Mizzou gets a defensively stout Shocker team at home, offering an opportunity to pick off another decent mid-major.
So it’s come to this: hoping for home wins over middling mid-majors.
Mizzou Hoops’ Jacksonville trip ended on a sour note, but was about as successful as you could’ve hoped from a win-loss standpoint. You never would’ve expected a win over Leonard Hamilton and the junkyard defense of the Seminoles, but it was nice for the Tigers put a feather in their (raggedy) cap by taking down SMU. In what has always been seen as a rebuilding year for those who see reason, those are the wins you want. If you consistently beat the teams in your quality-sphere, you can hopefully move to playing the better teams a little tighter… and maybe picking one off here and here.
Unfortunately, Missouri has also shown a propensity for playing down to opponents thus far, something that has plagued Cuonzo Martin’s teams for the past few seasons. You can live with a blowout to Florida State, so long as it isn’t preceded by a loss to a UMKC.
Wichita State, then, becomes less of a game that you would hope to win and one that you need to win as a proof of concept. In losing the second game of the season to the Roos, the non-conference schedule has become something of a statement for the Tigers, who need to prove they’re better than what they showed that fateful night. The comeback win over SMU helped, but it’s going to take more — much more, likelier than not — to win fans back to the idea that this is a year building to something better.
And time is running out to collect these sort of wins. Over the next two weeks, the Tigers will play the Shockers, Paul Quinn, L*berty and Eastern Illinois before the real gauntlet begins. When that time comes, we’ll adjust our expectations accordingly, hoping the Tigers can pick up a few wins where they’re least expecting them. But in order to even get most of the fanbase to that point, it feels like Missouri will need to go on a bit of a run here. Four wins in two weeks would be best. Three would fine. Anything less and we’re likely standing on the precipice of the Cuonzo Martin era.
Note: These starting lineups are projected.
In his second year at the head of the Shocker bench, Isaac Brown quickly found an eight-man rotation and leaned on all of them. The Shockers are led by third-year sophomore Tyson Etienne, who hasn’t taken the junior leap one might have expected. His usage rate and shots percentage have both increase significantly without any of the efficiency. His assist rate is up, but Brown will need Etienne to rediscover his offensive tendencies (strong shooter, aggressive rim attacking) if they hope to see March. Dexter Dennis has been something of a salve on the wing, however, boosting his production on the defensive glass and as a distributor while cashing in more at the charity stripe.
Juniors Morris Udeze and Joe Pleasant hold things down as the starting front court, and neither brings much offensively. Udeze protects the rim well for his size and contributes as both an offensive and defensive, but struggles with fouls. Pleasant, too, will grab offensive boards, but tends to be silent and defensively sound otherwise. Qua Grant and Craig Porter provide Etienne some back court support, though neither is as dynamic with the ball on their hands. Porter, all of 6’2”, is a surprisingly deft rebounder, though, and Grant is pesky at creating turnovers.
“Freshmen” Ricky Council and Kenny Pohto make up the younger end of the rotation. Council is the team’s most dependable regular on offense, shooting 37.5 percent from deep and converting at the rim a fair amount. He’s also a bit of a bawl hawk on defense without fouling too often. Pohto, the tallest player on the roster, is already proving his worth on defense, providing both rim protection and a surprising amount of steals for a man his size. Unsurprisingly, he’s a useful offensive tool around the rim and a dependable rebounder.
Clarence Jackson and Chaunce Jenkins will get spot minutes, with both providing Brown some scoring spark off the bench. It’s hard to say how much those numbers translate to greater minutes, but the Tigers will need to watch them when their names are called.
When Missouri has the ball…
What to Watch | The paint (and free throw line) is your friend
Stop me if you’ve heard this before — this game may be a bit of a defensive struggle. We’ll examine Wichita State’s sputtering offense in a minute, but their defense is what props them up. They’re one of the best teams in the country at creating turnovers and are aggressive when protecting the rim. What that translates to, however, is a lot of fouls and not the stoutest of two-point defenses. Missouri will need to force the issue inside and get to the rim against the Shockers, especially if they’re going to keep turning the ball over with startling frequency.
When Wichita State has the ball…
What to Watch | Where’s the perimeter defense?
The good news for Missouri is that the Shockers, while boasting a moderately stout defense, don’t bring much in the way of offense. And where they do tend to succeed, Missouri can match up. The Shockers aren’t strong in close range, where Missouri has proven successful at protecting the rim. The Shockers don’t lean too heavily on their two-point shooting, however, as one of the country’s most frequent three-point shooting teams. Mizzou’s three-point defense has been abysmal on the season thus far, a surprising turn of events. If Missouri can keep the Shockers in check around the perimeter, they should be able to keep things close (assuming their offense also struggles.)
Wichita State 68, Missouri 67 | A toss-up Black Friday game that Missouri (fortunately) gets at home could help the Tigers recover from a beating against Florida State. Wichita State will challenge the Tiger offense (who doesn’t at this point, though), but their offense hasn’t shown it can truly put teams away either. Missouri should be in this game until the end, where home court advantage should give them the opportunity to grab another decent win in non-conference play.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.