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Study Hall: Utah 77, Mizzou 59

Freshmen will freshmen.

NCAA Basketball: Wagner at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The universe always corrects itself, and sometimes it happens more with a lurch than a slight shift of the steering wheel.

Without Michael Porter Jr., Missouri shot a little too well in the first two games of the season. The Tigers were second in the nation in eFG% out of the gates, and the universe wasn’t going to allow that to continue. So Mizzou went 5-for-27 from 3-point range in Salt Lake City.

The universe also thought Mizzou’s freshmen were playing a little too well. Jeremiah Tilmon was amazing against Iowa State, and Jontay Porter was exciting in both and downright brilliant at times against Wagner.

Against Utah, they combined for 28 minutes, 0-for-7 FG shooting, five turnovers, and eight fouls. Tilmon fouled out in a blink for the second game in a row, and while Porter did a nice job on the defensive glass and from the free throw line, he missed everything from the field and contributed four of those five TOs.

We knew Utah had the size and skill to test Mizzou’s young front court, and we knew that the Utes are a solid team overall. Still, we were pretty excited about Missouri’s chances of ending an ages-long road losing streak on Thursday night. The universe had very different plans.

Team Stats

Considering how poorly Tilmon and Porter played, the above box paints an odd picture. Mizzou still won the rebounding battle and shot over 50 percent on 2-pointers, and the biggest statistical discrepancies were 3-point shooting and ball-handling. (One thing the universe didn’t correct: ball-handling issues.) That suggests the game was won/lost in the backcourt, not the front.

Mizzou turned the ball over another 14 times on Thursday night despite a snail’s-pace tempo. Meanwhile, the Tigers managed only two steals, resulting in a putrid BCI ratio. Combine that with horrific outside shooting, and, well, you get an 18-point loss. If not for Mizzou’s ability to get to the free throw line, it would have been a lot worse.

The Tigers’ overall shooting ability will be boosted whenever Michael Porter Jr. is healthy enough to take the floor. His presence might not help in terms of ball-handling, though. That’s quite obviously a major concern. Missouri now ranks 280th in turnover rate, per KenPom; it doesn’t matter how good a shooting team you are (sometimes) if you can’t get shots up without losing the ball.

Player Stats

Your Trifecta: Nikko-Robertson-Geist.

Your Trifecta leaderboard for the year (giving three points for finishing first, two for finishing second, and one for finishing third): Kassius Robertson and Reed Nikko each have five points, Kevin Puryear has three, Jeremiah Tilmon has two, and Jordan Barnett, Jontay Porter, and Jordan Geist each have one.

A foul rate I didn’t realize was possible

  • Freshmen: minus-2.7 Adj. GS points
  • Everybody else: 61.7

Freshmen are gonna play like freshmen sometimes, no matter how talented they may be. And it’s safe to say that, between the scrimmages, the Wagner game, and now the Utah game, Missouri is simply not going to be able to count on Jeremiah Tilmon playing long enough to make a contribution.

Even despite the impressive Iowa State performance, Tilmon is now committing 12.7 fouls per 40 minutes. He has committed 10 in a combined 16 minutes the last two games. That is downright awe-inspiring.

(Awe doesn’t have to be good.)

Thank goodness, then, for Reed Nikko. I am a self-proclaimed front-car occupant of the Nikko bandwagon, and even I didn’t see him going for 35 minutes, 16 points (5-8 2PT, 6-10 FT), and 17 rebounds over the last two games.

Good lord, he’s been effective. And because even my preseason concerns did not prepare me for Tilmon’s ability to commit fouls, we’re going to see a lot more of Nikko than we expected this year. That might not end up being a bad thing.

Phillips-Geist-Harris Watch

The trio of Terrence Phillips, Jordan Geist, and Blake Harris combined for a few more minutes than usual yesterday and really didn’t produce all that bad a line: 47 combined minutes, 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting (3-for-6 3-pointers), four assists, three turnovers, one steal, six defensive rebounds, and 16.1 Adj. GS points.

And yet, Mizzou’s 3-point and ball-handling numbers were still awful. Players outside of this trio went 2-for-21 on 3-pointers with a 7-to-11 assist-to-turnover ratio and one steal. Kassius Robertson was dreadful shooting but had five assists. The main culprits from a ball-handling standpoint were frontcourters.

Kevin Puryear had five turnovers against ISU, two against Wagner, and three against Utah. His current TO Rate is 34 percent, more than double what it was in either of his first two seasons. That’s unsustainably high, but it’s dulling the effects of his incredible shooting.

Even while going just 1-for-4 from long range, he still managed 11 points in nine FG attempts, which isn’t bad for a bad game. But when you combine it with three lost possessions, it’s not nearly as decent.

Mizzou now gets basically a week off — the Tigers will face Emporia State in a glorified scrimmage on Monday, then head off to Orlando for the AdvoCare Invitational. The universe’s course correction leaves us with a different impression of the team’s capabilities sans Michael Porter Jr., and MPJ’s own injury status remains unclear. Here’s to hoping he’s on the flight to Orlando, huh?