Alabama men’s basketball continues SEC road trip with matchup at Missouri

Dru Smith (12) drives past Jaden Shackelford (5) in Missouri’s 68-65 win over Alabama last season.

Courtesy of UA Athletics

Dru Smith (12) drives past Jaden Shackelford (5) in Missouri’s 68-65 win over Alabama last season.

Austin Hannon, Staff Reporter

The No. 15 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-3) will stay on the road this weekend to take on the Missouri Tigers after a 83-70 win over the Florida Gators on Wednesday night. 

“It’s gonna test our maturity as a group,” guard Jaden Shackelford said. “We’re just trying to come out and execute better.”

There are three places where Alabama head coach Nate Oats has yet to win: College Station, Fayetteville and Columbia.

“They’re a hard playing group,” Oats said. “We’ve lost two years in a row at Missouri. We only had two losses in the SEC a year ago, and they were one of them. This game will show our maturity. We’ve been talking about having a 40-minute effort rather than a 20-minute effort. Our wins have been good. It’s our three losses that are haunting us right now. That’s what scares you about this Missouri game.”

A season ago, the Missouri Tigers opened up a 22-point lead in the second half and led 64-44 with 6:18 to play. But a frantic Alabama run pulled them within one point with under a minute to play. A late controversial no-call on Alabama forward Herbert Jones led the Tigers to a three-point victory.

But this year’s Missouri team lost a lot of pieces from last year’s team. The Tigers lost their top four scorers from 2020-21, including guards Dru Smith, Xavier Pinson, and Mark Smith, as well as forward Jeremiah Tilmon. Those four players averaged over 50 points per game. Missouri had a lot of holes to fill this season.

So far, it hasn’t been a clean transition.

The Tigers sit at 6-7 so far this season, and they have had a lot of blowout losses. The Tigers lost at home to UMKC by double-digits. Missouri has also lost to Florida State by 23, Liberty by 21, No. 6 Kansas by 37 and Illinois by 25. 

Most recently, the Tigers suffered a 27-point loss at Rupp Arena in its conference opener against No. 16 Kentucky. The Tigers didn’t play their mid-week game against Mississippi State because of COVID-19 protocols. Missouri will be three players short against Alabama on Saturday.

“I got a lot of respect for Cuonzo,” Oats said. “I’m sure he’s got a good plan.”

Missouri is ranked at No. 235 in the NET, which is next to last in the SEC, only ahead of Georgia. The Tigers rank last in the conference in a lot of categories, including assist-to-turnover ratio, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. They also are last in opponents’ field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. 

The one thing that the Tigers excel at is rebounding, specifically offensive rebounding. The 12.9 offensive rebounds per game is ranked 32nd in the country.

Leading the Tigers in scoring is their only returning starter from 2020. Forward Kobe Brown is averaging over 14 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The only other double-digit scorer is guard Amari Davis, who is averaging 10.4 points per game. Davis transferred to Missouri from Green Bay.

Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin is in his fifth year at Columbia where he has compiled a record of 72-63. Martin also had a short stint as the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers from 2011 to 2014.

His latest challenge is trying to stop Alabama.

“I wouldn’t say they’re difficult to prepare for, but they’re very talented,” Martin said. “They are really good in space. What they’re great at is getting you in scramble situations. They’ll make some 3-point shots. The problem is they get to the rim. Our job is to make those threes tough. Our problem is not letting them get the offensive rebound and more tries. You have to make them score in the half court. Quinerly and Shackelford, you can’t afford those guys’ comfort. It has to be great 1-on-1 defense. You have to be physical without fouling.”

Tip-off from Mizzou Arena is Saturday, Jan. 8 at 2:30 p.m. CT on SEC Network.