Kamar Baldwin brings the ball down the court during a game this season. Butler takes on Missouri at 7 p.m. on Nov. 25 in Kansas City, Missouri, as part of the Hall of Fame Classic. Chandler Hart / Collegian file photo.
CHRIS BROWN | SPORTS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Butler men’s basketball team will look to improve upon its five-game winning streak to start the season when it takes on the University of Missouri in Kansas City on Nov. 25 as part of the Hall of Fame Classic.
In their last two games, the Bulldogs defeated Wofford by 19 points and Morehead State by 18 points, with both contests occurring on Butler’s home court.
In their last two games, the Tigers defeated Wofford by 19 points and Morehead State by 18 points, with both contests occurring on Missouri’s home court.
No, that’s not a typo. Butler and Missouri come into this matchup with identical resumes over their last two games. Here’s what you need to know as the Bulldogs prepare for their first game of the season outside Hinkle Fieldhouse:
Who: Butler vs. Missouri
When: Nov. 25, 7 p.m. EST
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri
How to Watch/Listen: ESPNU, 1430AM
1. Missouri’s elite defense has carried the team this season
Defense has been the calling card for the Tigers so far this year. Through games played on Nov. 23, Missouri is eighth in the country with a 34.1% opponent field goal percentage. The Tigers are one of just two teams nationally to hold at least five different opponents to 38% or worse from the field in a game this season, so they’re not just defensively great, they’re consistently great on the defensive end.
Missouri’s pesky defense, which has forced 16 turnovers per game this season, has certainly worn plenty of teams down throughout the course of a game. The Tigers have outpaced opponents by a combined 59 points in second halves this season and held Wofford without a single field goal in the final 14 minutes of their game on Nov. 18.
In short, this is a team that can capitalize if Butler comes out of the gate playing sloppy or loses focus down the stretch; the Bulldogs need to take care of the basketball for 40 minutes.
2. The Tigers have struggled mightily from beyond the arc
While limiting opponents offensively may be Missouri’s biggest strength, shooting from beyond the arc is certainly one of its biggest weaknesses. The Tigers have shot just under 27% on 3-pointers this season, a mark 317th in the country in games through Nov. 23. Meanwhile, Butler’s 3-point field goal defense, which has limited opponents to 23.5% from deep, is the 10th-best in the nation.
Missouri really only has one player who’s a real threat from deep: Mark Smith. The junior guard – who has 13 3-pointers this season – is the only Tigers player with more than five made threes. He’s also the only player with more than one 3-point attempt who’s shooting over 31% from deep. Butler has five such players.
So while paying attention to Smith will be important, focusing their attention defensively on the paint will be key for the Bulldogs. And that brings us to the final point:
3. Jeremiah Tilmon Jr. is the interior threat the Bulldogs will need to keep in check
In addition to anchoring the team’s defense, Tilmon Jr. is an extremely efficient scoring threat for the Tigers. The 6-foot, 10-inch junior is shooting nearly 71% from the field – 22-of-27 – after shooting roughly 55% in his first two seasons combined.
Overall, Tilmon Jr. is averaging 11.6 points, five rebounds and two blocks per game. He’s also the only player in the country who has shot at least 77% in four different games this season.
With Derrik Smits likely still out for Butler, the task of defending Tilmon Jr. will fall primarily to Bryce Nze and Bryce Golden. While Tilmon Jr. is an efficient shooter, he’s not incapable of a bad game, as evidenced by his five-point performance against Morehead State on Nov. 20. Liming the number of quality looks Tilmon Jr. gets in the paint will be crucial in limiting Missouri.