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Previewing Missouri: Youthful Tigers making modest improvements in another rebuilding year

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Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

How to watch or listen to the game

Tip time: 6 p.m. ET, Saturday, Dec. 19

TV: SEC Network

Online streamingWatchESPN

Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)

Missouri vitals

Record: 5-4
Pomeroy ranking: No. 178
Best win***: 78-71 over Northern Illinois (KenPom No. 173)
Worst loss: 66-42 to Kansas State (KenPom No. 78)

(***Best win or loss based on opponent's Pomeroy Rating, not the scoring margin.)

Adjusted tempo: 69.6 poss/40 minutes (ranks 205th)
Adjusted offensive efficiency: 101.5 (ranks 183rd)
Adjusted defensive efficiency: 102.3 (ranks 183rd)

Mizzou roster
Mizzou schedule
Mizzou stats 2015 2016

The Missouri offense and starters

Mizzou Offense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2014-15 45.8 (299) 20.2 (258) 29.4 (237) 32.5 (289)
2015-16 48.3 (196) 17.8 (132) 24.6 (302) 44.9 (43)

Since Frank Haith decided to flee Columbia for the greener pastures of ... Tulsa? ... Missouri has gone into complete rebuilding mode. Haith may have impeccably timed his decision to hit the eject button, but then again he also landed at Tulsa. That feels like a move in the wrong direction, job-quality wise.

Anyhow, there are few holdovers from Haith's last Missouri team--new head coach Kim Anderson has a roster loaded with youth, including five freshmen and five sophomores. Most of them play a role in the Tigers' rotation, which is running 10-deep. Well, "deep" might not be the correct word, or at least it probably implies the wrong thing, which is great depth in talent. This is more of a feeling-out-the roster deal.

So far this season, Missouri is hitting more twos, committing fewer turnovers, and getting to the free throw line a lot more often. Some progress was certain after last year's nine-win campaign, but growing pains are assured to linger all season.

They are 0-4 against Power 5 opponents this season, losing by double-digits in three of four. This isn't a good shooting team at this point and among the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country, so when the shooting ain't there, it's extra bad news. In all four losses, the Tigers shot below national average and had very little success on the boards.

Starters

Terrence Phillips (5-11, 175) -- Phillips has a high assist rate, but like many first-year point guards, the high turnover rate to match. During his brief college career he's mostly managed to avoid Short Guy Problems (at least against the chaff on the schedule)--he is hitting 57.1% inside the arc. Decent three-point shooter, probably. (Hey, man, it's only been nine games.)

Wes Clark (6-0, 180) -- Look here, a veteran! Clark was a freshman in Haith's final season. His shooting has not improved since then. For his career, he's shooting 36.2% inside the arc and 33.1% from three. He is off to a dreadfully cold start to 2015-16, so in other words, if you are picking a random to catch fire, here's your man.

Namon Wright (6-5, 202) -- Seems to be playing more aggressively this season, since his free throw rate is way up and he's already taken 25 more free throws than he did in all of last year. Solid three-point shooter.

Kevin Puryear (6-7, 236) -- Puryear is averaging 13 points per game as Mizzou's primary option (26% of the shots), hitting 56.2% of his twos and 78.4% of his free throws along the way. The outside game isn't there yet (2-12 from three), but that's not a huge deal given the modest number of attempts.

Ryan Rosburg (6-10, 260) -- A light-usage player who therefore shouldn't figure much into the scoring. He is also one of the more foul-prone players on the team, with an average of 6.4 per 40 minutes played. Decent shot blocker and rebounder. Also sub-50% at the FT line for his career.

The Missouri bench and defense

Reserves: K.J. Walton (6-3, 197), Jakeenan Gant (6-8, 212), Cullen VanLeer (6-4, 200), Russell Woods (6-8, 225), Tramaine Isabell (6-0, 178). Walton is the leading scorer off the bench, primarily thanks to his incredible ability to get to the free throw line; he has 36 FTAs against 38 FGAs, and that is a fine free throw rate right there. He may not be of much use anywhere else, though.

Gant can be an assertive player and has hit 58.1% off his twos in 1+ seasons, but in that time he's also just 1-21 from three. Averages seven fouls committed per 40 minutes.

VanLeer has been an agressive spot shooter (22.4% of the shots) and has made 35.3% of his threes. He has 34 three-point attempts and a mere seven two-point tries. You know what, I take it back, it's probably gonna be this guy who scores 18 out of nowhere.

Mizzou Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2014-15 49.3 (178) 17.2 (280) 33.3 (276) 43.9 (303)
2015-16 47.6 (123) 16.2 (293) 30.1 (162) 47.6 (324)

There are definitely some strength-on-weakness spots in the Pack's favor here. NC State has done a good job taking care of the ball and getting to the stripe, while Mizzou's defense struggles to force mistakes or avoid fouls. Perhaps the route to victory in this game is Cat going to the rim every single possession and shooting 75 free throws. That's a feasible game plan, right?

Missouri's interior defense has been decent but otherwise there isn't a whole lot worth mentioning. This game may come down to the physical states of the two teams--Missouri hasn't played a game since last weekend, while State obviously is recovering from a tough mid-week game that cost it another rotation player. Add the travel into the equation and I'm not sure how the Pack's going to be feeling come Saturday night. I'm hoping for the best, just not super optimistic about these circumstances.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by two. (But it hasn't heard about Cody's injury. News can travel slowly to the computer models.)