When today’s game against the Missouri Tigers in Columbia was originally scheduled at the beginning of the season, it was thought that College Gameday would be setting up shop in Mizzou Arena as freshman phenom Michael Porter Jr. would be taking on the talented freshman class from Kentucky. However, much has changed since the start of the season. Porter sustained a back injury just 2 minutes into the season which ended his freshman campaign and most likely his career at Missouri. Meanwhile, the young Wildcats have had their fair share of struggles, as well as injuries causing missed games for Jarred Vanderbilt and Quade Green.
Fast forward to today, and the #21 Kentucky Wildcats, sporting a 17-5 record, are ready to take on the 14-8 Tigers. In the wake of the injury to Michael Porter Jr., the Tigers have been experimenting with their starting lineup, especially as of late. Coach Cuonzo Martin is trying his best to keep a talented Missouri team afloat without their best player.
Like most venues that the Cats travel to, Mizzou Arena is doing a “Tiger Stripe” theme for the crowd tomorrow, as certain sections will be told to wear a specific color to alternate black and yellow throughout. Let’s take a look at the potential starting five Coach Martin will throw out there in front of this rowdy home crowd.
#3 Kassius Robertson, Senior Guard, 6’3″
Kassius Robertson is in his first season at Missouri, utilizing the graduate transfer option after spending three years as Canisius. Robertson was one of the top scorers in the MAAC last season and shot over 40% from three in both his sophomore and junior seasons. Robertson has stepped into the scoring role that the injured Michael Porter Jr. left open.
The graduate transfer senior has been a great addition for Cuonzo Martin this season. Robertson is leading the team in scoring, at 16 points per game, and three point shooting, at 41.7% on the year. He’s also hitting 83% of his free throws, pulling down 2.5 rebounds, dishing out 2.2 assists, and leading the team at 1 steal per game.
Despite not being a true point guard, Robertson has the ball in his hands a lot, to create for this Tiger offense. The second guard in the starting lineup has changed throughout the year, but Robertson has been steady. Kentucky will most likely start their best defensive guard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, on Robertson to begin the game.
#21 Jordan Barnett, Senior Forward, 6’7″
Jordan Barnett returns to the starting lineup for the Missouri Tigers this season, after leading them in scoring through most of last year. He sat out his sophomore season due to transfer rules, after starting his collegiate career with the Longhorns at Texas.
The senior is probably the most dangerous player on this Missouri team for opponents to game plan against. Reason being is that Barnett can score at a high rate on the perimeter, as well as get to the rim using his size. He’s currently averaging 14 points and 5.9 rebounds, good for second on the team in both categories. He’s a lights out shooter, hitting 41.4% of his threes and 91.1% of his free throws on the year.
At the small forward position, the Jordan Barnett versus Kevin Knox match up will be key in today’s game. Both team rely on their 3-man to score from both inside and out, as well as set a tone for the offense. Look for both of these forwards to be involved early and often in the offensive load.
#24 Kevin Puryear, Junior Forward, 6’7″
Kevin Puryear is now a three year starter for this Missouri Tiger program. He’s been a steady contributor since his freshman season, when he was named to the 2016 SEC All-Freshman team. He was actually the best freshman scorer at Missouri in almost 25 years. He had 4 points, 8 rebounds, and a steal in last season’s loss to Kentucky.
The junior has seen a drop in his overall stats this season, with the influx of some new talent under first year head coach Cuonzo Martin. He’s had a decrease in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and three point percentage from last season. Nevertheless, he’s still a solid contributor, averaging 9 points and 4.7 rebounds. He’s shooting 27.8% from behind the arc and 84.2% from the charity stripe.
At 6’7″ and 238 pounds, Puryear is a thick body at the power forward position for the Tigers, matching up with Kentucky’s PJ Washington (assuming PJ’s 100% back from his knee contusion). The two players have near the same measurements for height and weight, with Washington being just two pounds less than Puryear. Washington will need to fight for rebounds to not be out-bodied by Puryear today.
#23 Jeremiah Tilmon, Freshman Forward, 6’10”
Jeremiah Tilmon is the lone freshman in the starting lineup for Cuonzo Martin; however, he is sometimes joined by Jontay Porter, brother of Michael Porter Jr. Tilmon was a four-star rated recruit coming out of high school and was regarded as a top 50 player in the class.
Tilmon is on his way to becoming a force in the paint for Missouri, with a solid start in his freshman season. He’s averaging 8.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1 block per game. He struggles shooting, only hitting 47.5% of his free throws. He splits time with Jontay Porter, who leads the Tigers in rebounds and blocked shots, despite only being a part-time starter.
Measuring in at 6’10” and 252 pounds, Tilmon is the presence in the post for the Tigers, alongside Porter who stands at 6’11” and 240 pounds. Both are talented bigs who will eat up Nick Richards if he reverts in his defensive and rebounding efforts. Kentucky will need Richards to play tough to be a factor today.
#33 Cullen VanLeer, Junior Guard, 6’4″
Cullen VanLeer started about half of least season’s games, and just recently began starting games this year. Totaling 17 starts last season, VanLeer has just 4 so far this year. In the match up two years ago against the Cats, VanLeer finished with 7 points in 20 minutes, but did not score in last year’s game.
The junior puts another guard in the lineup for Cuonzo Martin, despite not being a huge stat sheet stuffer. His current averages are 2.7 points and 1.4 rebounds, while shooting 32.7% from three on the year. Interesting stat on VanLeer is that he’s attempting just 7 free throws this season, and has missed all seven for a 0.00% free throw percentage. Now that I type that, he’ll probably go 10 for 10 today though with my luck.
As the second of two guards in the starting lineup, VanLeer will most likely match up with Hamidou Diallo for Kentucky. This is a match up that Hami should be able to take over. Diallo has struggled offensively a tad lately, so the Cats need to get him back on track.
Go Cats. Beat Tigers.