Missouri earned another home win on Tuesday, its sixth in SEC play, taking an 83-74 victory over South Carolina. The team hasn’t been as dominant against conference opponents away from Mizzou Arena, claiming just one win, but will have the opportunity to pick up a few more with a two-game road trip that starts this weekend.
No. 6 Tennessee is the Tigers’ first stop. The Volunteers currently sit third in the league standings but haven’t looked like a top-10 team in the country over their past three games, suffering a loss to Florida, eking out a three-point victory over Auburn and, most recently, getting beat by Vanderbilt on a buzzer-beater. Tennessee may have also lost a starter in senior guard Josiah-Jordan James, who exited the game against the Commodores early with a sprained left ankle. Speaking to media members on Friday, Volunteers head coach Rick Barnes said he wasn’t sure if James would be available.
“He was walking around yesterday with a boot on and we’ll see today once we see what happens in practice,” Barnes said.
Given Tennessee’s recent struggles, Mizzou head coach Dennis Gates expects the Volunteers to come into the matchup with some extra motivation. It’ll take the Tigers’ best game to come out with a win.
“There’s no doubt it’ll be a hostile environment,” Gates said. “There is no doubt that Tennessee will be laser-focused, just based off of trying to avoid a two-game losing streak.”
TIP TIME INFORMATION
Missouri (18-6, 6-5 SEC) at No. 6 Tennessee (19-5, 8-3)
WHEN: 5 p.m. CT
WHERE: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tennessee
TV: SEC Network
SERIES: Tennessee leads, 11-8
KENPOM PREDICTION: Tennessee 79, Mizzou 66
BEST LINEUP OF THE LAST 5 OUTINGS (per CBB Analytics)
Sean East II-D’Moi Hodge-DeAndre Gholston-Kobe Brown-Mohamed Diarra
Minutes played: 9
Offensive rating: 134.2
Defensive rating: 60.4
Net rating: +73.8
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Win the turnover battle. Mizzou and Tennessee are similar in a few respects. Both teams are top 10 in the nation in defensive turnover percentage. Both teams are top 25 in assists per field goals made. And both teams are top 40 in assist-to-turnover ratio. The key difference between the two programs has been how well they take care of the ball. Per KenPom, the Volunteers cough it up on 18.8% of possessions, ranking 210th in the country, while Mizzou does so just 16.2% of the time, ranking 38th. The main challenge for the Tigers will be taking on Tennessee sophomore point guard Zakai Zeigler, who’s posted a conference-leading assist rate of 42.2 in SEC play and has picked up a steal on 4.2% of possessions, ranking 35th in the NCAA. Gates said his players have to know the tendencies of the personnel they match up with to disrupt the Vols’ ball movement, but doesn’t think many adjustments will be needed for his team on defense.
“To be able to lead, possibly, the country in steals, that’s something that may cause (the Volunteers) apprehension when it comes down to passes where they will be more cautious and be more hesitant,” Gates said. “I think that comes natural, especially when we’re a team that presses.”
2. Stay efficient at the 3-point and free throw line. Tennessee boasts the No. 1 defensive rating in the nation and is well-equipped for protecting the perimeter, allowing opponents to sink just 22.8% of shots from deep. In the Volunteers’ last two losses, though, Florida shot 35% from beyond the arc while Vanderbilt shot 40%. Kentucky, who handed Tennessee its first loss in league play, shot just 31.2% from distance in the contest but made up for it by going 22-25 at the charity stripe. Finding a rhythm from outside has been Missouri’s Achilles heel on the road — in conference play, the team is shooting 35.1% inside Mizzou Arena and 31.4% outside of it. The Tigers also often don’t get as many foul calls in hostile environments — their free throw attempts per game drops from 25.2 at home to 18.2 on the road. The team will need to reverse the trend to stand a chance against the Volunteers’ suffocating defense.
3. Defend the rim and the boards. Despite 3-pointers accounting for 39.4% of its field goal attempts, Tennessee is a below-average shooting team, hitting 32.4% of its triples. The Volunteers are elite at securing their own misses, though, collecting 38.0% of available offensive rebounds, which ranks second in the nation. The team’s leading rebounder, senior forward Olivier Nkamhoua, finishes off his interior touches at a high level, sinking 58.2% of his 2-pointers. Limiting second-chance opportunities will help Mizzou in keeping Tennessee’s offense from picking up momentum.
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