Eight games into the season, Mizzou sits at 5-3. There is positivity around the program after their third straight win has almost put the disaster in Kansas City out of the minds of Mizzou fans. So I thought it might be a good time to take a step back and analyze how the season is actually going to date.
The question most want to know is: Are they better than last year?
Let's take a look in chart form:
|Opponent||Rank||Result||Pt Diff||Opponent||Rank||Result||Pt Diff|
The 2015 season was defined early by Mizzou's inability to compete against Power 5 opponents. In three games, the average scoring difference was 19.6 points. Missouri finished 2015 ranked 214, but during the first 8 games, dropped from 98 to 128. The 4-4 start didn't exactly excite Mizzou nation, the loss to UMKC was embarrassing to begin the season, but a solid double digit win over Valparaiso was at least something decent to hang your hat on. In 2016, the Tigers have not had the same number of challenges. Kansas State and Northwestern are solid Power 5 teams, but not as good as Oklahoma and Arizona. So far this season, Mizzou doesn't have a good win. They've played some average to below average mid-majors, and they've won. To date, they've beaten who they should have, and lost the games they should have. The positive? They haven't had the huge letdown like UMKC a year ago. The negative? They haven't beaten a Power 5 opponent.
Missouri was ranked 128th through eight games last year, this year they're 174th. Projections from KenPom are based upon a lot of things. The state of the program is taken into account, as is current performance, and opponents performance. If you've followed the projected scores, you'd know Mizzou hasn't really blown the projections away, except on the bad side with Kansas State. They've beaten projections on their wins, but not by a lot. Which is why you haven't seen their ranking fluctuate much beyond a brief stint up into the 140s after their Wofford and UMES wins, and the solid showing against Xavier.
At this point the biggest blemish to date is the no-show against Kansas State (and probably the 8-minutes of bad which started the Northwestern game). Missouri is better than the mid-170s where they're currently listed. They've beaten everyone by slightly more than projected, and played well enough against Xavier and Northwestern (at times) to convince me right now they're more of a 130-145 ranked team. Which is one of the reasons why I've been disappointed by the last few games. They've played erratically against bad opponents and have yet to truly put a team away. The turnovers are a problem, and the fouling is as well. But...
Stay positive, my friends
It might be hard to believe but the Tigers are even younger than last year. Their 1.20 experience ranked 310th in Division 1 last year, this year it's 0.97 experience ranks 337th. Experience is measured by who is playing with how much experience. And the Tigers leaders in minutes are two freshmen, a sophomore and a junior. Wes Clark, Namon Wright, Kevin Puryear and Terrence Phillips are all averaging over 25 minutes per game. Then 6 other players average between 12 and 18 minutes, and only one is a senior.
If you read Bill's Study Hall, you'd know the impact of the young players on the team so far. In the AdjGS the breakdown so far is: Freshmen 31, sophomores 14, juniors 3, seniors 0
This is significant because the two best players on a nightly basis have been Kevin Puryear and Terrence Phillips. The schedule was enough to buoy this young team for a while and let them learn while they were still winning games. The Kansas City part of it was bad, yes. But the Tigers are sitting on five wins and have a chance to notch their first win over a Power 5 team with the next three games. One against a very good Arizona team, and then a home game against a questionable but decent North Carolina State team. They wrap up the tough stretch in a Bragging Rights game against Illinois who is battling injuries, are down their starting center, and haven't handled the ball well to start the year. Mizzou then wraps up with two very likely wins against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (kenpom 336) and Savannah State (kenpom 335). If Mizzou steals one game in the next three, they're likely to get to 8 wins before conference play. If they can nip two of those games it's 9 wins. I predicted 7-6 before the season, so I would be more than happy to see Mizzou get to eight wins in non-conference play. And, in case you missed it, they would be just one win shy of equalling last years total with 19 games to play (18 in conference play and one in the SEC tournament). Yes, things are getting better.
Wes Clark is good, he just needs a different approach
At this point, I'm willing to admit my fandom for Wes Clark has probably become a meme here. But I'm a big fan of his toughness, and his ability to impact the game in so many positive ways. He just needs to shoot less, and at some point better. However he's not far away. So I thought, as a fun game, we could critique Clark's shot selection, and show how he could turn a few bad shots a game, into good possessions.
Easy enough, let's start with his first shot. It wasn't a good shot.
I'll keep this simple, this isn't a good shot. There are 10 seconds left on the shot clock, it's the first possession of the game. It would have been best to move the ball and continued the possession. However, there are more interesting diving in we can do here.
Let's move on, here's shot 2. This was a transition three pointer in the first half.
