Mississippi State at Missouri
WHEN/WHERE: 1 p.m. at Mizzou Arena in Columbia
TV/RADIO: ESPN2; KMBZ (98.1 FM)
Keys for Missouri (16-8, 6-5 SEC)
Play strong post defense. When Missouri lost to Mississippi State in late January, Jeremiah Tilmon played timidly. Mizzou’s freshman center, who has struggled with foul trouble all season, avoided it against the Bulldogs — but he did so at the expense of stopping anyone inside. Mississippi State built its lead in the second half by attacking Tilmon down low. Tilmon has recently done a better job of playing hard while staying on the floor. He will need to do so again on Saturday. He can’t let Mississippi State score easy baskets in the post. “His gift is also his ability to play hard and compete, run the floor, do all those things,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said of Tilmon. “That’s what we want to see from him every night. If he gets five fouls, get them with effort and intensity.”
Make more free throws. Mizzou shot 4 of 8 from the foul line the last time it played Mississippi State. That was just the third time all season that Mizzou attempted fewer than 10 foul shots. Hitting free throws has been key to helping Mizzou close out its past two games. The Tigers hit 16 of its 19 second-half free-throw attempts against Kentucky, and they converted 8 of their final 10 free-throw attempts against Mississippi on Tuesday. Mizzou’s .782 free-throw percentage in conference play is second in the SEC.
Be ready for double teams in the post. Mizzou’s post players were the primary reason MU turned it over 19 times against Mississippi State when these teams last played one another. The Bulldogs often double-teamed Jontay Porter or Tilmon whenever one of the freshmen caught the ball down low. They each had four turnovers. They should be prepared to see this defense again on Saturday.
Keys for Mississippi State (18-6, 6-5 SEC)
Don’t settle for threes. In these teams’ last matchup, Mississippi State pulled away from Mizzou once it stopped trying to beat Missouri from beyond the three-point arc. The Bulldogs are the worst three-point shooting team in the SEC. They have made just 28.1 percent of their threes this season — and that percentage is even worse in conference play, 25.5.
Contain Kassius Robertson. Can any team do it? After earning Missouri’s first SEC player of the week honor since December 2013, the graduate transfer scored 27 points against Ole Miss earlier this week. When the Rebels went to a zone defense in the second half, he was the only Tiger who could reliably score. He has become Missouri’s unquestioned closer. “That’s our guy, our go-to guy, the guy we want the ball in the hands of when we need a bucket,” Mizzou point guard Jordan Geist said.
Capitalize on Mizzou turnovers. The Tigers’ turnover rate during conference play (21.5 percent) ranks last in the SEC. When Mississippi State last beat Missouri, it did so by turning MU’s giveaways into easy transition opportunities. The Bulldogs scored 24 points off of Missouri’s 19 turnovers and outscored the Tigers 12-0 on fast break points.