We’ve talked a lot recently about “houses of horror” for Tide Hoops over the years - Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, AR and Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, TN, specifically - but there’s only one place where Nate Oats and his version of the Alabama Crimson Tide (16-2, 6-0 SEC; Kenpom: 4; T-Rank: 4; NET: 3) have lost three years straight, each time as favorites, and that’s in Mizzou Arena. Why we’ve played there four years in a row now when they aren’t even a permanent rival on the schedule, I have no idea. Regardless, Alabama has been exorcising a lot of its past demons this season, so it’s only proper that the Crimson Tide get a chance to get a road win against the Missouri Tigers (14-4, 3-3 SEC; Kenpom: 57; T-Rank: 52; NET: 53) as well.
Now, Mizzou has been a very dangerous squad at home this year. First year head coach Dennis Gates brought in a number of veteran transfers this past offseason, and it has paid off in spades for a program that has been a shadow of its former self since it joined the SEC. Despite a long history of success on the hardwood, Gates is now the fourth head coach for Missouri since it joined the conference a decade ago. The Tigers have never finished higher than 5th in the regular season standings, have never made it past the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, and have yet to win an NCAA Tournament game during their tenure in the conference. Not exactly what we thought we were getting from a program that boasts 28 NCAA tournament appearances, 15 conference titles, and five Elite Eight appearances.
The early returns on Gates have been pretty inspiring for old school Mizzou basketball fans. He certainly has had the most success so far of all the new hires from this past offseason, when the SEC shed nearly half of the head coaches in the league. But can he keep the hot home streak going against this Tide team?
POINT 5’10 Nick Honor (8.9 PPG, 3.3 APG, 1.8 RPG, 107.4 DRtg)
GUARD 6’4 D’Moi Hodge (14.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 99.4 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 DeAndre Gholston (10.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 107.3 DRtg)
WING 6’6 Noah Carter (10.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 106.1 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Kobe Brown (15.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.4 APG, 103.4 DRtg)
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’3 Sean East (8.2 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.2 RPG, 105.9 DRtg)
GUARD 6’4 Tre Gomillion (5.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.9 APG, 106.4 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Isiaih Moseley (7.9 PPG, 2.8 APG, 2.0 RPG, 104.5 DRtg)
POST 6’7 Ronnie Degray (2.2 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 105.3 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Aiden Shaw (3.6 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 108.4 DRtg)
POST 6’10 Mohammed Diarra (1.3 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 90.2 DRtg)
As mentioned, Mizzou has been rolling out the traveling troupe of transfers in their backcourt this season. Starting point guard, Nick Honor, hails from Clemson, where he was a two-year starter. He’s not a high-volume shooter, but he’s been extremely efficient when he takes his chances (45.4%/41.7%/86.8%) and does a solid job running the offense (17.1% AST% on 13.3% USG%). D’Moi Hodge followed Gates to Columbia from Cleveland State, where he was the leading scorer on the team. He’s more of a slasher, but he can certainly knock down shots at a strong clip as well (48.1%/37.8%/70.5%). DeAndre Gholston has played at a number of schools now, but he was most recently the leading scorer of the Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers, a conference rival of Cleveland State’s in the Horizon League. He’s not made the transition to a high-major as well as Hodge has, but he’s certainly no slouch on the offensive end (43.3%/33.3%/77.4%; 13.5% AST%).
In the frontcourt, it’s all about Kobe Brown, who is putting together an All-SEC season (56.0%/40.8%/76.7%; 12.6% REB%, 17.6% AST%). The Alabama native has terrorized the Tide in recent meetings, going for 30 points and 13 rebounds the last time these two teams met in Columbia after putting up a more modest double-double the year before. Noah Carter is questionable for Saturday’s game after being placed in health and safety protocols ahead of the Tigers’ game with Arkansas on Wednesday.
If Carter can’t go, Ronnie Degray, Aiden Shaw, and Mohammed Diarra will be called upon in a major way, because Mizzou doesn’t have much size. They do have a couple of guards on the bench who can really get downhill and attack on the offensive end though in Sean East (50.5%/21.2%/82.9%) and Tre Gomillion (47.4%/37.5%/72.7%).
Three Keys to Victory
- Flex that Size Advantage. Again, Missouri is a small, attacking, finesse team. They aren’t built to hold up against teams with Alabama’s size. This will be the largest (no pun intended) mismatch on the court Saturday night. We all know about the Tide’s rebounding prowess (29th in the country in OREB% at 34.4%); well, Mizzou is one of the worst in the country in giving up offensive boards (37.3% OREB% allowed) - 357th to be exact. Defensively, Mizzou is 183rd in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, mostly because they can’t stop teams from bullying their way to the rim. If Alabama can enforce its will with the sheer size advantage, this really shouldn’t be much of a game.
- Defend the Perimeter. With that being said, Mizzou has been at a size disadvantage nearly every game this season - yet has won 14 games. They’ve done so by simply outscoring their opponents with the nation’s 7th best Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. Granted, Alabama is 7th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, so they haven’t seen a team like the Tide yet, but Missouri has been elite at home on the offensive end. They aren’t the greatest three-point shooting team in the world (34.7% - 128th in the country), but when the shots are falling, as they do much more often at home, the Tigers are a really tough out. It would behoove Alabama to keep them from getting hot from behind the arc.
- Free Throws. Another way Alabama could lose is at the charity stripe. Now, the Tide has actually been very good at getting to the line often themselves - 20th in the country, in fact. However, you just never know how a college basketball game is going to be officiated anymore, especially on the road in the SEC. And Missouri is quite good from the free throw line (75.4% - 50th in the country). If I’m Mizzou, I’m going straight into defenders all game looking to get to the line, so it’s something Alabama needs to be cognizant about.
Of all the horrible experiences Tide Hoops has seen on the road in conference play over the years, I don’t know if any have been more consistently frustrating than in Mizzou Arena. At least not recently. The Tide ended the 2020 season by getting run out of the gym by a bad Missouri team, lost its undefeated conference record with a heartbreaking loss in Columbia in 2021, and got outright bullied and embarrassed by the Tigers for its first loss of SEC play last season. It’s the one place in the SEC that Nate Oats hasn’t won at - with the exception of Reed Arena in College Station, where Alabama hasn’t played since before Oats was hired (SEC hoops scheduling is weird).
In a year of absolute dominance from the Tide, who has won every game in conference play by double-digits, it just seems right that the guys will get a chance to avenge some ugly past performances on Saturday night. Early lines show Alabama as a 6-point road favorite. The game will tip-off at 5:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.