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Mizzou Hoops Preview: Alabama

Mizzou returns to action against the Crimson Tide, who are off to a good start in their SEC title defense.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

And we’re back.

It feels like exactly one eternity since the Mizzou men’s basketball team played a game, doesn’t it? Part of that stems from the fact that the Tigers’ most recent contest was rescheduled due to COVID cases within the program, but it’s been an incredibly sparse schedule for much of the last month. Missouri has played precisely four games in the past four weeks, averaging one per week. I’m sure it also doesn’t help that the aggregate point differential of those games stands at -81 for Cuonzo Martin’s team.

But with Cuonzo Martin back in the fold and three players out due to COVID protocols, Missouri will return to the hardwood on Saturday for its fourth game in five match ups against a top 20 KenPom team. Did I mention that Missouri currently ranks 160th? Bleak times, to be sure.

Despite the fact that things were trending upward into Cuonzo Martin’s fourth year as head coach, year five has been a crushing return to the depths of even Kim Anderson’s worst seasons. Missouri’s KenPom ranking is worse than two of Anderson’s three seasons, only sitting above the 2014-2015 campaign in which Missouri lost 13 consecutive games. Missouri’s offense ranks 209th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency rankings, while the defense sits 129th. They’re projected to finish 10-20, but also aren’t favored in any game until the season finale against Georgia, the only team worse than Missouri in the SEC (and shockingly enough, they’re quite a bit worse.)

Why am I telling you all this? Honestly, I’m not so sure myself. There’s only so many ways to write about a team like this (as you’ll see below), and a majority of fans seem to have checked out long ago. But for those of us who are hanging in — by contract or by sheer force of will — it’s good to be reminded of the “stakes.” There’s not much of anything left to play for but pride at this point, assuming that there isn’t some miraculous turnaround in the cards. You’ll be saving yourself on future medical bills by not letting your blood pressure get too revved up in this game or the games that follow.

Not that we want that to be the baseline moving forward; of course, we want to get way too invested. But everything we’ve seen tells us that we’re rapidly approaching decision day for Desiree Reed-Francois. Until then, just try to breathe deeply and hope that the future of Mizzou basketball is brighter. Then again, how could it not be?

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (6-7) Alabama (11-3)
Position Missouri (6-7) Alabama (11-3)
PG Anton Brookshire (Fr., 6'1", 175) Jahvon Quinerly (Jr., 6'1", 175)
CG Javon Pickett (Sr., 6'5", 215) Jaden Shackelford (Jr., 6'3", 200)
WING DaJuan Gordon (Jr., 6'3", 190) Keon Ellis (Sr., 6'6", 175)
PF Kobe Brown (Jr., 6'8", 250) Juwan Gary (So., 6'6", 218)
POST Trevon Brazile (Fr., 6'9", 215) Charles Bediako (Fr., 7'0", 225)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Players To Watch

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

Missouri fans should be familiar with most of Alabama’s main contributors, as they’ve almost all been carryovers from last year’s SEC regular season championship team. Keon Ellis is the engine from the wing, combining strong defense and quietly exceptional shooting. He’s playing for All SEC accolades as a senior. Jaden Shackelford leads the team in minutes played and acts as the team’s primary (and best) shooter from deep. He’s also a quietly strong rebounder as a guard.

Jahvon Quinerly is about as much of a point guard as the Tide have outside of JD Davison (more on him in a minute), and he’s been a good play driver thus far. He’s not an exceptional shooter but is well above-average within the perimeter. Juwan Gary gets a lot of starts despite playing more reserve minutes, and he’s been a luxury for Oats in that role. He’s the team’s best rebounder and is incredibly efficient shooting from the floor... about as much as Ellis. Charles Bediako towers over the rest of his teammates at seven-feet-tall (four inches over the next closest player), and he’s adapting well as a freshman, boasting a 121.5 offensive rating that’s boosted by his team-best 64.8 true shooting percentage. He’s also a terror in the paint, boasting a block rate that ranks 35th in the country.

Role Players

NCAA Basketball: Jacksonville State at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Oats has heavily tightened up his rotation, with only three reserve players getting meaningful minutes. Leading the way is blue-chip freshman JD Davison, who gets more minutes than either Gary or Bediako off the bench. Davison has proven an asset on both ends of the floor, combining dynamic playmaking and two-point shooting with surprisingly sound defense for such a young player. He’s a turnover risk, but Oats will live with them as long as he continues producing efficiently.

Senior Noah Gurley and sophomore Darius Miles both provide Oats offensive-minded depth (and foul risks) at the wing and forward positions. Gurley is the more traditional big, shooting 64.6 percent from two, while Miles operates in more of a combo role with a 34.2 jumper from long range. Both are aggressive around the rim, with respective block rates of 3.7 and 3.8 percent.

Sophomore Keon Ambrose-Hylton gets spot minutes here and there, but fouls far too much to get any extended run.

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 100.9 (209) 16.8 (108) 43.9 (331) 20.8 (277) 32.7 (65) 30.1 (172) 23.8 (357) 48 (240) 72.3 (131) 7.0 (49) 9.3 (167)
Alabama 94.2 (40) 17.3 (166) 48.2 (113) 17.8 (244) 29.3 (211) 31.1 (213) 29.9 (56) 50.4 (212) 65.7 (31) 12.9 (52) 9.7 (152)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Jordan Prather-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 prove otherwise.

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

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 116.6 (9) 15.5 (19) 53.8 (45) 18.7 (163) 35.6 (20) 29.4 (187) 32.5 (215) 58.3 (6) 68.7 (232) 9.5 (206) 9.7 (211)
Missouri 100.6 (129) 18 (294) 53.4 (303) 19.9 (125) 26.9 (128) 32.6 (243) 38.1 (330) 50.9 (230) 66.5 (39) 12 (66) 9.8 (149)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Will Missouri’s length disrupt the Tide?

Despite ranking 30th in three-point jumpers per field goal attempt, Alabama’s offense thrives nearer to the rim — they rank sixth in the country in two-point percentage. However’ they’re a bit susceptible to blocks, something Missouri still does well despite an overall downturn in defensive metrics. If Missouri can’t manage to slow Alabama down at all, they’ll need to force some havoc around the rim.

KenPom predicts...

Alabama 81, Missouri 68 | Saturday concludes a three-game stretch of playing KenPom top 20 teams, and it hasn’t been a kind run of games for this struggling Tiger team. That they get this one at home may help in the slightest, but even that advantage could be nullified by (a) the COVID break and (b) the potential of missing players. Missouri will need a minor miracle to avoid dropping their third straight game against a team that has SEC title ambitions.