You know, no big deal.
You haven’t won a road conference game since January 28, 2014. Your program hasn’t won more than 10 games in three years. So you take a trip to play the South Carolina Gamecocks to open conference play in early January in 2018 and win, on the road, for your 11th win of the season.
It’s January 4.
Before the season I had actually marked this game as a loss. I thought the Tigers would win Braggin’ Rights and spend far too much time between games to go into Columbia and beat SC. The Gamecocks aren’t what you’d call a good basketball team — they’re in a rebuild mode after going to the Final Four — but they aren’t a bad team either. They’re good at telling you how the game is going to go. And they did that early.
For the first eight minutes the game was a struggle. Then Jordan Barnett did his thing and a few threes began to fall. Mizzou hit nine 3-pointers in the first half which seemed to be enough momentum for them to carry through the second half.
To the BOX:
If you hold your opponent to under 40% shooting, and you hit 14 3s, you are probably going to win more often than not. The Tigers were good from the free throw line and not great from inside the 3-point line (where SC is very good defensively), but it doesn’t matter when you hit nearly 60% from deep.
1. Kash is important
Obviously when he scores 23 points, Kassius Robertson is going to get a mention. But 14 of those points came in the second half, including eight of Mizzou’s final nine points overall. Against the Gamecocks, Kash was the closer.
Missouri, as a team, is still very much lacking a point guard. And it was costing the Tigers down the stretch until Robertson stepped up.
Late in games the Tigers have struggled to make the necessary plays. The more Robertson turns into the leader he showed last night, the better of Mizzou will be.
Mizzou needs a guy who can make a simple enough play like getting to the free throw line to stop a run, or finding a way to break the press and give yourself a chance at the possession instead of a turnover. When Carolina was attempting to mount a comeback, the Tigers weren’t turning the ball over and Kassius has to get a lot of credit for that.
2. Welcome back, Jontay
Welcome back Jontay, 7 boards, 11 points in 16 minutes of play is pretty good— Sam Snelling (@SamTSnelling) January 4, 2018
And that was just the first half. Jontay fouled out after 27 minutes, but not before hitting five 3s and scoring a career-high 19 points. As Jontay does, he filled out the rest of the box score with four blocks, seven rebounds and an assist as well. He fouled out (which isn’t great) but 27 minutes is a good amount of time to be on the floor for a freshman big. Oh, and the MVP of the game according to KenPom.
Mizzou needs Jontay. He’s capable of completely changing the team’s offensive approach with his ability to not only shoot, but take other bigs off the dribble and draw the defense in. He did this a few times (with mixed results) against SC, but it’s a learning process, and as he learns he’ll only get better.
3. The defense is good but inconsistent
Right now Mizzou’s defense currently ranks 106th per KenPom. Oddly enough that’s actually worse than last year.
Against the Gamecocks, the defense was quite good for about 30 minutes. In the picture to the right, you can see Maik Kotsar, a 6’10 post, drive around Kevin Puryear. Maybe KP didn’t expect him to drive it or attack as aggressively as he did, but it pointed to a larger issue that’s been arising this year for the Tigers defensively.
They’re only okay. And considering Cuonzo’s pedigree on the defensive end, it’s a little surprising.
When it comes to their rotations the Tigers need to get a whole lot tighter. And the guys who are hurting them the most in these areas are the guys with experience. Jordan Barnett, Robertson and Kevin Puryear are all vital important players who excel offensively, and all three need to improve on defense.
So much of defense is off the ball. On the drive referenced, there was no weak-side help. Against South Carolina, a team that shoots 33% from three and has no real threat on offense, Mizzou had weak side defense hugging up on their guys, letting a slow 6’10 forward in for a layup. On a drive to the basket.
That’s been plaguing me for more than just the last game, so I wanted to get it out there. Mizzou needs to clean up its weakside rotations and the help in closing off driving lanes. It will help their rebounding and it will take pressure off their shooting.
As a coach, this has to drive Cuonzo crazy, and you hope this will get better as things go.
Just as long as it doesn’t make their offense worse. It’s fun having a top 25 offense.
With that said, I don’t want to take anything away from this road win. I expected Missouri to end its conference road losing streak this year — that it happened game one is even better.
Right now the Tigers are sitting at 11-3, 1-0 in the SEC, and 43rd in KenPom. This is an important win because the next six games are no cake walk. The league is very tough, but five of the next six games are against teams currently projected in the NCAA field including road games against Texas A&M and Arkansas. Getting the win against South Carolina gives the Tigers a margin for error, and in the next six they might need it.
So enjoy winning more games by January 4 than the Tigers have had in any season since 2014. Mizzou Basketball is fun again.