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Mizzou Hoops Preview: Tennessee

Tennessee brings its elite defense to Columbia while Missouri continues to sort out its offensive struggles.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

That was not a fun weekend!

Mizzou Hoops saw a massive opportunity come and go over the past several days, letting Mississippi State pass them by twice in a row without securing at least one win. That’s not to say Mississippi State is a bad team, by any means. If you doubt our stance on them, check out the double preview we did. Still though, Missouri has shown enough this season to at least get one of those two — hell, they almost did it the second time around!

But alas. Here we are, headed into the final two weeks of the season with a sub-.500 record all but guaranteed. Things could get even grislier this week, with the Tigers set to face two top 20 KenPom teams.

Missouri starts with Tennessee on Tuesday night, and the Volunteers are all but assured another trip to the NCAA under Rick Barnes. Currently ranked 17th in the country, the Vols have likely exceeded expectations this year, depending on who you ask. They’re a veteran-heavy team without many proven stars, but they embody the spirit of their coach well, with an elite defense anchoring a slightly worse, if above average, offense.

If you couldn’t guess, those two things don’t quite describe the Tigers at this point. The Tigers have struggled to find more wins after reaching number 10 against Ole Miss, and they’re quickly running out of time to stack some more before the SEC Tournament. They’ve proven their ability to topple better teams (see, Alabama) and Tennessee would certainly fit that mold. A win over the Volunteers would certainly prove a nice feather in the Tigers’ cap as they look to close a disappointing season strong.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (10-17) Tennessee (19-7)
Position Missouri (10-17) Tennessee (19-7)
PG Jarron Coleman (Jr., 6'5", 210) Kennedy Chandler (Fr., 6'0", 171)
CG Javon Pickett (Sr., 6'5", 215) Santiego Vescovi (Jr., 6'3", 191)
WING DaJuan Gordon (Jr., 6'3", 190) Josiah-Jordan James (Jr., 6'6", 214)
PF Kobe Brown (Jr., 6'8", 250) John Fulkerson (Sr., 6'9", 219)
POST Trevon Brazile (Fr., 6'9", 215) Uros Plavsic (Jr., 7'0", 251)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Players to Watch

Syndication: The Courier-Journal Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Many of Tennessee’s key contributors should be familiar to Mizzou fans. Chief among them is elder statesman John Fulkerson, an old fashioned big in a modern-day combo forward’s body. He’s an exceptional rebounder and interior defender and a good enough scorer inside to be dangerous. Josiah-Jordan James mans the wing, but is having somewhat of a down year compared to his two underclassman seasons. He’s still an electric athlete and defender, but his offensive numbers have dipped. Point guard Santiago Vescovi is quietly having the best season of his career, with all of his numbers increasing steadily enough to boost his offensive rating from a 105.6 to a 116.4 in just one year’s time.

Outside of that trio, though, the other two players with more than 50 percent of minutes played are both freshman. One is obvious: Kennedy Chandler, the five-star prospect, has been a great add for Rick Barnes. He’s an exceptional passer and defender for his age, with a developing jump shot that is still respectable. Three-star Zakai Zeigler is a little less obvious, but contributes arguably at a higher level. He ranks third nationally in steals per 40 minutes (5.3) and pairs with Vescovi for a pretty dangerous three-point shooting duo out of the back court.

Role Players

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

Barnes’ bench is a little less deep in the absence of Olivier Nkamhoua, who forced some other players into a higher minutes percentage. Justin Powell may be the biggest beneficiary. He doesn’t bring the thump that Olivier does, but he’s a better outside shooter. Uros Plavsic and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield have also benefitted from the vacuum in the front court. The former fouls too much but is a quietly solid big man, while the latter brings some exciting defensive ability with a developing offensive game. Victor Bailey does spot duty for the guards on Tennessee’s roster, but he doesn’t provide as much production at any area of the court.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Tennessee 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 103.8 (165) 18.1 (252) 46.9 (299) 21.1 (321) 31.3 (77) 28.6 (230) 27.9 (353) 49.4 (193) 73 (131) 9.2 (204) 10.7 (306)
Tennessee 87.4 (4) 17.3 (133) 47.4 (69) 24.2 (11) 27.3 (128) 30.9 (202) 32.6 (128) 46.4 (46) 69.6 (86) 13.8 (22) 13.9 (4)
NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Can Missouri value the ball?

Missouri’s offensive struggles have reared their head at full force, just in time to face maybe the best defense they’ll see all season. Tennessee does everything pretty well on the defensive end (aside from fouling too much), but they’re exceptional at creating turnovers — they boast the 4th and 11th highest steal and turnover rates, respectively. For a team without a true ball-handler, this is a huge ask. But if the Tigers can somehow avoid being loose with the ball, they should be able to get to the weaker points of the Volunteer defense (the three-point line, in particular) and do some damage.

When Tennessee has the ball...

Tennessee 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%
Tennessee 111.6 (39) 17.3 (143) 50.2 (173) 17.8 (125) 32.8 (42) 28.2 (243) 34.2 (145) 49.5 (189) 70.9 (201) 7.6 (66) 9.6 (202)
Missouri 101.3 (133) 17.7 (218) 50.8 (221) 18.4 (183) 31.2 (297) 34.8 (292) 35.3 (269) 49.5 (177) 68.9 (61) 11.5 (67) 9.9 (122)
Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

What to Watch | Can Tennessee value the ball?

Tennessee’s offense is bolstered by some strong individual performers and good offensive rebounding, but they’re much thinner on this end. They’re not quite as aggressive at the rim as they could be considering their size, and they don’t value the ball all that well. It’s the latter thing that Missouri could take advantage of, scoring in transition to offset some of the struggles they’re sure to have against Tennessee’s defense. And if the Volunteers can’t get their three-pointers to fall, it could be an especially ugly night in Columbia.

KenPom predicts...

Tennessee 71, Missouri 60 | With KenPom giving them a 16 percent change to win, this is about where Missouri found themselves when facing Alabama earlier this year... and the circumstances are about the same too. After an encouraging few weeks, Missouri has backed itself into a corner once again, staring down only one game in which they’re favored the rest of the way (the home finale against Georgia.) To have anything short of a flaming seat going into the offseason, Cuonzo Martin needs to coax a win out of this group somewhere in the next three games. Tennessee may be the best team Mizzou has yet to face, but a win would go the farthest to securing Martin another year on the bench.