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Mizzou’s Achilles heel isn’t healing

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When you don’t have a point guard, everything is unsettled.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

The way the season has played out, it’s pretty difficult for me to get too upset when this team goes on the road and loses to a decent team in conference play.

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Last season, Missouri finished 8-24, checking in at 230th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. The Tigers’ defense was better, at 97th nationally, after ranking in the 160s in each of the two previous seasons.

Last night, Missouri lost a game on the road to No. 72 overall team in pretty ugly fashion. Fifty-eight percent of the minutes went to players who were key figures on last season’s eight-win group, too. Another 23 percent were doled out to Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon, a pair of incredibly talented, incredibly young bigs who only combined for 12 points, nine rebounds and EIGHT turnovers. The last 19 percent came from Kassius Robertson. More on him in a few minutes.

Strip out the preseason expectations that involved a certain freshman who is spending his entire Mizzou hoops experience on the sidelines. Pretend for a moment Michael Porter Jr. had never set foot on Mizzou’s campus. Remember only the reality of last season.

If I told fans there would be a new coach, a nice recruiting class to start the rebuild, and a Mizzou team ranked 50th in KenPom, and I think they’d be thrilled.

I don't want to downplay anyone who feels a little disheartened with how the team has played the last few games, and probably since the Arkansas loss. But sometimes we need perspective.

mizzou MSU box score 2018

Depth becomes a real problem

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

We don’t know the full story with Terrence Phillips and whether an “indefinite” suspension is brief or a brief stop-over before “permanent.” But what we do know is that, with or without Phillips, there has been a giant Terrence Phillips-sized hole in this roster all year long.

When the decision was made to redshirt C.J. Roberts, Phillips provided no answer. When Blake Harris struggled, Phillips still failed to take hold of the job. When Cuonzo was forced to turn to Jordan Geist as the de facto point guard, Phillips remained MIA. And when he played, the product was mostly bad.

With all of that, it doesn’t change the fact that not having him in the lineup hurts. Depth matters, and Missouri has now been reduced to having playing scholarship players. Brett Rau saw meaningful minutes in the middle of a conference game on the road — no offense to Rau, who has been a great representative for the school, but that says something.

At the start of the season, hope was high because of Michael Porter Jr., and this team was a dangerous one with him in the lineup. Without him, it was an exciting but flawed team full of holes. And for a long time, those holes were well masked by an offense which took advantage of the hot shooting of Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett.

It wasn’t just those two, either. For a while, Jordan Geist was shooting north of 40 percent from the 3-point line during the non-conference portion of the season, a number that’s dropped to 23 percent in conference play. Jontay Porter hit five of seven 3s against South Carolina but is only 4-for-19 (21 percent) since. And Kevin Puryear has hit on 11 percent of his tries from the 3-point arc in SEC play.

Since losing to Florida, the Tigers have made just 30 percent of their 3s and were just 27 percent last night. Cullen VanLeer was 2-for-2, and Robertson was 3-for-7, Everyone else? Try 1-for-13. If Robertson goes 4-for-7, Barnett goes 3-for-5 (instead of 1-for-5), and Jontay makes one, suddenly you’re at 45 percent and you score 74 points.

Depth has become an obvious problem. Blake Harris was inconsistent but could attack the rim. Neither he, Phillips, nor Roberts changed the game, but collectively they made up a safety net of sorts. With just Jordan Geist still in the fold, there is no safety net and no chance for a Plan B to emerge.

So, not shooting well and not having depth and playing 58 percent of your minutes with guys who were 8-24 last year and ... yeah, things aren’t always going to look great.

All is not lost

I said before the game started this wasn’t a must win. For Mizzou, a loss likely knocked them out of the “bracketology” brackets for the NCAA tournament. Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm, or SBN’s Chris Dobbertean will all omit Mizzou.

This doesn’t mean the season is lost, only that there is more work to do on the back end of the season. For the Tigers, they just lost what was projected to be a toss-up game. It wasn’t an upset, and even Vegas oddsmakers expected a loss.

Mizzou has been struggling on offense and was going up against a top-20 defensive team on the road. So, despite the Bulldogs having a questionable offense, they have an elite defense, and they’re talented enough to take advantage of Missouri’s mistakes. It was easy to see how this game could go wrong.

But the goal has always been to get to 10 wins in conference. Nine wins can do the trick, too — if they’re the right wins. It’s easy to look at the next couple games and freak out a little because you could be looking at 3-7 in conference play. And that is a reality.

Depending on what version of Tigers shows up against Alabama and Kentucky, the Tigers could very much be 5-5 at the end of next week with two huge wins. Or Martin’s team might be 3-7 and staring at a huge hole to get to any tournament, much less the NCAA tournament. The Tigers need to start seeing the ball go into the basket again, and ... you know, stop turning the ball over 27 percent of the time.

But considering eight scholarship players — five of which were holdovers from an 8-24 team — are all we’ve got these days? I have adjusted my expectations. Missouri can play better, and it’s reasonable to expect they do play better. If they’re going to, however, they’re going to need more from each corner of whatever is left.