Much of Travis Steele’s first season at Xavier did not go well. A tough start to the season, highlighted by the Musketeers’ first ever trip to the Maui Invitational, foreshadowed struggles until February.
While losing to DePaul at home was undoubtedly the lowest point thus of the Steele era thus far, Xavier’s 71-56 loss at Missouri a week before Christmas was not a whole lot better. The game was not nearly as close as the score indicated, as Missouri took a double-digit lead with seven minutes to go in the first half and the Musketeers were unable to shrink that lead back into single digits the rest of the way. The Tigers had extended their lead to 29 with nine minutes remaining before the Musketeers rallied to make the final score a little more respectable.
Xavier will be favored to turn the tables on Mizzou this season as Cuonzo Martin’s team entered the 2019-20 season picked by the media to finish 13th in the SEC, although advanced metrics such as Kenpom peg the Tigers as a tournament-caliber team.
Missouri Tigers (2-0): 33rd of 353 KenPom
Head Coach: Cuonzo Martin (3rd season, 37-30 at Mizzou, 223-151 overall with stints at Missouri State, Tennessee, and Cal)
Offense: 76.5 ppg, 49.9%/26.0%/73.9%, 104.3 KenPom (67th)
Defense: 49 ppg, 87.9 KenPom (20th)
Series History: Xavier leads 5-3. Xavier won the only prior meeting at Cintas Center, 78-66 in 2015-16. Xavier defeated Missouri 70-69 in the 1987 NCAA Tournament marking the Musketeers first-ever Tournament win.
While preseason prognosticators might be have been low on the Tigers, they’ve looked good so far while dismantling small conference opponents. Missouri destroyed Incarnate Word 82-42 on opening night before taking care of Horizon League-power Northern Kentucky last Friday 71-56. The Norse played close with the Tigers into the second-half before a 17-0 Tiger run turned a 4 point lead into a 21 point advantage.
Martin’s teams have always been known for their defense and, if Missouri is to make a surprising run to the Tournament, it’ll likely be their defense that gets them there. While the Tigers have held their first two opponents to just 33.2% from the field through two games, there’s not alot of offensive firepower to carry them through high-scoring games. The Tigers will look to slow things down and muck the game up.
The Tigers do have two players return that averaged double-digits last season. Junior guard Mark Smith (played 2017-18 for Illinois where he scored a career-high 21 points against DePaul) is Mizzou’s premier deep threat. While he only played in 19 games last season due to injuries, he still hit 49 threes at a ridiculous 45% clip while adding 5.2 rpg. He’s 4-11 from three this season with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Junior forward Jeremiah Tilmon was the bane of the Musketeers last season, posting career-highs with 23 points and 12 rebounds against Xavier. He finished last season averaging 10.1 ppg and 5.6 rpg, he’s been the Tigers leading scorer with 29 points (and 7 blocks!) through the first two games. Sophomore guard Xavier Pinson seems to have taken a step forward this season as well, with 23 points and 11 assists thus far.
- Xavier has made it a habit to schedule SEC teams in recent years and has done well against its southern foes, going 19-7 against current SEC members since 2008.
- Steele said Monday that sophomore guard Paul Scruggs is probable due to a knee injury suffered in the opener against Jacksonville. Scruggs sat out the Musketeers’ last game against Siena.
- Xavier has been equally adept at shutting down opponent’s three-point game as Mizzou has only allowing Jacksonville and Siena to shoot a combined 9-40 from deep. Unfortunately, they’ve been almost as bad shooting just 10-42.
- The Mizzou game is Travis Steele’s 38th game as head coach of the Musketeers which is also on his 38th birthday.
- It’s no surprise that senior forward Tyrique Jones and junior forward Naji Marshall are leading the Musketeers in scoring with 37 points apiece. Xavier’s third-leading scorer is a surprise: freshman forward Zach Freemantle has 18 points in his first two games.
Time: 7:00 pm
TV: CBSSN, former Musketeer Steve Wolf will serve as analyst alongside Ben Holden.
Line: Xavier -6, 136 o/u
Despite being a relatively low total for a college basketball game, the under seems like the obvious play in what should be a tough, low-scoring game. Both teams have gotten off to slow starts shooting and defend very well; however, Xavier will have more scoring threats assuming Scruggs is able to play. The Musketeers will shut down Smith while some positive regression from beyond-the-arc helps the Musketeers pull away in the second half.
Xavier 72, Missouri 59