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Hoops Preview: Is third time the charm for Mizzou against Texas A&M?

The Tigers and Aggies will (maybe) meet in an empty Bridgestone Arena to try and kickstart improbable March runs.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

So. Tonight’s going to be weird, huh?

The world of college basketball was plunged into chaos on Wednesday when the NCAA Tournament announced it will play games without fans... that is, if they end up playing games at all. Several conferences have cancelled their tournaments. Fred Hoiberg’s hospitalization with influenza caused a surge of panic as the Big 10 almost became the first Power 5 league to cancel. Even our very own Sam Snelling has doubts on whether tonight’s third match up between Missouri and Texas A&M will take place.

So there it is. I may be doing this in vain. But onward we press.

Thursday night begins Missouri’s final stand — one last chance to redeem a season that has become highly disappointing, if not so much as it might have seemed midseason. Missouri has played well over the past few weeks, well enough that there’s reason to hope for the future. Missouri stands to return most of its depth, including an upstart Xavier Pinson and an arguably All-SEC Dru Smith. The three-point shooting should regress to the mean, as it is likely not as good as it was in 2018-2019, but not as bad as it was this year. Missouri will have a team of upperclassmen next year, in what should be a make or break year for Cuonzo Martin.

But there’s still reason to think that in this wild year of NCAA basketball, there would be room for a late Missouri run. Why not, right? As Sam and Matt say on Dive Cuts: “Everyone is bad.” Missouri can beat Texas A&M, and it’s already beat Auburn. It was one late run away from beating LSU. And... well they probably can’t beat Kentucky, but who cares what the numbers say? The fun of March Madness is the unpredictability. And now that the games in Nashville (should they be played) will be empty, who knows what effect that will have on an already upended year?

Chaos reigns in 2020. We’re only four days away from Missouri winning the SEC Tournament and punching its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Of course, as soon as that happens, the NCAA will decide to go ahead and cancel this year.

Classic Mizzou, right?

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (15-16) Texas A&M (16-14)
Position Missouri (15-16) Texas A&M (16-14)
PG Xavier Pinson (So., 6'2", 170) Wendell Mitchell (Sr., 6'3", 183)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Andre Gordon (Fr., 6'2", 185)
WING Javon Pickett (So., 6'5", 220) Savion Flagg (Jr., 6'7", 223)
PF Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) Emanuel Miller (Fr., 6'7", 213)
POST Reed Nikko (Sr., 6'10", 240) Josh Nebo (Sr., 6'9", 245)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

You can find the full Texas A&M roster breakdown in our game preview from January 21.

One interesting note: Texas A&M and MIssouri are the only teams in the SEC to not have any roster member earn SEC honors. You could argue that certain players had arguments (Dru Smith for 2nd Team or All Defense, Josh Nebo for 2nd Team), but this will be a game full of players with chips on their shoulders.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Texas A&M 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 104.1 (150) 17.9 (225) 47 (287) 20.9 (302) 31.4 (67) 35.7 (91) 29.7 (326) 48.7 (204) 78 (11) 10.4 (299) 8.8 (147)
Texas A&M 97.2 (77) 18 (284) 49.2 (154) 22.4 (28) 31.8 (322) 26 (36) 32.7 (151) 49.2 (169) 75 (336) 10.4 (90) 9.7 (120)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi
Mark Smith is shooting 31 percent from 3 since his return, but found his stroke late against Arkansas. Could he boost the Tiger offense in Nashville?
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Back to basics: Can Missouri hit shots?

There are a few things you can point to that Missouri could take advantage of: they’re a better rebounding team, and need to create second-chances; they need to be hyper aggressive against a defense that doesn’t foul that often, while still avoiding turnovers.

However, Missouri offense during the 2019-2020 season has always been primarily about one thing: can the Tigers make shots? Missouri will end up as one of the country’s worst jump shooting teams, with only their elite free throw prowess as a saving grace. When Missouri makes shots, it tends to win — the defense is often good enough anyway. With Mark Smith finding his shot late against Arkansas and Jeremiah Tilmon rounding into form, Missouri should have plenty of offensive options to pair with the Xavier Pinson-Dru Smith show. Now they just have to take advantage of those opportunities when they come.

When Texas A&M has the ball...

Texas A&M 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%
Texas A&M 101 (203) 18.9 (320) 46.4 (311) 21.3 (316) 31.3 (69) 41.1 (14) 29.4 (331) 48 (237) 67.8 (274) 12.6 (346) 10.1 (293)
Missouri 96.7 (71) 17.9 (273) 46.3 (39) 20.9 (59) 27.7 (160) 47.8 (346) 28.8 (12) 48.2 (134) 72.7 (274) 10 (106) 10 (99)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi
Missouri has seen its defense improve since the return of Jeremiah Tilmon. Can he crack down on A&M’s star big man?
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Jeremiah Tilmon vs. Josh Nebo

In both of Missouri’s games against Texas A&M, Josh Nebo has owned the Tigers down low. In the first, he tallied 14 points and 5 boards while going 5-6 from the field. He was less efficient in the second matchup, but still posted 18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. However, the return of Jeremiah Tilmon, a big who can athletically match up with Nebo, should be a boon for the Tiger defense. With their only regular over 6’7” hamstrung by Missouri’s best defender, the Aggie offense could look a lot less dangerous... that is, if Tilmon can live up to the assignment.

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 63, Texas A&M 61 | Pardon the hyperbole, but this may be the strangest game Missouri has played this year and the hardest to predict. There’s no precedent to what the Tigers and Aggies are facing heading into Thursday night’s game. Missouri has lost twice to the Aggies, a seemingly less efficient team by KenPom, but has never been fully healthy. Meanwhile, the near-empty stadium will be a strange adjustment for both teams. KenPom still gives Missouri the slight edge, and that may be the case given Jeremiah Tilmon’s strong return. But there’s really no telling what will go down in Nashville.