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Mizzou Hoops Preview: Texas A&M

Mizzou returns home to face an upstart Texas A&M squad intent on crashing the SEC’s upper tier.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Texas A&M Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like “whiplash” doesn’t begin to cover the past week of Missouri basketball.

Facing long odds against a talented Alabama team, Missouri managed without two of its lead guards and rode a career performance from Kobe Brown to claim their first Quadrant 1 win of the year. It was a revelatory experience, one that forced us to ask: Is this team finally figuring themselves out?

The answer, unfortunately, was just as decisive. Riding the momentum from that victory, Missouri traveled to Arkansas just three days later and was routed by the Razorbacks, a team with plenty of talent but a much lower ceiling. It wasn’t just the fact that Missouri lost by its biggest margin of the season — a true feat when already sporting losses of 35+ points! It was, to put it frankly, the manner of incompetence Missouri showed. Twenty-three turnovers. A 29 shooting percentage from the floor. A total of three points in the first 10 minutes. It was a total erasure of any holdover goodwill from the weekend.

That’s been one of the chief problems with this Missouri team, aside from the litany of issues facing them in the box score. The Tigers started poorly with a loss to UMKC and haven’t been able to generate any sort of meaningful momentum since. A hard-fought comeback win over SMU in November was followed by two dispiriting losses to Florida State and Wichita State. A victory over Utah was succeeded by two mercy killings at the hands of Illinois and Kentucky.

In a way, the Alabama loss is now tinted with a hint of acidity — how can a team capable of taking down Alabama also look this bad this often?

The one thing we’ve never been able to doubt about Cuonzo Martin’s teams at Missouri is their will. From Jordan Geist to Dru Smith, Martin’s tenure has been defined by scrappy teams who make up for talent margins with unpasteurized grit. That’s not to say this team doesn’t have any of that — after all, Kobe Brown’s breakout junior season is a living testament to those characteristics. But how are Missouri fans supposed to feel when even grit can’t save a Missouri team five years into a program rebuild?

We’ve long held at Rock M that if Cuonzo Martin wants to save his job in Columbia, he has to commit to a youth movement and achieve an increased sense of competitiveness. The first objective is an easy win — just play the young guys and see what happens. The second, while more ambiguous in nature, doesn’t seem impossible given what his teams have produced in the past. But we’re halfway through the 2021-2022 season, and it hasn’t been achieved.

Is a bounceback impossible? Of course not; the Tigers have already proven they can hang with the league’s best on a good day. But just how far away are we from those good days becoming more than an abnormality? It feels like Martin is running out of time to show us.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (7-8) Texas A&M (14-2)
Position Missouri (7-8) Texas A&M (14-2)
PG Jarron Coleman (Jr., 6'5", 210) Marcus Williams (So., 6'2", 197)
CG Javon Pickett (Sr., 6'5", 215) Andre Gordon (Jr., 6'2", 186)
WING DaJuan Gordon (Jr., 6'3", 190) Tyrece Radford (Jr., 6'2", 200)
PF Kobe Brown (Jr., 6'8", 250) Ethan Henderson (Sr., 6'8", 193)
POST Trevon Brazile (Fr., 6'9", 215) Henry Coleman (So., 6'8", 243)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Players to Watch

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Texas A&M Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Buzz Williams heavily rotates this year’s roster, with only a few players getting minutes well over 50 percent. Junior Tyrece Radford is the leading man, bringing a hard-charging style to the Aggies’ backcourt. He’s a good offensive rebounder for his size and thrives within the arc and on defense. His partner Marcus Williams is more of a creator and a prototypical pest in a Williams defense. He’s also a much better shooter from the outside, if not overall.

Despite getting fewer minutes than both, Andre Gordon is maybe the team’s most dangerous offensive weapon, stroking 50 percent from three and adding a team high steal rate of 4 per 40 minutes. Quenton Jackson is a bigger version of Gordon with only slightly worse percentages in both areas — 41.2 percent from three with 3.4 steals per 40. Henry Coleman is the only front court member who gets more than 50 percent of minutes available, but he’s highly effective despite his lack of vertical size. He’s shooting over 65 percent from the field with (shocker) a high steal rate and the best rebounding numbers of the regular contributors.

