further room to develop into the offseason.

Vanderbilt, on the other hand...

Look, no offense to my Commodore brethren (except for your weird court, full offense for that), but I just don’t know what to say about them at this point. They’re not good. Missouri is not good. We’re not good together.

There’s a sense of camaraderie Tigers and ‘Dores fans have to be feeling over the past few years, especially as Vandy seeks to rebuild under Jerry Stackhouse. It’s tough to sit through seasons like Missouri is currently having, and Tiger fans can certainly sympathize with the sort of seasons that the Commodores currently find themselves in.

But competition is competition, and these two struggling squads will meet in Nashville for the first and only time this season (barring any strange luck in the conference tournament). The rest of the college basketball world will no doubt turn its back, but we can take comfort in knowing that we’ll all be here together, hoping for a brighter day and trying to find reasons to be optimistic in the meantime.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (13-14) Vanderbilt (9-18)
Position Missouri (13-14) Vanderbilt (9-18)
PG Xavier Pinson (So., 6'2", 170) Saben Lee (Jr., 6'2", 183)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Maxwell Evans (Jr., 6'2", 190)
WING Javon Pickett (So., 6'5", 220) Scotty Pippen Jr. (Fr., 6'1", 170)
PF Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) Dylan Disu (Fr., 6'9", 220)
POST Reed Nikko (Sr., 6'10", 240) Ejike Obinna (So., 6'10", 243)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Vanderbilt has been walking with a limp all season after the loss of sharpshooter Aaron Nesmith, but they’ll come into Wednesday night’s matchup even more strapped for minutes than usual. Bench forward Matthew Moyer is still recovering from a shoulder injury last week, and the ‘Dores will be down to seven “significant” contributors against Missouri.

Guards Saben Lee and Scotty Pippen, Jr. get most of the run for the Commodores. The two should provide a challenge for the foul-prone Missouri back court — both draw nearly 6 fouls per 40 minutes, run free throw rates above 50 percent, and are reliable (if not excellent) shooters from the line. Lee relies on a more possession heavy, rim-based game, while Pippen prefers to launch from deep, where he shoots 35.4 percent. Both are decent playmakers as well, and it’ll be pivotal for Mizzou’s big guards to crack down on their ability to get the offense moving.

Evans is the Commodore’s third starting guard and doesn’t get as much attention, though he’s actually an above-average offensive player. He doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, but is incredibly sound with the ball (only a 10.8 turnover rate) and is respectable enough from deep (33.6 percent) that you have to keep an eye on him.

Disu and Obinna won’t be the most intimidating front court Missouri has faced this season, but they present challenges of their own. Both are strong rebounders, especially Obinna. Disu is the more dynamic of the two, averaging almost four blocks and two-and-a-half steals per 40. He’s a willing but not great three-point shooter and isn’t a great shooter from anywhere on the floor. Obinna is fairly good from close-in (55.4 percent), but is mostly just a big body down low for dump-offs and put backs. Both are prone to foul trouble, so Missouri should stay aggressive at the rim to test the Commodores’ depth.

Freshman Jordan Wright will likely be the first one off the bench, and he can cause some issues. He’s a pesky defender and has a nose for getting to the rim and drawing fouls. He’s a 75 percent free throw shooter and is average from two-point range. Like all freshmen, he’s a bit turnover prone, but he’s a big body (6’5”, 226 pounds) that could create some mismatch issues if the Commodores choose to play small. Fellow frosh Braelee Albert is actually similar in size (6’5”, 220 pounds), but fouls too much and turns the ball over too often to be considered a reliable contributor. The rest of Vanderbilt’s bench — consisting of Oton Jankovic, Isaiah Rice and Jon Jossell — haven’t received enough reps to really get a read on as possible options off the bench.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Vanderbilt 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 104.5 (132) 17.8 (218) 47.6 (260) 20.9 (295) 30.7 (87) 35.9 (93) 30.6 (294) 48.7 (201) 77.3 (19) 10.6 (309) 8.8 (144)
Vanderbilt 104.2 (229) 16.4 (15) 52.6 (303) 19.8 (115) 29.1 (235) 37.3 (277) 35.7 (294) 52.2 (278) 73.1 (289) 9.1 (147) 10.2 (86)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Arkansas
Kobe Brown hauled in double-digit rebounds against Arkansas last week. Another strong performance on the boards could give the Tigers an edge in Nashville.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Can Missouri create second chances?

We’ve known all season long that Missouri isn’t exactly an efficient team on the offensive end. But here’s some insight for you — neither is Vanderbilt! Missouri is pretty good at a few things, while Vanderbilt isn’t notably great or horrible at anything. Things could get ugly if neither team (or just one) is feeling it on Wednesday night.

The way Missouri capitalizes is simple — create second chances. The Tigers have slowly faded in terms of their rebounding strength, but they’re usually able to take advantage of teams who struggle on the boards (see: Arkansas). Vandy ranks 235th in KenPom’s defensive rebounding metric, so Missouri should have a distinct advantage on the boards. In a battle of two inefficient teams, being the one with more opportunities could be the biggest difference-maker.

When Vanderbilt has the ball...

Vanderbilt 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%
Vanderbilt 104.2 (138) 18.1 (249) 50.6 (128) 18.2 (125) 25.2 (272) 40.2 (26) 33.5 (161) 50.8 (115) 69.3 (234) 12.2 (345) 8 (70)
Missouri 98.3 (107) 17.9 (265) 46.3 (49) 21.2 (56) 28.9 (222) 46.4 (346) 29.4 (18) 47.7 (114) 73.7 (315) 9.6 (127) 10.1 (90)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Arkansas
Despite his strong recent play, Xavier Pinson still fouls 4 times per 40 minutes. Can he stay aggressive without going overboard against Vanderbilt?
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Try not to foul so much

This may be a lost cause before I start typing, but the best way the Commodores keep themselves in games is their ability to get to the line — they rank 20th in the nation in free throw to field goal attempts. They’re not a particularly strong team from the line (69.3 percent), but the Tigers send their opponents there just enough to give anyone a chance to stay in the game. If the Tigers want to steadily build a lead without giving Vanderbilt a lane, they’d be wise to challenge the ‘Dores to make shots that aren’t from the charity stripe.

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 71, Vanderbilt 70 | If the Tigers are going to pick up a road win at some point in conference play, this would be the one that makes the most sense. We’ve seen that the Tigers are capable of playing well on the road (in the near-win over LSU), and they’ve actually got something to play for in staying above the play-in-game line. But Vanderbilt will be motivated too — after breaking their crazy conference winless streak early this month, they’ve lost five in a row. They’re likely looking at tonight as their best opportunity for the rest of the season.