The Missouri Tigers (10-1) are coming of their first loss of the season, a 1-point heartbreaker against the Illinois Fighting Illini (10-2). The Tigers get a true road test Saturday night when they travel to take on the North Carolina State Wolfpack (9-2). The game will be broadcast on ESPN 2 at 7:00 p.m. CST.
The Tigers need to bounce back from the Illinois loss, in which they lost the game in the final few seconds. Hopefully, the Tigers will not have any residual hangover from the loss, and can use the mistakes they made down the stretch to grow and become a better team.
Missouri’s early season schedule was a smorgasbord of cupcakes in November but it has toughen up over the past month. North Carolina State will be the 4th BCS conference school Missouri has played in their last 5 outings. The Wolfpack have 9 wins but their schedule wouldn’t scare too many teams, either. Only Cincinnati and Tennessee come from major basketball conferences, and North Carolina State lost to the Bearcats.
The Tigers are led in scoring by Jordan Clarkson, who drops in 19.9 points a game. Jabari Brown adds 18.2 per contest, and Earnest Ross pitches in with 14.1. The Tigers have a pretty fearsome threesome when it comes to scoring but they get little help from the rest of the roster. Missouri averages 78 points a game, and these three account for 52 of those points.
Clarkson can dish out passes to his teammates too. He lead the team with 4.3 assists a game, while Jonathan Williams, III tops the team with 8.1 rebounds an outing. Ross has the most steals with 18, and Williams has tallied 17 blocked shots.
On defense, Missouri will have to account for forward T.J. Warren. The sophomore pours in 23.9 points a contest while shooting 55.2% from the field (106 for 192). Warren also leads the team in rebounding (7.3 a game), and steals with 19 total.
Freshman point guard Anthony Barber supports Warren with 12.4 points a game, and leads the team with 4.3 assists each outing. The only other Wolfpack with a double digit scoring average is Desmond Lee, who banks 10.3 a game.
Just to make things more difficult, North Carolina State also starts 7’1″ senior Jordan Vandenberg. The big fella contributes 8.6 points on 76.3% shooting (29 of 38 attempts), pulls in 5.3 rebounds, and averages 3 blocked shots a game. All teams must figure out how they are going to match up against Vandenberg.
The Wolfpack are one of the better shooting teams in the nation, connecting on 49.7% of their attempts, ranked 17th in the NCAA, but they only make 30.7% of their 3-pointers. Of course, the Tigers aren’t too shabby themselves when it comes to hitting their shots, nailing 47.3%, ranked 21st, and 36.9% from behind the arc.
It is hard to tell just how good North Carolina State is because of their schedule (Strength of Schedule ranked 183rd by RealTimeRPI.com - MU is ranked 103rd in SOS), but the Wolfpack offer some tough match up problems for a lot of teams. They have a big time scorer in Warren, and a nice cast of supporting players, including Barber and Vandenberg. They are a deep team that plays 9 guys more than 12 minutes a game, so they will come at teams hard.
Missouri needs to share the ball better and become a better passing team. The Tigers average just 12 assists a game, but 14 turnovers. This ratio is certainly upside down, and the fact they only tally 12 assists on 26 made shots a game indicates there might be a small issue here. By the way, North Carolina State’s 14 assists on 30 made shots a game isn’t much better but the Wolfpack only turn the ball over 10 times an outing.
This game will be a good test for the Tigers heading into SEC play, especially being on the road. How the Tigers perform will give Head Coach Frank Haith a pretty good measure of his team, and how they will react on the road in the SEC against decent opposition.