Now this is a good shot. I honestly don't have a problem with anyone on the roster taking this wide open three. Transition three's are typically pretty good shots because you haven't given the defense a chance to establish itself and you're likely to be taking a wide open shot. So to be clear, I don't have a problem with Wes, or Terrence Phillips, or Namon Wright, or Tramiane Isabell, or Cullen VanLeer, or K.J. Walton taking this shot. In this case the open corner three draws two defenders closing from the high side of the floor. The high side of the floor part is important because this gives opportunity for a baseline drive and attack. Like this:
The most likely scenario is you can blow by the close out, the ball-side post can seal his defender (or the defender moves around top stop the ball -- creating a three on two opportunity), this forces the weak side help to crash. In this scenario, the open player on the opposite baseline is Kevin Puryear. Puryear can either stay put for his patented baseline jumpshot, or crash towards the basket for an easy dunk. Based upon the setup, I like the jumpshot because of the likelihood of the defender near the elbow dropping to the level of the ball to deny a crash by Puryear. If Puryear wanted to, he could continue to move the ball up to the top of the key for an open look from Namon Wright. Either way, forcing the transition defense to move not only gets a better shot, but two or three passes means whoever ends up taking the shot, leaves offensive rebounding opportunities due to the defense being on the move so much.
Shot 3 is a good shot, It's a tough shot, but it forced the defense to Clark and created an easy put-back opportunity for Russell Woods.
If your lead guard has an opportunity to attack the rim and draw the defense, by all means Wes, have at it.
Shot Number Four, where we get specific
Early in the second half, the Tigers were going hard at the pick and roll portion of the offense. Wes took a pretty good shot off the pick and roll, but the possession could have ended even better, with just a slightly different decision. Here's the shot:
Instead of pulling up from about 17 feet, Clark had an opportunity to get a better shot for either Ryan Rosburg or Namon Wright. Or, if he continued to drive, Rosburg may have been able to seal the defender allowing Clark to get to the basket. If Clark takes one more dribble he's able to force the defense into a commitment. Stop the drive (which defenses usually end up attempting to do), or close out on a potential kick out. Diagramming (which you know I love to do) the play looks a bit like this...
In this situation, Clark has a chance to force either the post defender to stop up, which allows for him an easy drop off to Rosburg, or the post defender stays at home, and Clark draws the wing defender in for an easy kick out to Namon Wright. Clark is one of the best passers, and one of the better decision makers on the roster, this situation usually ends up like the gif below.
Clark lays a wicked hesitation dribble to freeze multiple defenders which frees up Rosburgs roll to the basket. This is the playmaking lead guard Clark can be when he's not deferring to Terrence Phillips at point, and trying to be a scorer at the off guard spot.
Clark's fifth shot went in. So of course it's a good shot.
This happened on another pick and roll, Clark ran off the double ball screens Mizzou had set up multiple times that game. He had two good hard dribbles into the elbow, elevated and sank the jumper. You could tell Clark wanted it, and his aggressiveness in getting the shot he wanted is always going to be a good thing.
Shot 6 was a steal and a layup right after a bucket. Again, a layup? Take it.
Another aggressive move to get right to the rim. So we're just going to move on.
Shot 7 I wasn't a fan of. The entire possession was sloppy (which was not his fault, there was lots of indecision from other players), there's still 9 second left on the shot clock.
He's open, so it's not a bad shot. I don't have a particular problem from that aspect. I wouldn't call it a bad shot. But I would say there is a way to make this a better possession. In this exact situation Omaha was in a matchup 2-3 zone, and sort of threw off the offensive flow a bit. A post entry would have been good, but with a matchup zone like this, I probably would have looked for... oh, I don't know... a lob to Jakeenan Gant.
Shot 8 was a transition shot. Not a bad shot by any stretch. Clark also had the chance to take a dribble into his shot, and he's always been a more effective shooter off the bounce than off the catch.
This is more of a time/space shot. You're up six with 6:33 to play. UNO has closed the gap over the course of the last eight or so minutes. This is a good shot, but it's a better shot when there's 10 or so seconds left on the shot clock. If he pump fakes, he's already drawing the defense out, which could possibly get the defense to leave their feet and you have an easy post entry to 81% FG shooter Russell Woods.
Overall, I only took issue with Clark's first shot. Every other shot wasn't a bad shot, but when you're struggling to find your rhythm shooting the ball it's best to try to get easier baskets, for you and your teammates. If I were the coaching staff at this point, I would move Terrence Phillips off the ball and have Wes Clark take over the primary ball handling duties from the start of the game. Let Wes run the offense and facilitate. TP is shooting far better than anyone expected, and he's become a much bigger threat to score because of it. Clark on the other hand, has been so sound in making decisions while attacking the basket with the ball in his hands, I think you try to create that situation more.
With Wes on the ball instead of off it, he can go back to the player he was in high school. A leader who isn't going to score much, but can be the dynamic playmaker who gets shots for his teammates. This will also take some pressure on Phillips who is leading the team in turnovers, and has struggled with his decision making at times. Which is something you expect from a freshman. So there is my advice to the staff. Move Clark to the primary ball handler spot, let TP relax a bit. And I would think you could cut your team turnovers down, and your shooting percentages up by having Wes take fewer, better shots. Then, hopefully he finds his shooting stroke and Mizzou might actually become a... *GASP* ... dangerous team.