With a big-time road win over the Florida Gators - via a dominant second half showing - now in the rearview mirror, the Alabama Crimson Tide (11-3, 2-0 SEC; NET: 19; Kenpom: 16) head to the opposite corner of the SEC map to Columbia, Missouri, to take on Cuonzo Martin’s Missouri Tigers (6-7, 0-1 SEC; NET: 242; Kenpom: 161). Nate Oats’ bunch has struggled in the past at Mizzou Arena, with losses in the previous two seasons, but let me tell you, those were wildly different Tiger teams.
The Missouri team that went to the NCAA Tournament last season was a senior-laden one, and after Xavier Pinson traded in his old Tigers for new stripes of the Cajun variety, Cuonzo Martin was left with one of the least experienced squads in the SEC. For a program that struggles to bring in top high school talent, that’s tough to overcome. Sure enough, Mizzou has really struggled this season, splitting its 12 non-conference games - including a loss to UMKC - before getting run out of the building against Kentucky in the SEC opener last week. If not for Georgia, this would be the worst team in the conference this season.
With that being said, road conference games hardly ever come easy. This is very much a take-care-of-business kind of game for Alabama, especially in advance of the massive showdown with Auburn on Tuesday. The Tide needs to come out focused and ready to go from the jump. You certainly don’t want to let the inferior team get off to a good start, that’s a classic way to get upset on the road.
POINT 6’1 Anton Brookshire (2.1 PPG, 1.2 APG, 1.1 RPG, 105.7 DRtg)
GUARD 6’4 Dejuan Gordon (8.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.3 APG, 101.5 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Javon Pickett (8.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.7 APG, 107.0 DRtg)
POST 6’7 Kobe Brown (14.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 95.3 DRtg)
POST 6’9 Trevon Brazile (5.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 97.8 DRtg)
Missouri’s rotation has very much been in-flux this year - as is usually the case when you’ve got a young team that’s struggling like the Tigers have been. On top of that, it’s been reported that Mizzou will be without three players due to COVID protocols today, but there has been no confirmation as to who the three players are. So, as with the Florida game, I’ll run through the full rotation to make sure everyone’s been covered.
Recently, Martin has decided to let the youth movement take over in the starting group, as true freshmen Anton Brookshire and Trevon Brazile have been inserted into the opening five. Brookshire’s numbers certainly don’t light the stat sheet up (28.1%/16.7%/75.0%; 18.6% AST%), but he has only recently started getting a lot of run - Cuonzo has always leaned heavily on experience in the past, but with the way the season has gone, it certainly makes sense to look to the future. That being said, the other two starting guards, Javon Pickett and Dejuan Gordon, are both upperclassmen who have started all year. Pickett is one of the lone returning players from last season. The senior has been one of the high-volume scorers for the team, though his efficiency numbers are lacking (38.5%/22.6%/61.9%). Gordon transferred in from Kansas State, and has been a bit more efficient than Pickett as a scorer (36.5%/25.6%/72.2%), and also adds a bit more defense and rebounding (10.7% REB%).
I already alluded to Brazile’s emergence in the post, and he’s injected some life into Missouri on both ends of the court (52.9%/27.3%/61.5%; one of the few + defenders on the team). But Mizzou’s best player by far this year has been junior Kobe Brown. The 6’7 product from right up the road in Huntsville, AL has done just about everything for the Tigers. He is the leading scorer (50.8%/21.9%/73.8%), best rebounder (16.4% REB%) and defender (95.3 DRtg), and even assists his teammates at a decent clip (17.7% AST%). In a year of struggles, Brown has been the silver lining. He’s got a legitimate shot at All-SEC honors this season.
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’3 Amari Davis (10.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, 107.4 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Jarron Coleman (8.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.6 APG, 105.8 DRtg)
WING 6’7 Ronnie Degray (8.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 102.0 DRtg)
WING 6’8 Yaya Keita (1.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 97.9 DRtg)
POST 7’3 Jordan Wilmore (2.4 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 99.4 DRtg)
The Tigers have played a lot of different guys this year, trying to figure out the best rotation possible. Davis and Coleman have both started a number of games. In his current role, Davis operates as the scoring sixth man (39.1%/26.5%/81.3%), and Coleman actually leads the team in AST% at 20.6%. Both are basically starters. Ronnie Degray’s numbers are eerily similar to everyone else’s on the team (39.8%/28.0%/77.3%; 11.1% REB%), and he averages nearly 30 MPG. Keita and Wilmore mostly provide size and depth on the interior, though Keita is the only player on the team shooting north of 30% from the perimeter (33.3%), so that may be something to watch.
Three Keys to Victory
- Focus and Motivation. Any time you play a team that’s undermanned and struggling, the number-one key to winning the game is treating the opponent with respect. These guys are still power conference college basketball players. Nate Oats has harped on the point that Mizzou Arena is the one place in the conference that Alabama hasn’t won at despite multiple trips since he’s been the coach, and the Tide was the superior team in both of those games as well. If Alabama can play like they did in the second half against Florida, this will be a rout. If they play more like they did in the first half, this could end up being a game.
- The Three-Point Line. Today’s game would be a great opportunity for Alabama’s shooters to start to find their rhythm. While the Tide has been known for it’s three-point shooting prowess under Oats, Alabama is actually only shooting 32.5% from the perimeter this season, which is 235th in the country. On the flip-side, Mizzou has been an abject disaster from distance. They can’t shoot threes themselves (24.3% - 357th in the country), and they’ve struggled to force their opponents off their spots from the perimeter on defense, as opposing teams are shooting 38.2% from downtown against the Tigers. If Alabama gets hot from the arc today, there won’t be much of a contest.
- Push the Pace. Cuonzo Martin has successfully slowed down the Tide each of the past two years, which ultimately led to Alabama losses. Unfortunately for him, his roster is ill-equipped to do that again this season. Mizzou plays at a deliberately slow pace, when they can. The Tide wouldn’t be the first team to speed the Tigers up to a level they are not comfortable playing. Additionally, with the COVID issues they’ve been experiencing, they have been light on reps and conditioning recently, and they will be down three players. Alabama should be able to run Mizzou into the ground.
This is every bit a business-minded road trip to get to 3-0 in conference play. Alabama is the clearly superior team to begin with, and Mizzou is going to be down three players. As long as Alabama doesn’t come out sluggish and let the Tigers make this game another slog - as they’ve done each of the past two meetings - the Tide should easily prevail. They are 13.5-point favorites for a reason. Use this as an opportunity to get better, control the pace of the game, try not to bail Missouri out with fouls, and take care of business today.
The game tips-off at 2:30 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.