COLUMBIA, MO. • Starting center Jeremiah Tilmon will not play Saturday against Texas A&M thanks to what the team has described as emergency wisdom teeth removal. Tilmon has started every game the last two seasons.
Without Tilmon, the Tigers will have to play smaller in the frountcourt or give extended minutes to junior center Reed Nikko. Without Tilmon and guard Mark Smith, still out with a sprained ankle, Mizzou is down to eight scholarship players, plus walk-on guard Ronnie Suggs, who's been part of the rotation during SEC play.
The Missouri Tigers will attempt to sweep an SEC series for the first time in five years when Texas A&M plods into Mizzou Arena on Saturday. Not since February of 2014 have the Tigers beaten the same SEC opponent twice in the same regular season. That year, Frank Haith’s team swept Arkansas both at home and on the road. That was so long ago, Cuonzo Martin was still coaching at Tennessee.
Martin’s Tigers dominated the Aggies last month in College Station, Texas, but Mizzou had a healthy Mark Smith on the floor that day at Reed Arena. Martin warned his team this week that Saturday’s game won’t be easy just because the first matchup was so lopsided.
“It’s a league game. Everyone is trying to fight to win games,” Martin said. “It helps (we played them already) because you have a feel, but … we have to understand we won a game but you can’t take that for granted. You still have to do compete and play as hard as you can.”
Here’s a closer look at the matchup …
MISSOURI vs. TEXAS A&M
When • 5 p.m.
Where • Mizzou Arena
Series • Tied 18-18. Last meeting, MU 66, Texas A&M 43. Jan. 19, 2019
TV, radio • SEC Network (Mike Morgan, Pat Bradley), KTRS (550 AM)
Records: MU (11-10, 2-7), Texas A&M (8-13, 1-8)
NET rankings: Missouri No. 78, Texas A&M No. 102
KenPom rankings: Missouri No. 87, Texas A&M No. 127
Point spread: Missouri by 4
KenPom projection: Missouri 69, Texas A&M 63
Matter’s prediction: Missouri 72, Texas A&M 65
LIKELY STARTING LINEUPS
G T.J. Starks (6-2, So.): 12.5 ppg, 3.7 apg
G Wendell Mitchell (6-3, Jr.): 12.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg
G Jay Jay Chandler (6-4, So.): 8.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg
F Savion Flagg (6-7, So.): 11.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg
F Christian Mekowulu (6-8, Sr.): 7.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg
G Jordan Geist (6-2, Sr.): 13.7 ppg, 3.2 apg
G Xavier Pinson (6-2, Fr.): 6.2 ppg, 1.9 apg
G Javon Pickett (6-7, Fr.): 8.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg
F Kevin Puryear (6-8, Sr.): 7.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg
F Jeremiah Tilmon (6-10, So.): 10.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Starks was seen as A&M’s premier player coming into the season, but Mitchell has taken over as the Aggies’ top scoring threat, going for 18 points or more in five of nine SEC games. The Baylor transfer has a tendency to steal the ball, has been a reliable 3-point shooter but turns the ball over and is inconsistent at getting to the free throw line. In th first matchup with Mizzou, Mitchell scored just four points on nine shots.
“In the junior college ranks you could see he can score the ball,” Martin said. “He’s obviously older, but it takes time. You get a feel for things, the adjustment of the team, trying to find your way. You can see he’s very comfortable with the ball. Before (recently) Starks handled the ball more. Mitchell is comfortable with the ball, making plays and scoring the ball. Even we played them, you could see the moves he makes. He understands what’s going on. He’s just flourishing in that role now.”
BETTER BALL SECURITY?
Has Missouri gotten over its turnover troubles? They’ve had only three games this season with single-digit giveaways—and two of those games were MU’s last two games, when they turned it over nine times against both Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Martin believes his team can beat any team on its schedule if the Tigers don’t give the ball away and Tilmon stays on the floor.
“Hopefully I don’t have to talk about turnovers, but you’re a different team when you take care of the ball,” Martin said. “That’s with any team. But there are reasons why we turn it over, so you have to be good at taking care of the ball. That way you limit poor shots or questionable shots and get the ball where it needs to go and you give yourself a chance to win games.”
As always with the Tigers this season, it’s about margin for error. The best teams in the SEC — and Texas A&M certainly isn’t one of those — can afford to make mistakes. Teams like Mizzou and the Aggies cannot.
“Tennessee, Auburn, Kentucky, those teams, when you have enough you can be bad and still win the game,” Martin said. “We can’t afford to be bad in certain areas right now. We have to be sound across the board. We can’t give up that many points on fast-break points. We can’t turn the ball over 15 times and expect to win. You’re not going to win games like that.”
X MARKS THE SPOT
As we touched on in today’s preview, Pinson and freshman Torrence Watson are seeing their minutes and production increase the last couple weeks. Pinson has especially become a more productive player at the point, committing only one turnover in the last two games combined. With Smith out, every positive minute Pinson gives the Tigers takes stress off Geist in the backcourt.
Some fans worried about Pinson when he wasn’t seeing the floor at the start of conference play and had Blake Harris flashbacks. Was this another disgruntled freshman point guard?
It doesn’t appear so. Pinson has kept his head up in recent weeks and stayed committed to playing sound on the offensive end with better effort on the defensive end.
“Sometimes when young guys deal with adversity they give up,” Geist said. “But these guys just get in the gym every day and keep working.”
@dave_matter on Twitter
This article originally ran on stltoday.com.