After a two-game hiatus, basketball Q&A’s are back! Tomorrow night, Auburn opens up a 3-game homestand against the Missouri Tigers. Auburn is desperate for a win having lost 3 straight games and are currently just 2-4 in SEC play. Missouri comes off a tough loss at home against LSU and are 1-5 in SEC play. To learn more about Missouri, Sam Snelling from Rock M Nation joins me today to talk Missouri hoops and gives us a better idea of what to expect from Mizzou’s version of the Tigers on Wednesday night. My thanks to Sam for taking the time to answer my questions. Sam’s answers are in bold below.
How would you assess the job that Cuonzo Martin is doing so far as he looks to get Mizzou back on track?
“Overall I think everyone is really happy with how things are going since Martin arrived. Obviously the addition of the Porters certainly heightened expectations, while not really working out, but he’s done a fantastic job of returning Missouri to it’s roots of being a tough, hard nosed, defensive team. I’m maybe more impressed with his adaption of his offensive style which is something I can see taking shape more so in the coming seasons. If he can continue to land some highly rated players out of the St. Louis area I think he has an opportunity to get past his previous ceiling and really put down roots in Columbia. Which is something Missouri fans are yearning for since the Quin Snyder era (that was the early 2000s for all you young kids out there).”
While Auburn has had injury issues recently, losing Austin Wiley, Missouri lost one of their best players, Jontay Porter, for the season before it even got started. How did Porter’s injury change expectations for Mizzou this year and how have they responded to it?
“Not one of, Jontay was Missouri’s best player and significantly so. Without Jontay Missouri doesn’t have a sure fire NBA guy and it completely changed the focus of their offense. Once Porter went out I think the hope was to maybe find a way to the bubble, but I always thought they were a fringe bubble team with Jontay. Without him any post-season play should be considered a good season.”
“As far as how they’ve adapted, I’d say it’s been okay. When (Jeremiah) Tilmon is on the floor and Mark Smith is knocking down jumpers the Tigers can be down right stingy with the best of teams. I still think they have enough to go on a little run but I think the hopes of getting to .500 in conference are long out the door after their last two losses.”
Mizzou comes into Auburn following an OT loss against LSU where you guys led by 14 with 2 minutes left in the game. Despite the end result, what went well for Mizzou in that game and what can Mizzou take from that game to build off of in the future?
“Against LSU Mizzou was able to control tempo for the first 38 minutes, and then in a weird twist of fate everything LSU needed to go right down the stretch went right. A lot of Mizzou fans will say it was the officiating (there were a few bad calls -- welcome to College officiating) and others might say they melted down. But the reality is they were depleted and held on as long as they could against a team who was vastly more talented.”
“Mizzou knows that they aren’t deep, and when they’re missing contributions from as many guys as they were, it’s almost more of a miracle that they were 14 points ahead rather than they blew the lead. But I think they’re doing a much better job over the last few weeks of knowing who they are and working to execute with that knowledge.”
Senior guard Jordan Geist has stepped up this year and nearly doubled his scoring average. What differences do you see in him this year compared to last year?
“If you could bottle Cuonzo Martin’s mind and turn it into a basketball player I think it might look a lot like Jordan Geist. Geist is a fierce competitor and I think he found the perfect coach to get every last ounce out of him. Mechanically, Geist has fixed his jumper and become a better ball handler. He’s more confident and patient in the face of pressure, and while he can still get turned up a bit he’s far more in control of his emotions. It’ll be interesting to see how he does in the environment at Auburn, but Missouri absolutely needs Geist to play well to have a chance against anyone.”
Around the time of Porter’s injury, Missouri got good news when Mark Smith was ruled eligible to play after transferring in from Illinois. He’s a 47.5% 3-point shooter so far this year (and 3-point defense has been an issue for Auburn). Talk about Smith’s importance and the boost he’s provided to Mizzou?
“Smith represents a lot of what Mizzou fans hope Martin can accomplish in Columbia. He’s a local kid (he’s from Edwardsville, IL which is right across the river from St. Louis), he’s a 4-star player out of high school and even though he originally committed to Illinois he’s shown an immense amount of growth from one season to the next. When he became eligible Mizzou got another capable ball handler on the floor, which is something there’s been a shortage of over the last few years. They also got a tough physical defender and someone who is at least consistent. Smith is a guy with added growth next year could be the kind of guy who helps the Tigers get back into the top tier of the SEC.”
Who’s one player that flies under the radar for Mizzou that Auburn fans should be aware of?
“I often refer to the Tigers as having a big four, and then needing something from at least one other guy. The four are Jordan Geist, Jeremiah Tilmon, Mark Smith, and Kevin Puryear. Lately Puryear has been struggling, while freshman wing Javon Pickett has become more consistent. I think Pickett is somebody who could struggle against Auburn because of their athleticism, but he’s a crafty and long 6’4 wing who has shown he can be really efficient and doesn’t seem to back down from any spotlight.”
“The other one to keep an eye on is Xavier Pinson. Pinson looks like he’s about 14 years old and weighs about a buck and a quarter but he’s a tough competitor and he grew up in the Chicago Public High League so you know he’s unphased by a crazy environment. He tries to be a little too flashy at times but when he plays within himself you can see the makings of a really good point guard.”
Finally, Auburn comes in to this losers of 3 in a row, Mizzou has lost 2 in a row. How do you see this game going? Do you have a score prediction?
“If this were at Mizzou Arena I think the Mizzou might be able to steal this one. On the road in one of the best and toughest places to play in the conference I just don’t think they can win. They rely heavily on younger players and most of those guys aren’t really elitely talented. They’re just a big undermanned right now. I see this going a couple ways, I can see Auburn bursting out of the gates and getting way up early and sort of coasting to a win of around 16-20 points. Or if Mizzou is able to dictate pace I think they hang around for most of the game but ultimately fall short in the last 6-8 minutes and lose by close to 10 points. KenPom says Auburn is favored by 12, I’ll go with my homer pick and say the Tigers keep the scoring down but fall late: 72-62.”