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Oklahoma Sooners Basketball vs. Missouri in the NCAA Tournament: March Madness Preview with Rock M Nation

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Sam Snelling of Rock M Nation dropped by to talk about Mizzou.

Syndication: The Tennessean Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Oklahoma is set to face a former Big 12/Big Eight foe in the Missouri Tigers, and here to preview the matchup is Sam Snelling of Rock M Nation.

The Tigers got off to a great start this season, as they picked up some really solid non-conference before getting out to a 6-3 start in SEC play. Mizzou is 3- 6 since then, so what has changed for this team?

Honestly not a lot has changed. If you ask random Mizzou fan on the corner I’m sure they’ll wax poetic about how this team has crashed and burned. But... they’ve mostly come up short in some games where they didn’t earlier in the year. The offensive and defensive approaches has been pretty similar, but they just haven’t gotten over the hump. Plus they lost a couple close games with Jeremiah Tilmon out of the lineup, and if he’s in and gets them over the hump in one of the games it’s likely we aren’t even talking about the finish. Mizzou is who they are, a good team capable of playing with anyone, but flawed enough and lacking in depth it’s led to a pretty uninspiring finish in the W-L column.

At this stage in the season, how would you best describe this team’s offensive identity?

They run a variation of Spain’s ball screen continuity offense. They like to get Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson in that motion and then try to get either a roll to the rim for Jeremiah Tilmon or kick the ball out and have him post up. They’re a team who is capable of making 3’s and when they do they’re dangerous, but they’re not a great shooting team. Most of the time they’re going to look to really attack early in the clock off turnovers and defensive rebounds, but otherwise are comfortable running offense for the entirety of the clock.

Backcourt mates Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson are each leading the team at 14.1 PPG this season. What does each layer bring to the table?

Dru Smith might be the best player most casual fans in college basketball don’t know about. He’s so important to what Missouri does. He’s a terrific defender, and he’s very comfortable being the secondary guy in the offense, but capitalizes when it’s his turn. Pinson is the primary option really. He’s the point guard who loves to attack down hill but he can be bothered around the rim. If the officials have a tight whistle and Pinson is attacking, he’s capable of taking and making 20 or so free throws. Pinson is a lot more coaxable into an inefficient night than Dru is, as he’s more consistent than Pinson. But the ceiling on Pinson as a scorer is much higher.

Outside of these two, who is the player OU fans should keep an eye on this Saturday?

I’d say there are really two guys. Jeremiah Tilmon is really important to what Missouri does. If he’s getting shot attempts and scoring in double figures, that means he’s engaged and the Sooner are probably in trouble. But he’s struggled recently, and when he does Mizzou struggles with the 2 point FG shooting, a major part of their offense. The other is Mark Smith. Smith (one of three Smiths which I’m sure the announcers will point out) is a capable shooter, and when he’s making outside shots at a consistent level he gives Missouri the dimension they need to be efficient on that end of the floor. He also plays a lot because Missouri is a lot better with him on the floor on defense.

How would you assess this season for Mizzou relative to your expectations entering the season?

This is right about where I expected them to be. I thought they deserved a bit of a higher seed, and if they were a 6 or a 7 seed that would have exceeded my expectations, but I always kind of thought the talent on the team was undervalued and when healthy they would be better than people thought. Preseason they were predicted 10th in the league, and obviously they’re not a top 10 team in the country but I always thought they should be a tournament team, and depending on the draw they could get to the second weekend.

I obviously don’t think the winner of the Mizzou-OU game has any shot to get to the second weekend with the draw they have.

Who is your least favorite KU basketball player of all time?

Ha. Good questions. Probably a number of Self guys because I always feel like he does a good job of finding a lot of bad guys. The Morris twins are way up there. Sherron Collins is up there. I also hated early Frank Mason but came to like him more as he matured. I also had an irrational hatred of Greg Ostertag. Not only at KU but then he played for the Jazz with Malone and Stockton who I didn’t like either.

Better city – Kansas City or St. Louis?

I’m a St. Louisan, but I do love KC. I think the beer/food scene in STL is better, obviously BBQ is elite in KC, and I actually think it’s a better overall sports town. There are a lot of college fans which helps, and I think STL is more pro-sports focused. I also think it’s really weird how much of a rivalry there is between the two when they really should be pulling for each other. I love St. Louis, but I know I’d be just as happy to live in Kansas City (actually went to college there).

I nearly died after the 2010 OU-Mizzou football game because someone decided to throw an old-school box TV out of a third-floor window. Please answer for your alma mater’s crimes.

First, I didn’t attend the University of Missouri... and second, if I did I would do no such thing. I was a college basketball player and not at the D1 level so I went to Rockhurst University in KC. And considering the highlights of Oklahoma’s football accomplishments are a little deeper than Missouri’s, you’ll take that one ass-kicking and you’ll like it... near death experience aside, of course.

What’s your favorite Mizzou hoops memory from its time in the Big 12?

I grew up during some terrific times in the Big 8 with those Norm-Billy matchups, but I have far more formidable memories of things like the undefeated run for Missouri in 1994. The Big 12 was more of a mixed bag, but I absolutely loved the 2009 team with Demarre Carroll, Leo Lyons, and the freshman class of players who would be seniors for the 2012 run. I’m sure someone else might say the Elite 8 run where Mizzou lost to OU, but I was coaching basketball in High School at that time and barely remember watching.

How do you see this game playing out? What’s your final prediction?

Well, as a Mizzou fan I can envision a ton of outcomes and most of them aren’t good. But I do hope both teams play decently enough and are able to make some shots, if only to build a modicum of momentum into the Gonzaga game. If OU gives up transition opportunities to the Tigers and they don’t slow down Jeremiah Tilmon, I think this is a game Mizzou wins in the 6-10 point range. But I expect a Lon Kruger coached team to be prepared and defend well, run good offense and make this game a contest until the last 4-5 minutes. Then it comes down to a single possession here or there and I think Dru Smith finds a way to get it done for Missouri. But it’s close, I’ll say something like 75-71.

Who’s your favorite Mizzou alum of all time?

Sports edition I’d probably go with Melvin Booker or Derrick Chievious. Chievous was the player I really remember being excited to watch play, and I remember putting a bandaid on my face just like he did. And I was a big Booker fan. Once I got older than the players it became less about favorites and more guys I liked to watch.

Non sports edition I’ll be lame and go with Jon Hamm. I was never a big Mad Men fan, but his work on shows like 30 Rock, the Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt, Parks and Rec, and Curb make him immensely likeable. And he’s as Pro-St. Louis as he is Pro-Mizzou so that works double.