Role Players

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

As previously mentioned, this is a heavily rotated squad with six players get significant minutes off the bench. Ethan Henderson gets a fair number of starts in the front court, where he provides Williams with some rim protection, rebounding help and dependable secondary scoring (62.5 percent from the field). Aaron Cash, the team’s best pure rebounder, can assist down low as well, but fouls and a lack of shooting touch prevent him from truly breaking into the rotation. Hassan Diara provides Williams with stable back court depth, though he’s still developing his jump shot and as a creator.

From there, Williams can turn to a trio of freshman that are getting valuable minutes on this veteran (but not senior) heavy team. Wade Taylor leads the way and has flashed enormous potential as a distributor (35.5 percent assist rate) and jump shooter (41.7 percent from three). His turnovers and fouls are holding him back slightly, but he’s a valuable piece already. Manny Obaseki hasn’t shown much outside of a respectable jump shot thus far, but Williams can hide his minutes at the wing with so much guard depth. Seven-footer Javonte Brown is having predictable struggles with the speed of the college game, but is a handy shot blocker in a pinch, especially if you have a few fouls to give.

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 102.4 (203) 17 (137) 44.1 (333) 21.2 (300) 32.6 (57) 31 (145) 24.4 (354) 48 (240) 74 (83) 8.3 (125) 9.9 (240)
Texas A&M 96.7 (51) 17.7 (258) 46.6 (57) 25.5 (11) 31.7 (292) 28.8 (160) 30.7 (72) 46.9 (72) 74.2 (297) 11.5 (74) 14.5 (4)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Same as ever — get rebounds and make bunnies

I should just get this out of the way for the rest of the season, or however long this continues to be applicable: there are no easy answers when it comes to this Missouri offense. By KenPom, they don’t do anything particularly well aside from offensive rebounding, and even that has taken a downturn. And until they prove they can regress even slightly to the median in their shooting, the only way to dig themselves out is to hit the offensive glass hard. The formula is simple — rebound, make put-backs, repeat — and there’s no point in writing anything differently until they consistently prove otherwise.

Will I copy and paste this section of the preview every time until something changes? Check back next Wednesday to find out!*

*I abandoned this bit for the Arkansas preview, but we’re right back here not a week later, so I’m going to re-up.

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 109.1 (79) 17 (135) 53.7 (43) 19 (179) 33.1 (49) 33.7 (77) 38.2 (18) 51.8 (110) 63.3 (347) 9.5 (203) 9.9 (235)
Missouri 103 (156) 17.6 (226) 53.6 (310) 18.5 (194) 27.4 (141) 32.5 (241) 37.1 (317) 52.4 (272) 67.3 (56) 11.5 (75) 9.3 (172)
NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Texas A&M Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Play physical and make the Aggies hit their free throws

Playing physical shouldn’t be too much of an issue for any Cuonzo Martin team, but there may be a real advantage to it against the Aggies, who are one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country. The Tigers can’t be afraid to body the Aggies and prevent easy looks, especially on the perimeter where the Aggies shoot well. At best, they throw Texas A&M off their rhythm and get some friendly non-calls within the confines of Mizzou Arena. At worst, they put the Aggies on the line more than they’d like and bank on them not dramatically improving from an area where they’ve struggled.

KenPom predicts...

Texas A&M 72, Missouri 66 | The Aggies are playing with a lot of swagger due to their 14-2 start, but they’re softer than they appear — they struggled to put Georgia away in Athens despite the Bulldogs being outside the KenPom top 200. Missouri knows it can dispatch much better teams on their home court, so playing with confidence (despite the disastrous trip to Fayetteville) shouldn’t be an issue. What will be an issue, however, is the continued lack of any real scoring threat. Unless the Tigers find the juice they did last weekend against Bama, they’ll find it difficult to find meaningful opportunities against a stingy, aggressive A&M defense.