This was one of those moments where Missouri's ability to take a punch and keep getting after it really paid off.
I'll just get right to it. Oh, and I can't WAIT to see Study Hall.
1. Missouri is a bit of a jack of all trades. Missouri is not a pure screen roll team, even though it starts a lot of sets with a high screen. It's hardly a running team, ranking only 74th in tempo. Though it may be at its best in the open floor. Missouri is also not a classic post-up/spot-up team, even though Bowers and Oriakhi can score back-to-the-basket and pass out of double teams. So what is Missouri? Missouri is one of the few teams that brings something to the table in each of those categories. Not many have that kind of versatility. It's a bit ironic that Missouri would take on this sort of Swiss Army knife identity given that it is a roster full of transfers who haven't played together long. I'd expect a Swiss Army knife team to develop over multiple seasons, not within one season.
Now, we have seen this jack of all trades team spend a good portion of the season as "master of none", especially in end-of-game situations. We saw that to some degree last night and in Fayetteville (officiating notwithstanding). When Missouri tries to close out games it struggles with purpose. So it is hardly surprising that the execution often leaves something to be desired. But, I saw real growth last night. I saw a couple things that bode well for this team's chances to reach its considerable potential. One is relatively consistent defensive effort. Florida lives on easy buckets stemming from momentary lapses in concentration and intensity that lead to cheap open looks. Missouri gave some of those looks up, which of course made HCFH's jacket come off. But the Gators still only shot 50.6% TS. So the Tigers forced some very, very difficult shots and limited Patrick Young on the boards. In fact, Florida's last two baskets--Wilbekin's step back three and Rosario's off-the-bounce, across-the-lane fadeaway--were exceptionally difficult makes. Additionally, over the last eight minutes or so of each half Missouri got much better looks out of its sets than did Florida. In fact, Missouri missed a bunch tips-ins and wide open jump shots but consistently got high-quality looks against one of the best defenses in the country. Does this mean Missouri has fixed everything and is now a sure bet to win the SEC? Hardly. After some tough luck losses in single possession games the win itself may be nothing more than a kind random bounce. (After all, Florida had a pretty good look at the end of the game.) But win or lose, I saw this team take concrete steps last night on its journey to fulfill its substantial potential.
2. Some teams just should not try to bleed the clock at the ends of games. Coach Haith. You knew more about basketball on your first day as a graduate assistant than I ever have or will. So, I get it. I really do. Letting the air out of the ball can be the smart play. But I will go to my grave agreeing with the late Jim Valvano. "In the last four minutes of a game that is clocked you win on offense--not defense." You can't give the order from the bench to dribble away late game possessions when you have five guys on the floor perfectly capable of giving them away without any suggestion from you. This is not a team that can take its end-of-game execution for granted. So please. Pretty please, with sugar on top. Keep the pressure on the opposing defense rather than putting it on your own. Just run your stuff.
Bonus Thought: Alex Oriakhi was a quiet hero last night. His box score contributions will not be impressive, but Oriakhi played Patric Young to a draw. That was exactly what Missouri needed. Young can dominate a game on the boards and by shutting down the lane. Oriakhi didn't allow that to happen. To his credit, he's shown more offense at Missouri than he was allowed to show at UConn but his offense is destined to come and go. He doesn't have a face-up game and his hands are only adequate at best. (He fumbles good entry passes and is frequently stripped.) So he struggles without an overwhelming physical advantage. For this team to get where it wants to go it can live with inconsistent offense from Oriakhi, but it needs him to be a consistent physical presence on the boards and at the rim. He has largely been that, but last night he was great. He simply kept Young from being a factor.