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Hoops Preview: Mississippi State is fighting for a Dance ticket, and Missouri could play spoiler

The Bulldogs seem tailor-made to disrupt the Tigers, but Missouri has been playing well at home.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Three games left in the regular season, y’all. We’re officially in the home stretch, and things are only getting more interesting for Missouri.

You all know the story by now: A moribund season, seemingly lost to the cellar of the SEC, transforms into a small, hopeful turnaround, salvaging some of the optimism of the preseason. The 2019-2020 season has been incredibly frustrating due to a failure to meet expectations and prolonged injuries to two of Missouri’s best players, but it’s all coming together. Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith are back, and the Tigers are fighting for their postseason lives — albeit with little hope of making it to the Big Dance.

That last bit could also be said for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. After a tough non-conference slate in which they lost two tough games at home, Ben Howland’s squad has been quite good in conference play. They’re currently fighting for a top four spot in the conference tournament, and need to pad their resume to secure a spot in the Field of 68.

They could easily do so in the last three games. A road win over Missouri isn’t exactly top-of-the-barrel stuff, but the Tigers’ play as of late (especially at home), could make a win in Columbia reputable. Traveling to South Carolina and knocking off the Gamecocks would be slightly more impressive. And a season-capper against rival Ole Miss, who embarrassed the Bulldogs in Oxford earlier this month, could provide a nice button with which to tie their regular season together.

When the Bulldogs and Tigers last met, it was a bit of a slog — only because the outcome was never really in doubt. Without Jeremiah Tilmon — and with Reed Nikko still getting his sea legs as a starter — the Bulldogs thrashed Mizzou on the back of a 23-10 double-double from Reggie Perry. Perry hasn’t slowed down and is in contention for SEC Player of the Year honors. If Mississippi State is to sweep the remainder of their schedule and make the NCAA Tournament, he’ll have to maintain that level of excellence.

Mizzou, now back to at least the veneer of full health, will try to play spoiler.

The Scout


Note: These starting lineups are projected.

To get a full preview of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, see our preview from January’s matchup.

As usual, a notable difference: Missouri should have Jeremiah Tilmon back in action, a benefit they did not enjoy on their visit to Starkville. And while Tilmon only played nine minutes against Vanderbilt, his presence makes a difference, especially against a team like the Bulldogs, who rely on their strong interior game. I’d expect Tilmon to get some extended run on Saturday in his first game at home since December 15.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. MSU 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 103.6 (146) 17.8 (220) 47.5 (265) 21.1 (300) 30.5 (96) 35.7 (94) 30.4 (301) 48.8 (201) 77.5 (15) 10.5 (297) 8.7 (135)
Mississippi State 99.6 (128) 17.2 (108) 48.7 (134) 17.4 (266) 28.1 (171) 31.9 (176) 32 (118) 49.1 (164) 73 (291) 14 (15) 8.4 (216)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Vanderbilt
Xavier Pinson has made his bones at the rim lately. Can he find similar success against the tall, athletic Bulldogs?
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Will Missouri be timid around the rim?

It’s no secret that the free throw line is where Missouri’s offense is most efficient, but Mississippi State’s roster is almost tailor-made to keep them away — Abdul Ado and Reggie Perry are always waiting inside, averaging 7 and 4.1 blocks per 40 minutes, respectively. However, that shouldn’t fluster the Tigers. The Bulldogs are about average when it comes to fouling on defense, and an aggressive attack should get the referees comfortable with their whistles. If the Tigers aren’t scared away from the rim by MSU’s twin towers, they should be able to maintain their rim-based approach.

When Mississippi State has the ball...

MSU 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 State 112.5 (20) 18.3 (274) 51.7 (75) 21 (299) 37.4 (3) 38.8 (40) 33.9 (145) 52.1 (70) 75.4 (45) 7.2 (43) 10.7 (321)
Missouri 96.9 (82) 17.9 (262) 46.1 (38) 21.1 (60) 28.2 (175) 47 (346) 29 (15) 47.7 (112) 72.9 (283) 9.9 (116) 9.9 (109)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Arkansas
Dru Smith and Kobe Brown have been adept at creating turnovers. They’ll need that against a loose Mississippi State team.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Fluster the Bulldogs by creating turnovers

Mississippi State is right on the edge of tournament contention, and they’ve gotten there by sporting one of the best offenses in the country. Going up and down their KenPom profile doesn’t reveal many weaknesses — with one notable exception. The Bulldogs are one of the country’s most turnover-prone teams and are especially susceptible to steals. If the Tigers can create some turnovers and fluster their ball handlers, the home court advantage could kick in and put the Bulldog offense in a rut.

KenPom predicts...

Mississippi State 69, Missouri 68 | It’s a coin-flip, y’all. KenPom gives Mississippi State a 52 percent chance at winning on the road, and the Bulldogs will be motivated to do so — they’re fighting hard for a spot in the Big Dance, and a loss to Missouri wouldn’t look great on their resume. But while Ben Howland’s team is a tough matchup for Missouri, the Tigers have the benefit of home sweet home. They haven’t lost in Mizzou Arena since January 21, and are playing confident basketball. With Mark Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon set to play greater minutes, it wouldn’t be that surprising to see the Tigers continue their streak of strong play.