Mizzou ended a 13-year drought on Thursday by winning the NCAA Tournament’s first-round game over Utah State. Now, the team has a chance to wrap up another decade-plus streak on the show.
The #7 Tigers haven’t been in the Sweet 16 since 2009. They are currently just one win away from reaching the second Big Dance weekend and moving to Louisville, Ky.
Princeton’s number 15 is the team currently standing in its way. The Ivy League Tigers defeated second-ranked Arizona on Thursday, 59-55, which counted as the tournament’s most surprising victory until No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson beat No. 1 Purdue on Friday, 63-58.
The win over the Wildcats was Princeton’s first against any high school this season. head coach Mitch Hendersonwho was a member of the last Tigers team to earn an NCAA Tournament victory in 1998, said there are a few programs they played against this year that are stylistically similar to Missouri, like Cornell, but none that had the same talent.
“We haven’t seen their size and athleticism, the way they defend,” Henderson said. “But, I mean, just like in Arizona, we’ve never seen two human beings that big together on the court. It will have to be the will to win again.”
Mizzou’s Technical Assistant Kyle Smithpeters was tasked with leading the scout at Princeton. He noted that the two Tigers teams run similar sets – he told the MU players they’ve been preparing for this game for four months. His main advice to the team was to avoid the same mistakes the Wildcats made.
“I think the biggest thing we need to stay focused on is ourselves and make sure our mindset is that we’re not neglecting this opponent,” said Smithpeters. “You have to respect them. I felt like there were two or three times in the Arizona game that Arizona had a chance to score and they really took advantage of the opportunity. And it allowed Princeton to hang around, and then crazy things happen in this basketball game when you let that happen.
Missouri head coach Dennis Gates pointed out after Thursday’s win that not many people picked their Tigers to beat the Aggies. That likely won’t be the case again when they play a lower ranked Princeton team.
But many of Mizzou’s players say their mentality is not going to change – they are still a team that has been questioned all season with something yet to prove.
“Some people think we’re going to lose tomorrow,” senior point guard Nick Honor said on Friday. “I know we may be favored but we will always carry that chip on our shoulders because of all the work we put in. At the end of the day, it’s March Madness, so everyone, you know what I’m saying, at the tournament deserves to be here. Let’s just play our game and do what we do.”
TIP TIME INFORMATION
Missouri (25-9, 11-7 SEC) vs. Princeton (22-8, 10-4 Ivy League)
WHEN: 3:10 pm PT / 5:10 pm CT
WHERE: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California
SERIES: Missouri leads, 2-0
LINE: Missouri -6.5
KENPOM FORECAST: Missouri 80, Princeton 74
BEST LINEUP OF THE LAST 5 OUTS (by CBB Analytics)
Nick Honor-Sean East II-D’Moi Hodge-Noah Carter-Kobe Brown
Minutes played: 30
Offensive Rating: 153.5
Defensive rating: 111.1
Net rating: +42.4
1. Find the right match for Tosan Evbuomwan. The senior forward serves as Princeton’s de facto point guard, often bringing the ball up and leading the team with 4.8 assists per game – according to KenPom, he assists on 32.0% of the Tigers’ baskets while on the ground , which ranks 43rd in the nation. His ball-handling skills can make him difficult to defend against for Mizzou’s forwards, but at 6’11” he may also be too tall for MU’s guards to resist. He was Princeton’s only player in double figures against Arizona on Thursday, scoring 15 points. Evbuomwan isn’t much of a shooter, making just 26.9% of his 3-pointers on less than one attempt per game, so any defender’s main focus would be to keep him from reaching the rim and rely on the rest of the team. the team to cut all passing lanes. The SEC Tigers will likely rotate between a few different players to find the right man to protect them. The sooner they feel comfortable with someone the better.
2. Pass Princeton outside the 3-point line. The Ivy League Tigers shoot slightly below average from outside, sinking 33.3% of their treys. However, that doesn’t dissuade Princeton from doing huge numbers of 3s each night. According to KenPom, 40.7% of the team’s field goal attempts come from outside the arc, which ranks 89th in the nation. Although only two players shoot above 34.0% depth, six of them shoot at least one triple per game. Mizzou proved he can stop a team from finding a rhythm along the perimeter, holding Utah State to 4-24 of 3 and holding Alabama to 8-27 in the previous game. Arizona held Princeton 4-25 in the first round, it will take a similar effort from Missouri to come out on top.
3. Take the ball away from Princeton. MU did a solid job of winning the turnover margin against Utah State on Thursday, forcing the Aggies to cough up the ball 15 times to 10. USU was also not a team that gave up the ball often by turning it over. in only 17.6% of possessions. Princeton is even better at guarding the ball, giving it up on just 16.9% of possessions, ranking 85th in the NCAA. The Ivy League Tigers had 11 turnovers to Arizona’s 13 on Friday, which helped the team slow the Wildcats, resulting in the low-scoring contest. Princeton is also one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the nation, throwing 22.7% of available errors, meaning Mizzou won’t have many more opportunities to gain extra possessions without generating turnovers. The SEC Tigers cannot fall into the same trap as Arizona.
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