Previewing Missouri basketball’s matchup against Stephen F. Austin

The Tigers are in for a much tougher game than many would anticipate.

Cuonzo Martin speaks at a media day earlier this season.

When Missouri men’s basketball released its 2017-18 schedule, many were quick to circle nonconference matchups against teams from large conferences, such as a Nov. 10 bout against Big 12 foe Iowa State and an upcoming tilt against Big 10 rival Illinois on Dec. 23.

One matchup many might have overlooked coming into the season is the team’s game against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.

Heading into their matchup with Missouri today at Mizzou Arena, the Lumberjacks boast a 10-1 record, having topped Southeastern Conference team LSU on Saturday.

Missouri fans are haunted by the memories of home nonconference losses to small programs Eastern Illinois and Lipscomb in 2016. Stephen F. Austin certainly poses as a similar threat to play spoiler at home.

Here are three things to know about the Lumberjacks before tipoff later today.

A winning culture

Stephen F. Austin has had recent men’s basketball success. Led by current Illinois coach Brad Underwood, the Lumberjacks made the NCAA Tournament each season from 2014-16.

Underwood accrued an 89-14 record through his three years at the helm, including a 53-1 Southland Conference record. He left for the Oklahoma State head coaching job after the team’s 2016 tournament run and made even more headlines when he left that job for Illinois following the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

The Lumberjacks made it as far as the third round in 2014 and impressed with upsets over higher seeds in the first round of two of those tournaments.

The team hired former Texas A&M assistant Kyle Keller to fill its head coaching vacancy in the 2016 offseason.

Keller’s inexperience and a loss of upperclassmen talent ultimately led to an 18-15 record in the 2016-17 season. In the 2017-18 season, the team has shown noticeable improvement, specifically through a recent road win in nonconference play.

SFA 83, LSU 82

The marquee win of the season so far for Stephen F. Austin came on Saturday, when the Lumberjacks topped the LSU Tigers 83-82 on the road.

Senior Ivan Canete stepped up and made a game-winning layup with five seconds remaining. He scored 20 points total and made up for the poor play of leading scorers Kevon Harris and TJ Holyfield, who were held to 11 and nine total points, respectively.

Defensively, the key for Stephen F. Austin is dominance in the turnover category. The Lumberjacks lead the nation in turnovers forced with 23 per game and are second in the nation in steals with 12.9 per game.

Keys to victory for Missouri

In response to Stephen F. Austin’s defensive prowess, Missouri needs to have an emphasis on running set offensive plays. Running an offense set around the pick-and-roll will keep things simple and let Missouri pass the ball less, leading to fewer opportunities for the Lumberjacks to force turnovers.

When Missouri passes, it needs to be especially disciplined. Extra passes on offensive plays or forcing passes to players who are tightly guarded will play right into Stephen F. Austin’s biggest strength and make it especially hard to build any kind of lead.

Missouri will also need to use its size to its advantage. Of players who receive regular playing time, Missouri has three players listed over 6 foot 7, compared to Stephen F. Austin’s one. This size advantage should lead to easy scoring opportunities in the low post.

Missouri’s preparation and response will be put to the test when the game tips off tonight at 8 p.m. from Mizzou Arena. The game can be watched on ESPNU.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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