1. The two players that Kentucky will be focusing the scouting report on for Missouri are Jordan Geist and Jeremiah Tilmon. Geist is a 6’2″, 180 senior who has really broken out this year, nearly doubling his scoring and improving most others. He’s the Tigers’ leading scorer at 14.2 points per game, to go along with 4.7 rebounds, a team-leading 3.1 assists, and one steal per game. Geist shoots 36.1% from three on the season. The senior plays with a lot of hustle and a bit of an edge to him. Sometimes that edge is a bit much, as he was T’ed up against the Cats last season for getting into it with Jarred Vanderbilt. In the frontcourt, Tilmon is the best big on the squad, standing at 6’10” and 252 pounds. The sophomore is averaging 10.9 points, a team-leading 5.7 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per contest. Tilmon won’t venture away from the paint a ton on offense, having attempted just one three in two seasons at Missouri, but he’s definitely improving as a mid-range threat. He’s shooting 71.4% from the free throw line, a massive improvement on his 52.6% from the charity stripe last season.
2. Despite what Coach Cal tried to build up to the media over the past few days to entice his players to not overlook Missouri, the Tigers’ woes this season are pretty easy to locate. Teetering on the verge of a losing record overall, and sporting a 3-9 SEC record, Missouri may be a team that has packed it in for the year. The Tigers are last in the SEC in scoring (295th in the country), last in the SEC in assists (324th in the country), and last in the SEC in assist to turnover ratio (330th in the country) with the second-most turnovers in the conference. Without a dominant post presence outside of Tilmon, they’ve struggled on the boards too, ranking 12th in the SEC in rebounding. The bright spot for the Tigers is that they can stroke from beyond the three-point arc, ranking third in SEC in three-point percentage and and fifth in total threes made. Although, they do struggle when scoring from anywhere but the three-ball, ranking 12th in overall shooting percentage in the SEC, 13th in field goals made, and 13th in free throws made.
3. Part of the blame for the struggles for Missouri is that the Tigers have caught the injury bug with some key players this season. Most notably, returning sophomore Jontay Porter’s season ended before it even began. The Tigers had a closed-door scrimmage in the preseason against Southern Illinois on October 21st, just 16 days before the first game of the regular season, which ended with Porter tearing both his ACL and MCL. Porter was going to be one of the best players in the Southeastern Conference this season, after choosing to pull out of the NBA Draft. After averaging nearly 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks, while shooting over 36% from three last season, Porter’s 6’11” and 240 pound body was NBA ready, but he chose to stay at Missouri. On top of the loss of Porter, the Tigers’ second-best scorer, Mark Smith, missed six straight games in SEC play due to an ankle injury. Smith just returned from that injury this past Saturday, but was clearly not back to 100%, playing just 14 minutes off the bench. Missouri needs Smith back healthy ASAP if they hope to make any sort of run in the SEC Tournament to try to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
4. When Missouri started the season 3-3, Head Coach Cuonzo Martin was still tinkering with how to play without their stud big-man. The Tigers got hot to finish out their non-conference schedule, winning all six of their games in the month of December to begin SEC play with a 9-3 record. Unfortunately for Missouri, starting conference play meant that the winning ways were coming to a close in a hurry. The Tigers lost six of their first seven games against teams from the Southeastern Conference, with the sole win coming at Texas A&M. Missouri certainly plays better at home than outside of Mizzou Arena, but the improvement hasn’t lead to a big change in the win column. Now sitting at just 12-12 on the season, the Tigers have all but burst their own bubble and chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
5. Of all the teams in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky has played Missouri the least amount, with just twelve total meetings between the two schools in the all-time series. The Cats lead the series 11-1 overall and they’re 7-1 in the John Calipari era. The only loss in the series for Kentucky actually came just over a year ago, as the Tigers held the Cats to just 31% shooting from the field and 2 of 20 from three in Columbia to get the 69-60 victory. Kentucky would later avenge that loss, as three weeks later, the Cats torched the Tigers for a 21-point win in Rupp Arena. Outside of last season’s loss, Kentucky has dominated since Cal took over at UK. The average margin of victory in the Calipari era is over 20 points per Wildcat win over the Tigers. The games at Mizzou Arena have been a tad closer, with UK’s three wins coming by an average of 10 points. Stemming from that point, the spread for tonight’s game, as of late last night, was UK -11. In reality, the Cats should be able to cover that with ease if they play anywhere remotely close to the level they played against Tennessee on Saturday.
Go Cats. Beat Tigers.