Mizzou returns home to take on a Utah team fighting to break into the PAC 12’s upper tier.
Is anyone starting to get deja vu, or is it just me?
College basketball teams are dropping left and right as a new wave of COVID-19 hits the United States. Schedules are being swapped like a White Elephant gift exchange. Teams are scrambling for opponents. Are we sure it isn’t March 2020?
Nevertheless, Mizzou hasn’t been hit by the (latest) rampant wave of coronavirus and will continue on with their regularly scheduled programming. As if the threat of another season pause wasn’t enough, Missouri’s schedule doesn’t get any easier from here: Utah, ranking 73rd in KenPom net efficiency, is the lowest rated team the Tigers will play in their next seven games. After closing out the non-conference slate against the Illini next Wednesday, they’ll start with a run of Kentucky, MIssissippi State, Alabama and Arkansas in SEC play.
So yeah, things are looking… challenging.
Forgive me if I seem bleak writing this intro, but there’s honestly only so much you can say about Missouri at this point. They’re just not very good. I’ve found myself writing keys to the game that feel like word-for-word copies of every game we’ve previewed thus far. We know the type of team Missouri is — they don’t shoot well and turn the ball over at catastrophic rates; they’re athletic on defense, but still not all that positionally sound; their only real strength is rebounding — and it’s hard to find new ways to say that once or twice a week, especially when each game follows a similar script.
If you’re wanting something new in the way of basketball content, may I suggest the mailbag piece that Matt Watkins did earlier this week? It’s got some good stuff in it, and will surely break up the monotony of reading 1,000 words that always boil down to, “Well, they’re worse than the other team, so this one will be tricky!”
I’m done venting. Let’s get to the preview.
Note: These starting lineups are projected.
Players to Watch
Did you know that there are 45 species of native trees in Utah? And did you know that at least five of them currently play basketball in Salt Lake City?
Craig Smith fields Division I’s 18th tallest team with only three regular rotation players under 6’6”. Starting point guard Rollie Worster plays the most minutes on the team and does a good job setting up his teammates without contributing too much offense of his own (though he’s not awful as a shooter). David Jenkins isn’t a regular starter, but he plays a lot of combo guard minutes. He’s almost exclusively a three-point shooter, and he hits at a 39.4 percent clip.
But back to the tall guys for a second. Seven-foot junior Branden Carlson is probably the team’s biggest offensive threat. He’s not exactly elite in any one area, but he draws fouls and makes his free throws while shooting almost 60 percent from two-point range. He’s also a solid interior defender and above average on the boards — a really solid all around player. Senior Riley Batten (6’9”) plays a similar game to Carlsen, but doesn’t shoot as well from the field or contribute as much on the defensive glass. Both Gach (6’6”) is the team’s best all around shooter, though he curiously doesn’t shoot as lights out from the line.
Off the bench? You guessed it, more tall dudes! Lahat Thioune is a fascinating bench piece. He only gets 23.5 percent of minutes, but almost never misses when shooting from the field or the line. He’s also an elite rebounder. Serbian freshman Lazar Stefanovic is more than just a warm body off the bench, though he’s not as efficient a shooter (46.6% true shooting) as those ahead of him in the rotation.
In the category of “tall, but not relative to their teammates,” are role players like Marco Anthony and Jaxon Brenchly. Anthony starts for the Utes and gets solid minutes, but he’s more of a defense-and-rebound-first type of player (but guess what, he makes his free throws.) Brenchly mostly spells players like Jenkins and Worster; he won’t hurt the Utes in any noticeable ways, but the offense rarely runs through or around him when he’s on the floor.
When Missouri has the ball…
What to Watch | Slow down and hope for the best
Utah’s defense is only ranked 91st in KenPom, but the numbers are a tad skewed. The Utes rank almost dead last in the country in both turnover and steal percentage, but rank 25th in effective field goal percentage against. Translation? They sell out on preventing good shots and won’t worry too much about turning you over. That being said, they do play a faster brand of offense, so perhaps Mizzou’s best hope is to turn this into a rock fight and hope it disrupts the Utes’ rhythm. I suppose at some point the Tigers will start shooting slightly better than their dismal start suggests, but until then the best form of offense is to maximize their defense.
When Utah has the ball…
What to Watch | No easy buckets
That’s a pretty simple takeaway, but it applies against Utah. Craig Smith’s roster isn’t full of knock down shooters from anywhere on the floor, but the Utes will use their size to force fouls and get to the free throw line, where they shoot almost 80 percent as a team. Fortunately, they’re susceptible to blocks down low (likely when they go hunt for fouls), so Missouri will have to do everything in their power to stay clean. The offense-defense match up here is good for the Tigers, so if there’s any hope to pull the upset, it will come with an exceptional defensive effort.
Utah 69, Missouri 66 | It feels like every year in which Mizzou Hoops has a woeful offense, there’s always one game where everyone shoots the lights out. I’m not saying this will be that game — in fact, Utah’s excellent eFG% against suggests it won’t be — but it would be helpful if it was given their home court advantage against a team that matches up somewhat poorly on defense. There have been signs of life from the freshmen, but it remains to be seen whether or not Cuonzo Martin will cede more minutes their way.
A win over a solid power conference opponent led by youngsters would be an excellent early Christmas present to stem the tide of negativity that has been battering the program.
DraftKings Sports has the early line at Utah +5 and an Over/Under of 136, but the Utes are 4-2 against the spread on the year, but just 1-2 away from Home with both losses coming to Power Conference opponents (TCU, USC).
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details