Waking up today, we might be sore.
While Mizzou cracked Long Beach State in a vise, we patted ourselves on the back as Blake Harris’ justified our clamoring for his presence in the starting lineup. So proud we strained our back doing it. Some of us were also so emboldened that we’re telling Cuonzo he should also swap Jontay Porter in for Kevin Puryear.
The 37-point rout didn’t just justify our armchair coaching. It was a desperately needed catharsis for the Mizzou fan base after a torturous 18 hours. Watching Mizzou muddle through against Emporia State frayed nerves. Learning Micahel Porter Jr. needs back surgery, likely ending a collegiate career that spanned just two minutes, turned anxiety into a trauma for a new generation of backers.
Rationally, we know shellacking a Big West team doesn’t allay the concerns of Porter being a none-and-done. But we saw hints of what Mizzou could be without him. They kicked up the tempo. They finally saw 3-pointers fall. They again clamped down defensively. And, finally, they slashed the number of turnovers. Aside from Harris, Jontay Porter again showed what he can be with all of his powers working in unison.
That being said, we need to acknowledge a lingering issue: MU has a guard problem.
It’s not a matter of quantity, but quality. Start with Kassius Robertson. His time at point guard, always a stopgap move, is done. He’s back working off the ball on pindowns and spacing the floor as a spot-up option. “The more we can get him off the ball, I think it will help him,” Martin said this week. The question is whether it ends a slump that’s stretched into three games, a span where the graduate transfer has clanked 16 of 19 3-pointers. If Robertson’s not a plug-and-play option for erratic jump-shooting, Mizzou may have improved its roster but face the same constraints it did with Kim Anderson on the sideline.
Jordan Barnett has also backslid over the past three games. He’s averaged just 4.6 points and posted a 32.2 true shooting percentage. After Mizzou thumped Wagner, Barnett’s role seemed outlined: an athletic wing who attacked seams and whose jumper could keep defenders honest. That hasn’t really happened. And with Porter shelved, it’s imperative Barnett get on track. He’s Mizzou’s best option for instant offense.
That gets us to Harris. It’s one thing to dominate a low-major but another two pilot a team against the likes of St. John’s and, potentially, West Virginia. Both of those teams force giveaways and apply steady on-ball pressure. Harris needed a stress test. Better to get it done and over with now.
Taking stock, MU is a team with a freshman point guard, it’s imported sniper missing and its slasher hanging back. That’s before you look at depth. Jordan Geist may be Mizzou’s appointed pest, but he’s also Harris’ understudy. He earned that job because Terrence Phillips slowly disappeared from the scene after Mizzou’s loss at Utah, one where he was the lead guard for small rotations that let the Utes blow the game open. Finally, Cullen VanLeer gets 20 or so minutes a night but scant usage.
What we don’t know is whether all of these issues are features instead of bugs. This morning, MU gets a St. John’s squad that knows it has two dudes in Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds. The duo isn’t just about getting buckets but propelling one of the nation’s most uptempo attacks. Meanwhile, Red Storm coach Chris Mullins lacks interior scoring punch, but Bashir Ahmed, Marvin Clark, and Tariq Owens can jostle and joust with Missouri’s frontline.
I’ll follow Sam’s lead and give you KenPom’s breakdown for this matchup.
Take a close look at turnover percentage. Mizzou can be sloppy with the ball, while St. John’s is adept at taking it away. Ponds, LoVett and Arizona transfer Justin Simon all rank in the top 500 nationally in steal percentage, with Simon currently ranking sixth. No matter who takes Harris straight up or gets him on a switch, they’re adept at thievery.
St. John’s is also holding opponents to a 41.3-percent shooting inside the arc. If Mizzou is forced into bad 2s and lofting up 3-pointers, it’s at the mercy of volatility. Long shots can result in long rebounds, sparking potential transition opportunities for the Red Storm. If Mizzou gives away possessions and its misses kick off secondary breaks, this game will be a track meet it’s not quite ready to run.
To be clear: Mizzou shouldn’t slow to a crawl and avoid playing in the open floor. There’s a difference between playing with pace and being reckless. This is where Harris’ feel for game will get tested. He’s great in transition, but the freshman needs to excercise discretion, settle his side, initiate quality sets and position Mizzou for quality shots. Then it falls to Robertson and Barnett to capitalize.
If you’re like me, your family may have wanted to watch some Thanksgiving programming at 10:30 a.m., meaning you missed the start of this one. Here are some highlights to get you up to speed.
- Study Hall: Mizzou 95, Long Beach State 58
- Missouri played its most complete game of the season against Long Beach State
- The Case for Blake Harris to start
- DIVE CUTS PODCAST (We preview the Advocare Invitational around the 27th minute)
Opponent: St. John’s Red Storm (5-0)
Time: 10:00 a.m. CT
Where: HP Fieldhouse, Kissemmee, Fla.
IS MIZZOU RECEIVING TOP 25 VOTES? No. No, they are not.
WHAT DOES VEGAS SAY? Missouri -11.5.
WHAT DOES KenPom SAY? St. Johns, 75-72
WHERE TO WATCH/LISTEN:
- TV: ESPNews, Mike Morgan, Tim Welsh, Greg Pike
- Radio: Tiger Radio Network // Sirius/XM -119/199
Facebook: Mizzou Men’s Basketball
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
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