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Study Hall: Arkansas 65, Mizzou 63

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A three-guard lineup nearly saved Mizzou in Fayetteville.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Out of curiosity, I wanted to look at how Mizzou has been performing against teams of different caliber (based on KenPom rankings). It’s helpful to do occasionally as a perspective builder.

  • vs. Top 50 — Record: 0-3 | Avg. score: Opp 75, Mizzou 72 (-3)
  • vs. No. 51-100 — Record: 5-2 | Avg. score: Mizzou 71, Opp 67 (+4)
  • vs. No. 101-200 — Record: 2-0 | Avg. score: Mizzou 91, Opp 68 (+23)
  • vs. No. 201+ — Record: 5-0 | Avg. score: Mizzou 83, Opp 60 (+23)

That looks downright orderly. Mizzou plays like a lower-top-50 team, slightly worse on average than other top-50s, better on average than those in the No. 51-100 range, and rarely challenged by sub-100s. The 5-2 record against that No. 51-100 range even makes pretty good sense when you note that only two of those seven games have been in Columbia (two neutral, three road). But with a minus-3 scoring margin against top-50 teams, you expect at least one win in those three games. Mizzou just barely missed out ... three times.

The schedule will certainly offer more opportunities, though. Mizzou has 14 conference games remaining — seven against teams currently in the top 50 (top 35, actually) and seven vs. teams ranked between 51st and 96th. Going 5-2 again against that latter group seems pretty realistic ... but at least a couple of those good top-50 performances are going to need to turn into wins. (Here’s where you say, “Thanks, Captain Obvious.”)

Team Stats

First of all, I’m disappointed in you, Mike Anderson. Tempo is fun. Tempo is part of the Fastest 40 Minutes style we enjoyed way back when. And you haven’t been in the top 50 in tempo in three years. You let Mizzou play a 62-possession game. Damn you.

Anyway, tempo or no, Arkansas’ pressure D still obviously worked in the first half against Mizzou’s pressure-averse offense. But we saw an interesting trade made by Cuonzo Martin for part of the game:

According to Morrison’s lineup stats (hey, did you know that David’s been tracking lineup stats?), we saw a decent amount of a three-guard lineup. And it worked.

  • 3 guards — Time: 19:17 | Score: Mizzou 36, Arkansas 28 (+8)
  • 2 guards — Time: 20:43 | Score: Arkansas 37, Mizzou 27 (-10)

Despite getting minimal scoring contributions from Cullen VanLeer and Terrence Phillips (combined: 3 points on 1-for-5 shooting), the two played 29 minutes as an effort to better handle Arkansas’ pressure. The duo combined for four assists and, most importantly, two turnovers in those 29 minutes, so it appears the gamble paid off to some degree.

This lineup balance meant that Missouri was more limited than normal on the glass (the Tigers broke even against a mediocre rebounding team), but it certainly helped Mizzou to catch back up after Arkansas’ incredible 27-5 first-half run.

(That Mizzou gave up a 27-5 run and nearly won is the ultimate in “I’ve got good news and bad news.”)

Player Stats

Your Trifecta: Robertson-Barnett-Geist.

A three-guard lineup makes sense against pressure teams, but it was also a bit of a necessity in this one, as Mizzou’s freshmen played like freshmen. You know it’s going to happen at times, but you never know when.

Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon combined for minus-3.3 Adj. GS points — in 42 minutes, they scored nine points on 3-for-10 shooting, grabbed just seven rebounds, turned the ball over six times, and committed 10 fouls. Mizzou’s plus-minus was minus-6 when both of them were in the game and plus-6 when neither were; that’s not the way that’s supposed to work.

When both of them have One of Those Games in the same game, you’re going to have to get creative, lineup-wise, to have a chance.

For Mizzou to nearly win this game with Porter and Tilmon having off-nights, the Tigers needed their three-guard lineups to thrive, and they needed Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett to do well. Barnett scored nine of his 12 points in short spurts, but Robertson was incredible. Again.

Where, oh where, oh where would this team be without the Canisius transfer?

I’ve mentioned before that the two things I look at first here are the Usage% (to see who was commanding the possessions) and the %Pass (to see who was this game’s de-facto point guard equivalent).

On the former, this was Robertson’s show. Mizzou tried to get Tilmon involved pretty heavily, but he was hit-and-miss, and he was battling foul trouble. That left Robertson as the only guy above 22% usage (20% is average — as in, five guys contributing 20% each equals 100%). Considering that Robertson was the only guy with a Floor% (percentage of possessions resulting in points) above 40%, that was good personnel usage there.

Regarding the latter, Phillips actually looked the part of a pass-first point guard. I honestly think he could end up being the solution to some of Missouri’s last-possession issues — not in taking the shot but in setting up the distribution for it. But to see the court at the end, he’s still got to shore up his bad habits a bit.

Phillips managed to commit four fouls (including a couple of pointless ones) in 15 minutes, raising his Fouls Committed Per 40 Minutes average to 7.2 ... barely behind Jeremiah Tilmon’s 7.5. As a 10-minute role player, that’s fine. But if he wants to be more than that, this obviously has to go down. Meanwhile, though he’s got the highest assist rate on the team (now that Blake Harris is gone, anyway), he’s also got the highest TO rate. He’s shooting great and still creating opportunities for shooters, but the bad habits are too frequent.

Hopefully increased playing time — as he’ll potentially continue to see in Harris’ absence — helps him find more of a steady rhythm. It could make an enormous difference for this team.