As I watched the early part of Mizzou's second exhibition game unfold, and I watched UMSL hit on their first 5 three pointers and continually beat Mizzou for rebounds on their way to a first half lead... I thought about how a lot of people are probably overreacting watching the game unfold. Patience, sometimes it's rewarded. Particularly with young players. Not to downplay the possibilities of some weaknesses in perimeter play, or the capability of our interior players, but I'm just not sure what people expect this year from this team.
There are going to be times, and quite possibly a lot of them, when this Mizzou teams looks great. There are also going to be times, and probably a lot of them, when this Mizzou teams looks pretty terrible. When the opponent is hitting open threes, they'll look even worse. It's important to keep in mind, as HHKB said during the podcast (if you haven't listened yet, check it out), this team is playing with house money this year. There aren't, or at least there shouldn't be any expectations for this season.
The first half was pretty ugly. The sluggish start led to a game tied at 9, UMSL then went on a 16-4 run over the next 4 and a half minutes until a Wes Clark 3-pointer keyed a 16-4 run for Mizzou. The Tigers then went into halftime with a narrow, but seemingly comfortable, lead and just expanded that in the second half. UMSL was able to hang around for a bit, but the superior athleticism of the Tigers wore them down by the end. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Keith Shamburger and Deuce Bello provided the proverbial dagger as they extended the lead from 11 to 17 with about 8 minutes to play in the game. After that Mizzou never looked back. The better part in all this is that the young Tigers seem to reapply themselves on the defensive end. After the Tritons hit their first 5 threes, they went on to sink just 2 of their next 20 attempts. Sub 35% from 2FG and sub 30% from 3FG will win you a lot of games, even against the best of competition. Or at the very least it will keep you in those games. If there's a benchmark to keep your eye on this season its likely those numbers. The more Mizzou limits the opposing offense, the more likely they'll be to keep themselves in games against the upper-echelon of the SEC, despite any looming troubles they might have offensively.
I'm not quite ready to say TGC is better than JW3 but it's close. I reserve right to change mind in next 11 min— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 8, 2014
Let's take a look at the same bright spots from the last post, but this time for the whole exhibition season...
Point Guard Play
I said this after the last game, and last game it was more Clark and Isabell that shined while Shamburger took a back seat. But Shamburger had a great performance as he helped steer the team back from being down early. He took 8 shots in 31 minutes, netted 6 rebounds, 6 assists and scored 13 points. The three point guards combined to play 75 minutes and each had good production. Shamburger was the most productive of the three, and if he can sustain the production that's a good thing for Mizzou. I don't think you can count on him scoring 13 points a night, but the efficiency needs to be there more often than not, because the rest of the backcourt is so young. Clark should be greatly improved from a season ago, but he'll still have stretches where he looks like a young player (because he is). If there was one weak spot for me, in 15 minutes Isabell managed to take 12 shots. That's a lot of shots for a freshman guard in limited action.
Kim Anderson says...
"We've been playing them together a lot, obviously they (Shamburger, Clark) started. I think they both play off of each other really well. The big thing in the first half, I thought, was we weren't getting the ball reversed a lot. We'd get a reverse once then we would hold it and we'd look and we'd look and we'd reverse it again. I think those two guys kind of got that going, especially in the second half. They play off each other well, they really do. They're both pretty good defenders."
Everybody with a scholarship played. I think you have your starting five, as it looks like Shamburger and Clark at Guard, Gill-Caesar and Williams III at Forward, and Rosburg in the middle. I like Shamburger and Clark to average at least 25 minutes a game each, Teki played 23 minutes against UMSL and that feels about right to me. Williams played 29 minutes which seems a touch high for a guy dealing with recovery of a knee issue. And Gant only played 11 minutes, I'd like to see if we can get him closer to 15-18 minutes. In exhibition play everybody averaged at least double digit minutes which is something you'll likely continue to see until the Arizona game in Maui. If there is an area of concern for me personally, it's that I would have liked to see Namon Wright get a few more minutes than he did. We obviously don't know what happens in practice, but I think Wright is a guy that can help this team win and win this year.
The effort was great in game one, then rocky at first against UMSL but got much better. I'm not entirely sure why, perhaps they felt so good after beating Williams Jewell that they thought they'd just dominate UMSL. UMSL is a better team than Jewell, so I expected them to be more competitive, and it was, for stretches of the game. When Mizzou played with higher levels of energy they dominated the Tritons as thoroughly as they looked against Jewell. It was nice to see guys getting on the floor consistently to go after loose balls. They weren't afraid to mix it up, and that's going to have to be a staple of this teams personality going forward. If they are willing to commit themselves to winning those battles, for loose balls, for rebounds, taking charges, etc. Mizzou has a chance to reach that ceiling that most of us see in them.
The blueprint hasn't changed much after watching the last two games. Mizzou is still the team we thought they would be. They're young & talented, and if their jump shots are going to fall they'll be tough to beat. They should be able to defend hard, rebound well, and ugly up enough games to at least be .500 on the low end. Where bigger questions start to arise is on the offensive end. We've seen the expected point guards play well enough to have confidence in them, and Gill-Caesar had a nice rebound performance to make you feel like you can mostly rely on him to be good more nights than not.
The first question after that is who else is going to step up on the wing? Notably Deuce Bello and Namon Wright. Bello probably provides more consistency at this point, he even hit a three pointer in going 3-5 against UMSL. Wright seemed to struggle to find enough minutes to make an impact. Mizzou is going to need one or both of those guys to step up and play well if for no other reason that to provide good depth, and at some point one or both of those guys are going to need to play more than 20 minutes in a game, whether because of foul trouble or injury. Will they be ready for that load?
Last is the bigs. And if one thing has come from the exhibition season is that I'm more worried about our interior than I was at any point this off season. Rosburg looks about the same player, and Post shows moments of more confidence but not enough to overtake Rosburg to start. Then Mizzou gets thin in a hurry, literally. Gant is athletic as anyone, but really needs about 20 more pounds. Williams looks stronger, but with just the small sample size he does't look as though he's improved all that much offensively. Its easy to be impressed that he can take and make three pointers at this point, but what Mizzou needs more than anything is for him to score around the basket with contact.
With that said, we're less than a week from the regular season officially kicking off with a game against the Kangaroos of Missouri-Kansas City. When the ball goes up, the games count, and all the talk about successful offseasons, and winning press conferences get thrown out the door. Then all that matters are the wins.
A side note: Coach Tim Fuller was not at the game because he was attending the funeral of a close friend who died tragically, as reported by Dave Matter. I want to make sure that we extend our thoughts, and prayers if that's what you believe in, for Coach Fuller, his family and friends, and his friends family who were affected by this loss. I don't know any details on who or what happened. I just wanted to pass that along for everyone to take note.
Mizzou assistant Tim Fuller wasn't at today's game. He was giving eulogy at the funeral of one of his best friends who was killed last week— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 8, 2014