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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Missouri

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The Crimson Tide host Missouri's Tigers after a big road win

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

With the overtime victory against the Mississippi State Bulldogs this past Tuesday, the Crimson Tide avoided a situation where Saturday's tilt against the Missouri Tigers (8-14, 1-8 SEC) would be a battle for last place in the conference standings. Retin Obasohan and company deserve some recognition for that win, because they had to overcome some real adversity. Not only were the Tide playing without Shannon Hale, but this young team had to answer a late Bulldog rally to come out on top. That's tough to do on the road, especially in the SEC, the conference with the country's highest home winning percentage in league play. This team has great character, and they don't wilt in the face of pressure, which is refreshing to see (though it wouldn't kill Retin to not launch himself at the basket in every game-winning situation).

Moving on, Missouri as a program is not in good shape. After bottoming out last season, things haven't improved at all in Kim Anderson's second year. To add insult to injury, the basketball program also just got hit with NCAA sanctions from the Frank Haith era. When the SEC expanded in 2012, the prevailing thought was that Mizzou would be one of the better basketball programs in the conference. But they could possibly end this season with one of the worst two year stretches ever witnessed in the SEC. Obviously, this is a game Alabama has to win. A loss at home to this team would be rough.

The Roster

Starting Line-Up

  • PG 5'11 Terrence Phillips (8.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.5 SPG)
  • OG 6'0 Wes Clark (10.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.9 SPG)
  • WF 6'5 Namon Wright (8.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.4 APG)
  • PF 6'7 Kevin Puryear (10.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG)
  • C 6'10 Ryan Rosburg (4.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG)
It's been a rough couple of seasons for Missouri under Anderson, but the one good bit of news is that this team is extremely young. They have literally one senior on the roster (thanks Haith!). That lone senior is big man Rosburg, who has been in Columbia for nearly two decades now. His experience and length are pivotal for a team that's sorely lacking both attributes, but that's about all he brings to the table. His scoring is limited to put-backs and easy looks around the rim, and his defense (104.8 DRtg) and rebounding (10.7% RB%) are pretty mediocre for someone with his size. He is also shooting a nearly Jimmie Taylor-esque 43.3% from the line.

Joining Rosburg in the front-court is newcomer Puryear and sophomore Wright. Puryear's relatively quick development has helped Mizzou out, but he's still not a great defender (106.5 DRtg) or rebounder (10.1%) himself. That will come with time, as will his scoring numbers (47.7% FG%, 19.0% 3P%). He does shoot 81.2% from the free throw line, and his size/speed combo has been a nice boost to their transition game. Wright has decent size, but his offensive game has been, well, bad. The third-leading scorer on the team is shooting 32.9% from the field, 28.0% from beyond the arc, and 75.9% from the line. He also has more turnovers than assists this season. Again, this is their third-leading scorer.

The one area of Missouri's team that could be defined as a strength is in the back-court, where another freshman, Phillips, has come along nicely to complement the leader of the team, Clark. Phillips' shooting has been solid (40.9% FG%, 35.9% 3P%, 77.1% FT%), he leads the team in APG and SPG, and has progressively gotten better at handling the ball and leading the offense. His size, however, prevents him from doing much on the glass or on the defensive end. Clark is the key to this Missouri team. If Mizzou is in the game, chances are it's because Clark is putting in work. He's the best shooter on the team (39.0% FG%, 39.0% 3P%, 82.5% FT%), though he also falls short in the rebounding (6.3%) and defending (105.9 DRtg) department.

The Bench
  • G 6'0 Tramaine Isabell (5.3 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.9 SPG)
  • G 6'3 K.J. Walton (5.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.8 APG)
  • G 6'4 Cullen VanLeer (4.0 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.8 APG)
  • F 6'7 D'Angelo Allen (2.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG)
  • F 6'8 Russell Woods (3.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG) - suspended
  • F 6'8 Jakeenan Gant (4.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.1 BPG) - suspended
Missouri has one of the deeper rotations Alabama has faced this year, as far as pure numbers are concerned. They are all freshmen and sophomores, with the exception of the junior post, Woods. Isabell, Walton, and VanLeer are all capable back-ups, but none of them do a ton for Missouri. Isabell is the best overall, but Walton has the best scoring numbers (43.4% FG%). They can each shoot free throws reasonably well (Isabell: 72.2%, Walton: 73.3%, VanLeer: 66.7%), but Walton (106.8 DRtg) and VanLeer (109.4) are bad defenders. None of them are stellar on the glass either.

Allen is arguably Missouri's best on-ball defender (102.6 DRtg) because of his size and athleticism. Gant has the most potential of anyone on the bench, as he's a 40.2% scorer with a 72.7% FT% and a team best 99.7 defensive rating. He's also the best at grabbing rebounds, coming in at a solid 13.0% RB%, just 0.1% higher than Allen's. Anderson should consider giving these two guys more action than they get, as Allen and Gant are currently only averaging 9.2 and 15.1 MPG, respectively.

[UPDATE: has suspended Jakeenan Gant and Russell Woods for Saturday's game at Alabama after their arrests on Thursday.]

What To Watch For

  • Injuries. As of this writing, there hasn't been much of an update on Michael Kessens or Shannon Hale's availability for the game Saturday. Hale missed the game on Tuesday with a foot injury, while Kessens went down on a buckled knee late in the game versus the Bulldogs. The absence of the two could spell trouble for Alabama, as they are usually the guys manning the four spot on the floor. Without both, the Tide will have to either go small or have both Jimmie Taylor and Donta Hall, two guys who are both offensive liabilities, on the floor at the same time.

Three Keys to Victory

  • Limit Phillips and Clark. Mizzou's offense is run through their two quick guards. Not only are they the two best shooters on the team (and the only decent perimeter scorers), but they are by far the best two passers on the team. Missouri's offense is not a smoothly-run one. Seriously, if Clark and Phillips aren't on the floor, there's not a whole lot of good passing going on. Alabama needs to force other guys to beat them on Saturday, because that's been a major issue for Missouri all season.
  • Free Throws. Poor free throw shooting nearly cost Alabama again in Starkville the other night. The Tide simply have to improve in this area. Meanwhile, this is really the only thing Missouri does pretty well, as the Tigers are converting 70.9% of their attempts from the line. If Alabama lets Mizzou get to the line and knock down shots, they may end up letting the Tigers hang on long enough to derail the Tide's season.
  • Isolation. Missouri's defenders are not very talented on-ball. Phillips and Gant are the only two players averaging at least 1.0 block or steal per game, and Gant is the only Tiger with a defensive rating under 100.0. However, Kenpom's rankings have them listed as a solid 150th in the country defensively, which is much higher than their 246th ranked offense. They play decent team defense. Obasohan has been great at driving and getting to the rim all season long; he could end up being the key player for Alabama on Saturday. Justin Coleman is also very capable at getting separation, so he could be in for a big game as well.

There's no doubt about it, Alabama will be facing their weakest competition of the conference schedule on Saturday. Missouri is currently ranked 200th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings. Auburn is ranked 179th, and the next lowest SEC team after that is Mississippi State at 102. This is a must-win game, simply because a loss would be devastating for the Tide's post-season chances. The long-shot NCAA Tournament bid would be completely lost, and even the NIT would start to seem unlikely, seeing as Alabama would be 3-7 in the SEC with A&M, Florida, and LSU next on the schedule.

The game will tip-off at 2:00 PM CST and wll be televised by the SEC Network.