The college basketball season is a short one in the context of other sports seasons. It lasts from November to early April, about five months. For the NBA and NHL are around eight months, and baseball is approximately 98 months.
In the ebb and flow of a short season you’re going to see certain trends over the course of a few games, and thus a column is born.
Not long ago we were looking at this version of the Missouri Tigers under new coach Cuonzo Martin and marveling at the efficient shooting and ball movement that was creating one of the best offenses in the country. That isn’t something our fair new coach has not been known for.
At the same time, we wondered, where was Missouri’s defense? Martin has staked his name and reputation to good defense, and Missouri, while not being bad at it, wasn’t particularly good either.
Mizzou’s offense is still good, but it’s fallen. Once held down by their turnover percentage, the Tigers have largely gotten that under control, but they’ve still fallen from inside the top 15 of Ken Pomeroy’s offensive ratings to 37th.
At the same time, Missouri has reached its highest overall KenPom rating since March 2013. How? Because of the near-suffocating defense the Tigers have played over the past four games. They have climbed from outside the top 100 to 71st in KenPom defense in just around two weeks.
Trending down: Kassius Robertson
The grad transfer from Canisius played 77 minutes and scored 16 points on 4-for-23 shooting (2-for-10 on 3-pointers) in two games last week. He has been a revelation this season and is still averaging over 15 points per game, which leads the team. But the trick for Robertson was always going to be what happened when he entered conference play.
He started hot, averaging 19 PPG in his first four games in supremely efficient fashion. In three of his first four SEC games, Robertson cleared a 130 offensive rating.
Robertson has proven himself to be the MVP of the season so far, and that includes the contributions of Jordan Barnett. If the Tigers are going to get the offense back on track, they’re going to need Robertson to correct his recent shooting slump. Let’s just hope his seven-point, 1-for-11 night against Texas A&M was rock bottom.
Trending up: Jordan Geist
Don’t look now, but the turnover-prone point guard position has been sort-of fixed-ish with just eight turnovers in six games from the starter, Mr. Geist. All this while averaging 30 minutes a game.
Geist isn’t without his flaws — he turned the ball over (on a great play by Chris Chiozza) at the end of the Florida game and sped up too much on the last possession against Arkansas. But overall he’s basically solidified the position.
His 3-point percentage has taken a hit, at just 24 percent in conference play, but his 45 percent FG% overall is solid, and he’s averaging 8.5 PPG, 3.3 AGP and just 1.3 turnovers against the SEC.
I know in some circles Geist isn’t the most popular Missouri Tiger, but Martin wasn’t gifted a roster chalk full of point guards, and the two he signed have already left. Mizzou has to make do with who remains. And while it would be nice if Terrence Phillips could figure out whatever mental block he’s got going on, the other point guard has done enough to make you feel things aren’t completely dire.
Holding steady: Jeremiah Tilmon
Well, his fouls committed per 40 minutes has certainly remained a pretty good constant!
In all seriousness, the man who has seemed the least intimidated with the increase in competition is Tilmon. In some ways this confidence comes out in the form of overzealous fouls, but in others it comes out with him, unafraid, taking the ball directly at Tyler Davis, Yante Maten, Daniel Gafford and Grant Williams.
When Tilmon is on the floor, Missouri is better and more competitive. He can be a little tentative on defense, but he can rebound and block shots, and if he’s not in foul trouble, he’s a load on the block.
He’s played 24 minutes each of the last two games, which is all you can really ask from a freshman big. You’d like to see his fouls continue to come down and his rebounding totals go up further, but Tilmon is figuring it out. He still has flashes of poor decision making, but his flashes of brilliance are happening with more frequency.