Before the #16 Tigers open conference play at Alabama at 2:00 pm today, let’s take a deeper look at how the year so far and then see what lies in store for the Tigers in the conference schedule.
When the season opened up against Western Kentucky University and the Tigers dropped the game 79-76, we had worries worries - not only had we built up what the team was supposed to be this year, but so had the local media, the players and coach, and the rankings. Despite the rocky start, the Tigers have now won 12 straight games. Western Kentucky also is not having too bad of a year - they sit at 9-4, with losses to Iowa (in overtime in that season opening tournament at Iowa), Notre Dame, Indiana, and Ball State. Clearly, WKU should avoid schools from Indiana. Western Kentucky currently sits at 47 in WBB Sagarin. The week of December 19th, Raneem Elgedawy was selected as the US Basketball Writers' Association (USBWA) National Freshman of the Week, after the same recognition from C-USA. Finally, WKU will be favored to win every game in Conference USA and is a likely tournament team. So this was not such a bad loss after all.
On the plus side, the signature victory during non-conference play is the 55-52 victory at then #21 AP California. Cal is sitting at 10-2 overall, having only dropped games to our Tigers and to #1 Connecticut. They recently won by 10 at Kentucky, and are currently ranked #20.
The Tigers also made their presence known at the West Palm Invitational - they beat Indiana and Xavier by a combined 149 - 103. They also have a solid win over a decent Kansas State team. Overall, Mizzou’s non-conference schedule ranks a respectable 63rd, so the slate has not been creampuff heavy.
Mizzou has rolled to this record through solid defense and efficient offense. The Tigers are 18th in the nation for field goal percentage allowed at 31.4%, and are first in the SEC and second in the nation in opponent rebounds at 29.9 per game. Offensively, Missouri shoots 46.9% from the field, good for 22nd in the nation. On the down side, the Tigers still turn the ball over too often for our taste.
Sophie Cunningham has kicked her game up another notch. The all-SEC guard is shooting an amazing 50% from the field on her attempts from long range, best in the SEC. She also leads the league in free throw percentage, canning 86.4% of her attempts. Her overall FG% is also up to 59%. She’s also arguably the most efficient scorer in the league:
She is one of seven players in the league who have scored more than 240 points. The other six have attempted more than 180 shots this season. Cunningham has only attempted 132.
Sophie has been on a tear lately:
She is 16-of-26 from beyond the arc over the last four games. In that span, she is shooting 68.1 percent from the floor, 61.5 from 3-point range and 91.3 percent from the free throw line and scoring 25.3 points per game.
She still finds herself in foul trouble sometimes (she’s already at 37 fouls on 13 games), but she’s about on pace to her foul total from last year. Turnovers are another area for improvement. She has 35 against 39 assists. Most of these turnovers are result of her trying to do too much. These are nitpicks in the big scheme, though. Sophie always goes all out, she knows her strengths and she knows how to work her team when her shot just isn’t falling. She’s a great cheerleader from the bench when she isn’t playing. What more could you ask for?
Lauren Aldridge has been steady at the point, with a solid 50 assists to 18 turnovers. Her shot has been a bit hit or miss, but with all the scorers on the this team, any scoring she provides is a bonus. She’s second on the team in minutes, right behind Sophie.
Cierra Porter makes the second largest box score contribution to the Tigers after Sophie. She dominates the glass, leads the team with 17 blocks, and is 3rd in points. She knocks down her free throws at an impressive 74% clip for a big. Her shot from distance is a little off this year so far, but that’s about the only knock on her game.
Jordan Frericks has been a welcome re-addition to the lineup, giving the Tigers an inside presence that they were lacking last year. She’s garnered 93 rebounds, good for second on the team. She’s knocking down over half her shots, and has added some needed toughness to the team. On the downside, she’s committed 29 turnovers and is only shooting 57% from the line. For someone who goes to the line as often as she does, knocking down more free throws could be crucial for Missouri in the conference season.
Amber Smith has had an interesting season. After moving outside this year, her rebounds up and she has already passed her block total from last year. Conversely, her shooting percentages are down, though her scoring average is up. Some of this may be volume related, but some more offensive efficiency from Amber would definitely help Missouri moving forward.
Sixth-(wo)man Jordan Chavis is averaging 20 mpg off the bench. Shooting 38% from the field and 38.5% from beyond the arc, she has been a spark off the bench. At 5’7”, Chavis has already logged 23 defensive rebounds (I remind you, she is also only 5’7”), along with 20 assists, 6 steals, and only 11 turnovers.
Kayla Michael is finally healthy again and making a solid contribution off the bench in the post. The most improved players have been Jordan Roundtree and Hannah Schuchts. Roundtree has become a 3-and-D contributor as the season has progressed, knocking down 41% from behind the arc. Schuchts still doesn’t look at the basket enough when she gets the ball in the post, but she has developed an outside shot, also knocking down 41% from long range.
The last several games have given Coach Pingeton the chance to bring out the true freshman and get them exposure playing at the college level, something that they might not see as much going forward. Emmanuelle Tahane and Nadia Green have seen the most playing time, followed by Elle Brown. Kelsey Winfrey has been the last woman off the bench.
The SEC is loaded again, with three teams in the top 7 - South Carolina, Mississippi State and Tennessee - with Texas A&M joining Mizzou in the Top 25 as well. The middle of the league looks to be competitive as well, with Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU all having solid squads. Only the bottom four teams look to be fairly easy games - Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, and Vanderbilt.
Winning on the road in the SEC is always tough, and Mizzou will be challenged by Alabama today. We will have more regular updates as the season progresses.