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Hoops Preview: Alabama comes to town for the regular season finale

Missouri will close out their regular season with a good, but hobbled Tide. Can they pick up any momentum to take to Nashville?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Does anyone feel kind of... off when March rolls around these days?

About 10 years ago, March was sort of a flurry of sports activity, especially in Missouri. Baseball was kicking off, hockey season was nearing playoff time, spring football was starting. But none of it could compare to March Madness. It was around this time you’d start closely analyzing bracketologies, not only to see where Mizzou stood, but also to get a sense of who everyone is big on. You start scouting your sleepers, mocking up brackets. March used to be such an exciting time.

And now? Now March is just March.

Missouri fans seem destined for another quiet offseason with no postseason basketball whatsoever. This year’s Tigers made an inspiring push midway through the conference slate, but have settled back into mediocrity as next week’s SEC Tournament draws near. There’s still a chance Missouri doesn’t play on Wednesday, but it would require a little help from other teams.

And at this point, would it really be so bad to play the extra game? Sure, it’d be depressing as hell if the Tigers get knocked out before the tournament really starts, but at least they could pad their W-L record with another notch in the W column. Honestly, if the Tigers want to finish .500 or above, the play-in game is their only option. If they beat Alabama (more on that below!), they move to 15-16, and can grab that 16th win in Nashville on Wednesday. Then you just have to pull one upset, and you’re guaranteed at worst .500. After all, isn’t that what we were all hoping for at the beginning of the year?

The elements of a rebound are all there. A young returning core of players, good shooting, a recruiting class which fills out some holes, and buy-in. Like every team, Missouri still has a lot of questions to answer in getting there, but their advantage over some of the teams below them with similar questions is they’ve got better and more known depth.

Huh. Maybe not.

Anyway, Alabama is in town, so let’s talk about that!

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (14-16) Alabama (16-14)
Position Missouri (14-16) Alabama (16-14)
PG Xavier Pinson (So., 6'2", 170) James Bolden (Sr., 6'0", 160)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) John Shackelford (Fr., 6'3", 195)
WING Javon Pickett (So., 6'5", 220) Kira Lewis Jr. (So., 6'3", 165)
PF Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) Herbert Jones (Jr., 6'7", 205)
POST Reed Nikko (Sr., 6'10", 240) Alex Reese (Jr., 6'9", 245)

You can get a full Alabama roster breakdown from our last game preview.

The big difference between that game and this will be the potential absence of John Petty Jr. Petty injured his elbow in late February and has missed two games, including the Tide’s unceremonious home loss to Vanderbilt. Oats has said Petty will likely play on Saturday, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be back in full form, especially with an elbow injury potentially affecting his shooting. Petty torched the Tigers for 20 points last time around, so his absence would be a blow for the Bama offense.

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Alabama 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 (224) 47 (285) 20.7 (289) 30.9 (80) 35.4 (102) 29.8 (321) 48.6 (215) 77.9 (12) 10.7 (309) 8.8 (143)
Alabama 99.3 (114) 16.5 (20) 47.9 (106) 18 (228) 30.4 (286) 35.6 (253) 31.4 (78) 48.4 (138) 73.9 (317) 10.6 (85) 8.2 (239)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Can the Tigers ignite the home crowd early?

There is no rhyme or reason to Missouri’s offense other than their success at the free throw line. Dru Smith is prone to an explosion every now and then; Xavier Pinson seems to have become a 15-point minimum guy, but how efficient he is can’t be predicted; every once in a while someone will go off from deep.

The only sure thing the Tigers can count on Saturday is the likelihood of a good home crowd. Tiger fans have turned out for this team over the past two months, and the end of the regular season should be cause for another big showing. If the Tigers can get the Tiger faithful involved early, they should be able to set the tone for the game. That’s going to be extra helpful against the Tide, who play a much quicker game and could be prone to disruption otherwise.

When Alabama has the ball...

Alabama 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%
Alabama 111.7 (33) 15.2 (5) 52.6 (47) 19 (190) 30 (110) 36.4 (77) 35.4 (67) 52.1 (69) 69.4 (230) 12.4 (344) 10.3 (332)
Missouri 97.8 (85) 17.9 (273) 46.6 (57) 20.6 (71) 27.7 (159) 47.5 (346) 29.3 (17) 48.2 (129) 72.8 (279) 9.9 (109) 9.9 (112)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Will Tilmon’s presence help against Herbert Jones?

While he didn’t score the most points in their last match up, Herbert Jones dominated the Tigers down low to the tune of 11 points and 12 rebounds. He was especially effective at drawing fouls, hitting 7-8 from the line. Not for nothing, he also knocked down his two shots from the floor. Reed Nikko has been a steady presence in the absence of Jeremiah Tilmon, but Tilmon offers another dimension on defense. If he can help lock down Jones, Missouri will be in good shape to win the battle of the paint.

KenPom predicts...

Alabama 76, Missouri 75 | It’s understandable that KenPom still sees this as a Tide win, but there are a lot of factors in play. The Tigers are at home, they’ve got Jeremiah Tilmon coming up to speed and the Tide may be missing their deadliest shooter. A Missouri win is far from guaranteed, but it’s not hard to see the Tigers — who have been fighting like hell for the past few weeks — coming out and giving fans one last reason to cheer in what has been a trying season.