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NCAA Tournament 2021: Previewing Sooners' game against Missouri with The Maneater's sports editor

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Lon Kruger and the Sooners

Head coach Lon Kruger talks to the Sooners during the game against No. 9 Alabama on Jan. 30.

No. 8 seeded Oklahoma (15-10, 9-8 Big 12) is set for its game against No. 9 Missouri (16-9, 8-8 SEC) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at 6:25 p.m. CT on Saturday, March 20 in Indianapolis. 

The Daily talked to Missouri’s independent student newspaper, The Maneater. Here’s an edited transcription of what it said about Saturday’s game: 

The Daily: Who are the key players for Missouri?

Dru Smith is averaging 14.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game this season. Jeremiah Tilmon is averaging 12.3 points and seven rebounds per game. 

The Maneater: "The two key players are senior guard Dru Smith and senior forward Jeremiah Tilmon. Smith, a transfer from Evansville, made his debut last season. He’s really come on this season. He finished All-SEC First Team. Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said ‘if it were up to him, he’d be SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year would be between him and Alabama guard/forward Herb Jones and Jones eventually won. He’s an outstanding defensive player and a crafty offensive player. He’s also a quiet scorer."

Tilmon is 6-foot-10, 260 pounds.

"(Tilmon’s) a guy where if you leave him one-on-one you’re probably giving up two points. There aren’t many players in the country that can guard him one-on-one. The issue with him sometimes is that he’s a terrible free-throw shooter (at 51.9 percent) teams have effectively fouled him as a strategy this season. He also often tries to force shots while being double and triple teamed. Often time (Missouri’s) shooters can’t capitalize when he passes it back out."

The Daily: Who’s the X-factor for Missouri?

Xavier Pinson is averaging 14.1 points and 2.8 assists per game this season. 

The Maneater: "The X-factor is the junior point guard, Xavier Pinson. He went to the same high school as Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker in Chicago. He’s a very hot-and-cold player. Against TCU on Jan. 30 he scored 36 points. If he’s right, he’s by far the most explosive player on the team and he can be their best shooter. He’s very quick, but the issue with him is that he has cold stretches where he’s a liability. There’s been times that Martin has been very unhappy with his shot selection. (Missouri) is at its best when it's scoring with its inconsistent guard play."

The Daily: How different is this Missouri team from the one that played Oklahoma last season?

Oklahoma beat Missouri, 77-66, on Nov. 26 last season. 

The Maneater: "This team is much different. Everyone is a year more experienced and the storyline this offseason was that (Missouri) only lost one player from last season. It's an experienced team who’s all played together. There’s only one sophomore in the rotation, the rest are juniors and seniors."

The Daily: What’s important to know about Missouri’s coach Cuonzo Martin?

The Maneater: "Off the court, he’s as good as any coach in the league. He’s an incredible leader of men. Particularly with the Black Lives Matter movement, he took the team to a lynching memorial when it had a roadtrip to Tennessee and Alabama. He talked for five uninterrupted minutes about the trip. If you really listen to him when he talks about things that aren’t about basketball, you can really learn a lot. He’s legitimately concerned about these players’ futures. In that aspect, he’s an excellent coach. 

"On the court, he can go up-and-down. He’s very animated, the players all love him, that’s never been an issue. The issue with him is that sometimes this year’s team struggles to keep its foot on the gas pedal. There’s been at least five times this season the team has blown double-digit leads. It’s become very predictable with them. (Martin) has been historically slow to call timeout when his opponents are going on runs. At some point because it keeps happening, some blame has to fall on the coach."

The Daily: Brady Manek has struggled defensively at times this season, what do you think Missouri will do to try and attack him with Tilmon?

The Maneater: "Missouri whenever they get the chance is going to want to play through Tilmon. It's going to want to get him the ball in the post and let him work. If Oklahoma leaves Manek on Tilmon one-one-one, it's going to have a bad time. Tilmon will win that matchup every time. If I were Oklahoma, I’d put two or three guys on him because at times he panics and makes the wrong play in those situations. Also (Oklahoma) shouldn’t be afraid to swipe at the ball when he has it, because multiple times this season a guard has batted it and gotten a steal. If they leave (Tilmon) one-on-one, I think they have a strong chance in this one."

Austin Curtright is a journalism sophomore and The Daily's senior sports reporter. He currently covers OU men's basketball and has previously covered OU softball and soccer.

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