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When the 3s fall, you win. When they don’t, you don’t.

It’s not ALL that matters, but there are days...

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With Mizzou down 58-50 and about 12 minutes remaining, I took a glance at the live box score to confirm what I was already thinking. St. John’s was beating Mizzou in part because of ball-handling, but mostly because of 3-point shooting. The Red Storm was 10-for-18 from long range, and Mizzou was 6-for-18. If both teams were 8-for-18, Mizzou would be leading, I remember rationalizing.

From that point forward, Mizzou went 8-for-9 on 3-pointers, and St. John’s went 1-for-7. Mizzou’s zone threw the Johnnies out of rhythm (plus they began missing shots they’d been making). Mizzou, meanwhile, went nuts. If both teams go, say, 4-for-8, St. John’s wins.

I’ve complained a bit in recent years that so much of college basketball now simply turns on “did your 3s fall?” I complain because this almost renders the game boring to me. We can talk about the importance of rebounding or ball-handling or getting to the line or whatever, but the 3-pointer is so powerful that it can almost completely wash out any weaknesses. If you take 25-30 3-pointers in a game and make a lot of them, you’ll probably win.

In Mizzou’s two bad performances this year (the loss to Utah, the near-disaster against Emporia State), they didn’t: the Tigers shot 15 percent from long range in those games. In the other four games: 48 percent.

It’s not all that needs to be said, I guess (i have to justify writing a few hundred more words somehow), but it’s most of what needs to be said. Mizzou’s going to have a size and rebounding advantage in most of the games it plays this year and a ball-handling disadvantage in most as well. But if the 3s are falling, almost nothing else matters.

Team Stats

Mizzou vs. St. John’s stats

Strangely bad game for both teams inside the arc. Even when Mizzou was getting blown out by Utah, the Tigers still hit 52 percent of their 2-pointers, but it was tough going. St. John’s has a fun, intense defense and limited a lot of decent looks.

Jeremiah Tilmon was 2-for-4, and Jontay Porter basically spent most of the game playing like a guard, distributing the ball around the perimeter and taking seven of his 10 FGs from beyond the arc. But aside from 3s, you could say another difference in the game was Mizzou’s ability to draw contact. Despite similar percentages from the field (41 vs 41 percent on 2s, 52 vs 44 percent on 3s), Mizzou attempted 32 free throws to the Johnnies’ 18. Jordan Barnett and Jordan Geist combined for 19 free throws, more than SJU by themselves.

Ball-handling loss? Check. Mizzou again turned the ball over on more than 20 percent of its possessions. And the Tigers’ next opponent, West Virginia, has forced a higher turnover rate than anyone in the country thus far in 2017-18. Yikes.

Rebounding win? Check. Mizzou earned basically an extra five possessions more than expected on the glass. If they have any chance against WVU, rebounding will be key (though not as key as 3-pointers!), not only because of the massive ball-handling deficit that we’ll likely see, but also because WVU is awesome on the offensive glass.

Player Stats

Your Trifecta: Barnett-Porter-Robertson. Jontay’s on a damn roll in Orlando.

Mizzou vs. St. John’s stats
  • It’s all or nothing for Jordan Barnett. His offensive rating (per KenPom) in the first six games: 140, 136, 85, 58, 75, 151. 100 is average, and he has yet to produce a rating between 86 and 135.
  • Geist and Terrence Phillips combined for more 2-point attempts (four) than Jontay (three). I mean, hey, it worked, but only because the 3 was falling for Porter. Otherwise that recipe makes me nervous.
  • Geist, Phillips, and Blake Harris are virtually guaranteed to combine for between about 42 and 47 minutes in a given game at this point. But the distribution of those 42-47 minutes has been all about riding the hot hand. Against ESU and LBSU, it was 43 for Harris, 36 for Geist, and 10 for Phillips. Yesterday: 27 for Geist, 12 for Phillips, and 8 for Harris. And it made sense — Geist was getting to the line, and Phillips was distributing like crazy (five assists in 12 minutes).
Mizzou vs. St. John’s stats

I talk about the ball-handling being an issue, and it is — Mizzou is currently 250th in the country in TO rate — but there’s at least upside from it: Mizzou is also currently 18th in Assists Per FG Made. This is a rather high-risk, high-reward offense, with lost of passing, some of it rather daring. It works for a while, then very much does not.

it probably won’t work against West Virginia. The Mountaineers appear custom-made to teach the Tigers a few lessons. They destroy you with turnovers (while not committing many themselves), they hit the offensive glass hard, and they play at a relentless tempo that Missouri at times seems to want to play at but isn’t quite comfortable with so far.

If Mizzou has a chance, it comes from rebounding (WVU is really nothing offensively without second-chance points), creating more reward than risk in the passing department (WVU is 278th in A/FGM defensively), and ... yes, 3-point shooting. Opponents have made 39 percent of their 3s so far, and Texas A&M went 10-for-19 from long range in its earlier win over the Mountaineers. That really is almost all that matters, which means this post could have stopped at about 100 words, huh?

(3-pointers are still pretty fun when your team’s the one making them, though.)