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Missouri 66, Western Michigan 60: 2 Post-Game Thoughts

What I Didn't Like and What I Liked About Mizzou's Weakside Offense

Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

As Bill C. noted in Study Hall, if Frank Haith was looking for a reason to yell at the team, this game is the perfect stimulus. It was sufficiently sloppy to get the team's attention with the Braggin' Rights game on the horizon. Although, I did not feel Mizzou overlooked Western Michigan, the Tigers seemed surprised by the Broncos' physicality, especially on the perimeter. The Broncos were feisty, the first opponent that I felt consistently out-physical'd the Tigers.

1. What I Didn't Like

Missouri's weakside offense. Study Hall highlights the ball handling issues. I'll try to contextualize them. I think a lot of the ball handling issues are less about the ball handlers than the pedestrian weakside offense. That's what's sloppy. (As is our play against the press, but that's a whole different post.) As a consequence, strongside ball handlers are taking the ball into jail, then can't get out. It was probably most glaring against WMU. Jordan Clarkson had his worst game so far, and Wes Clark coughed it up plenty. But these are indicative of Missouri's struggles with its weakside offense.

Perspective: Mizzou is 10-and-0 and shot a good percentage last night. So I don't want to blow this out of proportion. Still, to beat good defensive schemes that can contain dribble penetration, Missouri must improve on the weakside. To wit, I'll try to be specific about a few players but keep in mind this is a team wide observation.

Clarkson struggles to play on the weakside (and generally without the ball). As a consequence Missouri has dry spells when dribble drivers aren't getting layups or free throws. It was especially glaring last night because Wes Clark probably played his best game in some respects. He was making good decisions but bad plays, if that makes any sense. Clark was trying to break the defense down, looking to pass. Given the way WMU was collapsing on dribble penetration, Clark should have had 8-10 assists. Instead he had 5 TOs. He over-penetrated some, but the bigger problem is that virtually nothing happened on the weakside (with a couple of notable exceptions, which I'll get to).

By contrast, most of Clarkson's turnovers were worse. Clarkson would pop out, demand the ball, and make what Walt "Clyde" Frazier* would describe as a "wild foray into the paint". This was a game where the officials didn't hand out the cheap hand-check fouls that have plagued college hoops thus far in 2013-14. (God bless last night's zebras for just being in the background.) Let me be clear. This is NOT a morality tale about Clarkson being selfish. He is not.

*Yes, I am a long-suffering Knicks fan and Clyde is the best. I will hear no debate on this matter.

Another guy struggling with weakside offense is Johnathan Williams III. I have to say, I'm not sure what to attribute that to. The WMU game seemed like it should have played to his strengths. His Martian Manhunter-like ability to seemingly appear from up out of the ground on the weakside offensive boards should get him 6-8 points in 29 minutes, easy. He should have been feasting on what Clark was doing last night. Unfortunately, I saw him just standing around a lot on the weakside in an area where he's clearly not comfortable shooting. Not surprisingly, the ball would find him at a point where a shot should go up. He'd then rotate it to a worse shot and then be in poor rebounding position.

So the question is whether the offense is asking him to play in an area where he is uncomfortable, suppressing what he does best? I am not sure, but whatever is going on the him is part of my larger concern with the weakside offense.

Effective weakside offense quickly identifies what the defense is giving up and exploits it. I think Missouri's will improve, but right now the Tigers have only developed one of three tactical skills a team needs to be good on the weakside. The Tigers make enough open jump shots weakside ball rotation to be dangerous. Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross did just that last night, seemingly every time Western Michigan got within a single possession. So, even though I'm criticizingthe weakside play, it won us the game last night.

Still, if the weakside offense consists only of deep jumpers, good defensive teams (looking right at you, Florida) will live with that. They're even happier to force the ball to rotate to a guy who can't hit the shot or won't take it. To combat that, good offense needs (at least) two other skills from its weakside players (i.e., whoever is not handling the ball or setting a ball screen): (1) they must create passing angles (to get to the rim and/or get mid-range shots) to take advantage of dribble penetration to the foul line extended, and (2) they must have an in-between game, where they can score off the dribble without getting all the way to the rim. Not every player must have all of the skills, but an offense has to be able to do all of these things on the weakside.

2. What I Liked

Missouri has most of the skills on the roster for a good weakside offense. Well, more accurately, Missouri has indications that all of the skills are on the roster. They just have to be developed. We saw some of that last night. For the first time this season, a defense was able to neutralize the "strongside" offense (i.e., the dribble drive game). Missouri had to rotate the ball.

Long-term, Clark/Clarkston is Mizzou's best backcourt. So, I'll start with Clark. He is a talented passer. He just needs experience. I was very encouraged by his play despite the gaffes. For Clarkston, last night was a great learning experience, his first game -- at Mizzou, at least -- where he couldn't just go where he wanted. He got hella frustrated and started beating his head against the wall. I hope he sees on film what I saw. Had he just moved without the ball on the weakside, the ball could have found him against a defense in motion. He could have "got his" cutting to the rim off Clark's penetration and on the offensive glass.

I have to give a special shout out to Tony Criswell. He was having a fantastic game until he, predictably, Romo'd it up with the clunkiest of clunky sequences. A missed heat check three and missed dunk--on the same possession--probably took 72 hours off Coach Haith's life. Haith then nailed Criswell to the bench (and that does not seem like an overreaction). However, Criswell's Romo moment belied some very encouraging play. He moved masterfully on the weakside to mid-range spots on the floor to benefit from really good ball movement with Clark at the point. That's exactly what this team needs. The question is whether he can provide it without completely offsetting it with bouts of bone-headed play.

The other guy to highlight is Ross. To have a good weakside offense you need to be able to score by putting the ball on the ground without getting all the way to the rim. Ross can do that. His jump shot is naturally flat, so it's going to come and go. To his credit, he's supplemented it with perhaps has the best "in-between" game on the team. Rather than a pull-up jumper, Ross has a nice little floater that he shoots a bit like a finger roll.