With a scintillating finish to close out a road victory in Baton Rouge now in the rearview mirror, the Alabama Crimson Tide (10-6, 3-1 SEC) return home for a midweek match-up with the, well, struggling Missouri Tigers (5-11, 0-4 SEC). When the SEC expanded in 2012 and brought Missouri into the mix, one of the main selling points for the Tigers was that they would immediately raise the standard of the conference on the hardwood. Well, the SEC ought to be looking for the receipt, because the conference got a raw deal on that transaction. To say Missouri has fallen short of expectations since then would be putting it about as generously as one could possibly frame the situation. Frank Haith did a lot of damage to the program, building it upon a shakey foundation and then bailing overnight, but Kim Anderson has done just about everything wrong in the two-and-a-half seasons since. To add insult to injury, the NCAA may as well start paying rent with the amount of time they’ve spent in Columbia, Missouri investigating the basketball program.
It has been an incredibly frustrating time to be a Mizzou basketball fan. The Tigers have been the worst basketball program in the SEC since the 2014-15 season, and this year’s team may be the least inspiring of them all. With that being said, they are also a very desperate team looking to find any way to save their head coach’s job, and that makes them dangerous for an Alabama team that really stuggles to put points on the board at times.
- PG 6’2 Jordan Geist (6.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- OG 6’3 K.J. Walton (7.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.3 SPG)
- WF 6’6 Jordan Barnett (12.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG)
- PF 6’7 Kevin Puryear (11.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 0.8 APG)
- PF 6’8 Russell Woods (7.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
It’s not hard to understand why Missouri has struggled so badly this season. Even after a quick glance at a few raw metrics, one can see how bad this team is offensively. As bad as LSU’s defense has been this year, Mizzou’s offense has been even worse. The Tigers are ranked 310th in the country according to Kenpom’s Adjusted Offense ratings. Take a look at the assist numbers up there, nobody on this team (with the exception of Terrence Phillips) bothers to set their teammates up with good looks.
Anderson’s trotted out a bunch of different line-ups this season, but recently he has gone with Geist and Walton in the back-court. Neither of them can shoot the ball well (Geist: 34.1% FG%, 28.2% 3P%; Walton: 10.0% 3P%), but Walton is a pretty effective slasher (48.0% 2P%). Walton is also the best defender on team (93.8 DRtg), and can rebound pretty well for a two-guard (10.0% RB%).
In the front-court, Missouri relies on three lengthy forwards to do most of the dirty work. Barnett has been a nice boost for a Missouri offense that needed it badly since his return in late December, but his overall effectiveness is hurt by his poor shot selection. As a 39.8% scorer, he makes 3.3 out of 5.9 2P attempts per game (56.1%), but only 1.4 out of 6.0 3P attempts per contest (23.8%). Barnett’s felt the need to shoulder the load when the Tigers have the ball, but it would really help Missouri if he would keep to his higher percentage shots around the glass.
Puryear was one of Mizzou’s lone bright spots as a freshman last season, but he’s struggled to elevate his game much this year. A 41.5% scorer, Puryear, much like his team as a whole, has struggled to put the ball in the basket much for someone who plays in the post almost exclusively. Woods, in comparison, is scoring at a 53.8% clip, and he’s by no means a steady offensive presence in the post. All three forwards are solid rebounders (Barnett: 12.5% RB%, Puryear: 12.2%, Woods: 11.8%), which is undoubtedly why Anderson wants all three out on the court as much as possible.
- G 5’11 Terrence Phillips (9.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.4 SPG)
- G 6’4 Frankie Hughes (9.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.9 SPG)
- G 6’4 Cullen VanLeer (5.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- F 6’6 Willie Jackson (5.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG)
- C 6’10 Reed Nikko (3.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG)
Phillips is arguably the best player on the roster; Anderson recently decided to have him come off of the bench to help spark this young group. The sophomore point guard has by far the best A% (32.3%) and assist-to-turnover ratio (exactly 2:1), and his 34.8% 3P%, while not great, has been crucial for Mizzou’s ability to stretch the floor at all. Hughes is a promising young freshman who has struggled to come into his own so far (29.2% FG%, 24.8% 3P%, 61.8% FT%, 5.8% RB%), and VanLeer has been a steady, yet unpectacular presence.
Jackson and Nikko have seen their minutes drop as conference play has gotten going, but both are true freshmen with size. Missouri needs to continue to develop these players.
Player To Watch For
- Donta Hall- The lanky, athletic center has been going off lately for Alabama. He has always been a great rim protector (10.2% B%), but his development around the rim offensively (69.8% FG%) and on the glass (16.7% RB%) have helped the Tide get over the hump against a number of teams. Missouri can defend and has a number of big guys in the front-court, so Hall will be relied on heavily in this game to make some big plays.
Three Keys to Victory
- Force Jump-Shots, Particularly on the Perimeter. Missouri is the worst three-point shooting team in college basketball. They are literally ranked 351st. The Tigers are shooting a ghastly 26.6% from downtown this season, and their two-point jumpers aren’t much better. Missouri has had a lot of issues this year, but without question their biggest issue is that this team just cannot shoot the basketball. As Alabama itself knows, that’s a tough way to win games. The Tide have the 19th-ranked defense in the country according to Kenpom, so this should be another ugly performance for the Tigers. If Alabama can defend the paint, it’s hard to see Missouri winning this game in Tuscaloosa.
- Make Some Shots. This seems like a really obvious key, but taking good shots and knocking them down becomes especially important in a game like this. Missouri isn’t terrible defensively, and as bad as they are on offense, they have some guys who could possibly get randomly hot from beyond the arc or something. Alabama can’t afford to lose this game, and because the Tide aren’t offensive juggernauts themselves, the margin for error is always slim. It will be important for Alabama to prevent Missouri from hanging around for too long. The best way to do that is to have someone knock down some shots in pivotal situations.
- Turn the Tigers Over. Of course, even if the shots aren’t falling, Alabama can always go to their preferred method of getting good looks: transition baskets off of turnovers. Missouri lacks shooters, there is no question about that. But they don’t pass the ball well either. That generally leads to poor offensive possessions. Poor offensive possessions leads to frustration, which leads to forcing things. Alabama will gladly take advantage of that.
Make no mistake about it, Missouri is a bad basketball team. There have been some bad teams in the SEC over the last decade, but this Tiger team is making a run at the top (bottom?) of that list. Kim Anderson is not long for his position at the reigns of that program.
With that being said, Alabama can’t afford a loss to this hapless team. The NCAA Tournament is still a severe long-shot this season, even with the Tide’s hot start to conference play, but the chances of sneaking in will be 100% over if Alabama loses a game to Mizzou.
Alabama simply needs to bring the same defensive effort they’ve brought all season, make some big shots here-and-there, rebound the ball like they have been (1st in conference play in RPG), and get out of Coleman with a win. A 4-1 start would be an awesome turn-around from where this team ended the 2016 calendar year.
The game will tip-off at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.