PowerMizzou – Tiger Tip-Off Preview: Tennessee

Mizzou earning the No. 4 seed and a double bye in the SEC tournament helped the team on a number of levels. For one, the Tigers need just one win to advance to the conference semifinals for the first time since joining the league in the 2012-13 season. For two, after No. 5 seed Tennessee eliminated No. 13 seed Ole Miss in the second round on Thursday, 70-55, Missouri isn’t at risk of tarnishing its flawless 18-0 record against Quad 2-4 opponents, meaning the team will end the year without a single bad loss on its resume.

The Tigers can’t do much to hurt themselves as far where they’ll be seeded in the NCAA tournament — a loss to the Volunteers on a neutral floor won’t define what they’ve accomplished on the year as a whole. But a deep run in the SEC tourney could help Mizzou climb the seeding ladder. The Bracket Project’s matrix had the team in all 92 tournament forecasts they tracked as of Thursday night, with an average seed of 7.64.

Missouri will be going up against a Tennessee team that lost one of its most important players a few games ago in Zakai Zeigler. The sophomore starting point guard led the league with 5.4 assists per game and was fourth in the conference with 2.0 steals per game. Zeigler tore his ACL early in the first half of the team’s game against Arkansas on March 4. The Volunteers defeated the Razorbacks, but lost to Auburn in the regular season finale, falling to the No. 5 seed due to MU holding the tie-breaker over them.

The Tigers defeated Tennessee on the road in their first meeting on Feb. 11, 86-85, after senior guard DeAndre Gholston sank a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. Head coach Dennis Gates hopes his team can pull off the same kind of magic the second time around.

“I’m excited about going to the first SEC tournament of my career,” Gates said. “And ultimately, we’ll see where that takes us. It’s going to be a tough, tough, tough atmosphere. I think there is a series of teams, a number of teams that can win it. I believe there’s players that can really, really step up and lead their team in the right direction. And hopefully, we just play a series of games that prepares us.”


Missouri (23-8, 11-7 SEC) vs. Tennessee (23-9, 11-7)

WHEN: 2:30 p.m. CT

WHERE: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennessee


SERIES: Tennessee leads, 11-9

LINE: Tennessee -6.0

KENPOM PREDICTION: Tennessee 77, Mizzou 69




Sean East II-D’Moi Hodge-DeAndre Gholston-Noah Carter-Kobe Brown

Minutes played: 12

Offensive rating: 156.5

Defensive rating: 71.1

Net rating: +85.3


1. Have a backup plan on offense. It bears repeating that Mizzou shot a season-high 53.8% from the 3-point line in its first matchup with Tennessee. Nobody else has come close to shooting that well against the Volunteers. Vanderbilt made 40.0% of its 3s against Tennessee, but opponents have only shot 37.5% or lower in all of the team’s 30 other games on the year. For the season, teams are making just 25.8% of their triples against the Volunteers, the lowest mark in the nation. The Tigers may still shoot at an efficient clip in their rematch with Tennessee, but it’s unlikely that they make more than they miss again. They’ll need to be prepared to find other ways to put points on the board if their treys don’t fall in as often.

2. Apply a healthy amount of ball pressure. Missouri scored 19 points off the 10 turnovers it forced in its first meeting with the Volunteers. Tennessee had just eight points off seven turnovers forced. MU should have the advantage over the Volunteers again, especially with the team missing Zakai Zeigler, who dished out 10 assists with just three turnovers against the Tigers on Feb. 11. Santiago Vescovi has taken over at point with Zeigler out, but is more of a score-first guard than a facilitator like Zeigler. In Tennessee’s second-round game against Ole Miss in the SEC tournament on Thursday, the Volunteers coughed the ball up 14 times, leading to 19 points for the Rebels. Mizzou should look to do the same in the quarterfinals.

3. Keep Tennessee off the free throw line. Foul shots played a huge part in the Volunteers erasing a 17-point deficit in the second half of their first game against the Tigers. After attempting eight free throws in the first half, Tennessee shot 25 in the second, making 18. Missouri shot just 17 for the game. The discrepancy was caused in part by inconsistent officiating — the Tigers were called for seven fouls in the first half and were whistled for 17 in the second. The Volunteers were called for 17 total on the night. Mizzou could get more favorable calls (or non-calls) on a neutral floor. But the team will need to do everything it can to keep free throws from making a major impact in Friday’s contest.

4. If Missouri is down two with 4.2 seconds left in the game, give the ball to DeAndre Gholston. He’ll know what to do with it.

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