By Jackson Love
Fresh off a 109-86 thrashing of South Carolina, Auburn (9-7, 3-5 SEC) is set to return to their home court for a mid-week tangle with a rising Missouri Tigers (10-2, 4-2 SEC) team. It’s the first of two matchups with ranked teams this week for Auburn, meetings that will be crucial as the orange-and-blue Tigers slide into the final month of their season.
The Tigers from Missouri have been on a tear lately. Since a baffling loss at Mississippi State on January 5, they’ve ripped off three comfortable wins in the SEC, including last Saturday’s clash with the sixth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers. That win launched them into second place in the SEC standings, and they’ll have a chance to make up even more ground with a three-game homestand, provided they can survive Tuesday’s road battle with Auburn first.
Missouri keeps things steady with the ball, coming in at 171st in Ken Pomeroy’s tempo rankings. They also don’t crash the offensive glass much, averaging just 8.3 offensive rebounds per game. They make up for it by making a sizable number of shots. Guards Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith lead the way in scoring for the Tigers, combining for an average of 26.7 points per game. Both shoot for over 40% from the floor, though their 3-point percentages leave something to be desired.
Smith has led the way through Missouri’s winning streak. He scored 18 points against Tennessee, giving him three straight games with 15-plus points—coincidentally, all of those are wins. Pinson has been quieter by comparison, but exploded for 27 points on Saturday against the Vols.
As for the frontcourt, Jeremiah Tilmon hauls in the lion’s share of Missouri’s rebounds with 7.8 per game. He also makes 63.5% of his shots from the floor. If Smith or Pinson find themselves in a funk, Auburn will have to neutralize Tilmon in order to capitalize on missed shots.
The Tigers from Auburn are riding high after a record-setting road win over South Carolina. They fired on all cylinders for 40 minutes against the Gamecocks, putting together their best shooting performance and successfully stonewalling South Carolina on the glass. Auburn has been an entirely different team with Sharife Cooper finally active, and their star point guard only continues to get better with each game under his belt.
Buckets were going around for Auburn against the Gamecocks, with five Tigers scoring in double figures. Allen Flanigan has continued to develop, tallying 24 points against the Gamecocks on 7-for-12 shooting. He’s been a reliable second option with Cooper handling the ball, scoring in double figures four times in the last five games. In all but one of those games, he’s shot at least 50% from the floor.
Auburn’s pace is significantly faster than Missouri’s, coming in at 54th in the country according to Ken Pomeroy. Auburn fans got a glimpse of what their team can be on Saturday—a fast-paced, board-crashing squad that distributes the ball and makes opponents pay for leaving their players in space. If the Tigers can do all of those things again, Auburn fans just might start seeing flashes of the team that raced all the way to the Final Four in 2019.
Missouri has been the better team all season long, and as of last Saturday, the black-and-yellow Tigers have a better win than any Auburn can lay claim to.
Much like the South Carolina game, Auburn will shoot many more three-pointers than Missouri. Also like the South Carolina game, an Auburn win will depend on its ability to make those shots. Auburn showed they can succeed at shooting threes on the road, so they should logically be able to make several at home on Tuesday night.
By most accounts, Missouri is the better team. But, this Auburn team is a far cry from the one that stumbled through the first 12 games of the season, and they’ll make enough shots from deep to outlast Missouri and steal a massive win before a looming road match with Baylor.