Mizzou travels to Lynchburg to face the middling Flames for a match made in basketball hell.
By now, you’re likely well-versed in the reasons we don’t really care for Liberty University here at Rock M Nation. I won’t rehash them here as you likely came to read about basketball.
I will say, however, that there are more than just off-the-court reasons that a game like this shouldn’t be played. There’s the matter that Missouri could’ve scheduled a regional opponent, sure, but there’s also the fact that Liberty is neither good at basketball nor very fun to watch!
I say that knowing the perspective from which I come. I am, after all, someone who chooses to spend their free time watching Mizzou Basketball, which should automatically put me on some sort of watch list. Yet while Mizzou has its own set of faults for which I grieve, I can also acknowledge the ways that Missouri has avoided lowering the overall quality of basketball I consume.
For instance, despite playing at a rate that could generously be called “lackadaisical” are nowhere near the god-forsaken pace of 64.1 possessions per game at which Ritchie McKay’s Flames play. That’s just offensive, man. It’s a McKay specialty, to be sure, and it works when the Flames shoot the ball as well as they did last season (3rd in the country in effective FG percentage.) But when that number drops from 56.9 percent to 49.2 percent, combined with the very very few possessions your team has, you tend to stop winning. Combine that with the fact that the Flames are hilariously turnover prone and you’ve got yourself a comedy of errors. That may seem harsh but, eh, it’s Liberty so who cares.
So buckle your seatbelts, folks, we’re in for a barn– well, it can’t be a barn-burner necessarily. A barn-strangler? Yeah, let’s go with that.
Note: These starting lineups are projected.
Players to Watch
Darius McGhee (pictured above), the Flames’ primary offensive force, isn’t a prolific shooter (so far), defender or facilitator. But he’s going to take a lot of shots (36.3 percent, 10th most in the country), so the Tigers need to disrupt his rhythm early and often. Kyle Rode also plays a lot of minutes for Ritchie McKay, but he’s been weirdly bad as a shooter thus far after being better-than-average across the board in 2020. Keegan McDowell doesn’t play as many minutes as those two, but he’s easily the Flames’ best shooter and almost exclusively shoots threes (51.9 percent on the season). Shiloh Robinson rounds out the quartet of players with over 70 percent of minutes played, providing the Flames an efficient two-point shooter who draws more fouls than almost anyone in the country.
Joseph Venzant (pictured above) is the only other Liberty player with over 50 percent of minutes played. He’s an aggressive defender and better-than-average rebounder who won’t take many looks on offense. Freshman Brody Peeples is a willing shooter who hasn’t found his stroke yet — his true shooting percentage sits at 39.1 percent on the season. Blake Preston, the only player over 6’7” on the roster, is a fascinating piece off the bench, rebounding like a maniac, shooting efficiently and facilitating well from down low. He’s prone to foul trouble, though, limiting his overall impact. DJ Moore, Drake Dobbs and Isiah Warfield get the clean-up roles, with turnovers limiting the first two and fouls the third.
When Missouri has the ball…
What to Watch | Create offense from defense
I’m not sure what there is to say about Missouri’s offense at this point. They’re bad at two-point shooting, even worse at three-point shooting and are prone to mass amounts of turnovers. They do hit the offensive boards pretty well, but they can’t make any of their second chances so… yeah, I don’t know what to do.
What they should be able to do, however, is create extra possessions on defense and run up the pace by scoring in transition. Liberty is one of the worst teams in the country at giving up steals, so Missouri should have plenty of chances at scoring on run outs. If the Tigers can stack up a positive margin on turnovers and hit enough shots down low, they’ll win.
When Liberty has the ball…
What to Watch | Defend. The. Perimeter.
Liberty, much like Missouri, has trouble scoring points, in large part because they opt to focus on a tactic at which they’re not particularly good: three-point shooting. The Flames shoot the 25th most threes per field goal attempt despite shooting 30.1 percent as a team playing at one of the slowest paces in the country. They’re an efficient team from close-range, but don’t opt to take it inside very often. They may double down on that strategy considering Missouri’s stout rim protection. If the Tigers can navigate Liberty’s attempts to find open looks around the perimeter, they’ll have a better-than-average chance at taking away a road win.
Liberty 66, Missouri 63 | In a vacuum, Missouri is a better basketball team than Liberty. They’re still not very good, and they’re in no way exponentially better… but the numbers still bear it out. However, better doesn’t always mean a lot on the road, especially when you’re a team that just can’t score. The game plan looks easy on paper — hold the Flames to low quality shots from deep, score off of the turnovers they’re sure to give up and, for good measure, don’t put them on the foul line. But Liberty’s penchant for playing at a glacial pace — and Missouri’s penchant to match said pace — could create a slog where the only thing that matters is making the few shots you have. That’s a bad recipe for Missouri, who don’t need an unfamiliar arena to remind them of the struggles they’ve already been battling.