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Study Hall: After 9 games Mizzou is starting to form their identity

At 6-3, the Tigers are starting to figure themselves out which bodes well for the last stretch of non-conference action.

NCAA Basketball: Oral Roberts at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With a week of finals to give the players a break from games and our own coverage a gap, I thought it’d be a good time to do a “take stock” post.

Going into the season there wasn’t a lot we knew about this team and what they would or could be. The phrase used quite frequently was knowns and unknowns, and the unknowns let our expectations for this season sink. While some of the concerns heading into the season have been answered, and others haven’t been, Missouri has at least proven they are going to be mostly ok because of one thing they can do, and that’s shoot the basketball.

While I don’t think anyone could have predicted the Tigers would be a top 40 shooting team to this point, I’m also not sure we could have predicted they’d also be just as bad at shooting 2’s!

Team Stats

study hall 2019 after 9 games team stats
  • Mizzou’s Free Throw defense is elite: the rest of their defense has been wildly inconsistent. Not all that surprising when you account for the youth they’re playing with. Currently their PPP is right at 1.0, their Adjusted Defensive Rating is at 98.7 and it’s a respectable 75th in the country. Consequently that would be Cuonzo Martin’s worst defensive team since his first one at Cal which was 79th.

With the Tigers running out so many young players you hope those numbers will improve.

  • Three point shooting for two years in a row has been very good: When you buy into a system, one which focuses on spacing and ball movement it tends to generate good looks. Going into the season the Tigers had almost no returning three point shooting. Kevin Puryear and Jordan Geist combined to make 46 in 138 attempts (33.3%) last season, that number is up a tick this season to 34.3%. But the real surprise has been the newcomers, Mark Smith is shooting 47.8% to lead the team, but both Torrence Watson and Xavier Pinson are shooting over 40% with Mitchell Smith hitting on 4-of-9 to make four Tigers over the 40% mark.
  • So we need to talk about the turnovers: My main takeaway is IT’S NOT THAT BAD!

Missouri’s 20.4% rate is actually down a tick over last year, and if you take away they’re awful game against Iowa State the TOR% drops to just 16.5%, which would place them in between 58th and 64th in the country. Which is... good! It would also eclipse any other Cuonzo Martin coached basketball team which is saying something considering he’s had teams rank in the top 20 in TOR%. Youthful teams also tend to be more turnover prone, and improve with age. There’s hope they can continue to prove the Iowa State game as an outlier and drop the rate continually throughout the rest of the season. Even as the competition heats up into conference play the Tigers can be a steady team handling the ball.

So an improving turnover rate, and an expected rebound margin up to +13. This is looking a lot like a Cuonzo Martin team, if they can straighten out the defensive side of things. And in that category it does feel like this team can turn a corner shortly on that end of the floor.

Player Stats

Your Trifecta: Mark Smith, Jordan Geist, Jeremiah Tilmon

study hall 2019 after 9 games game score

Really the top four are incredibly unsurprising with Tilmon just edging out Puryear after a strong home stand over the last three games.

Mark Smith has been terrific for the bulk of the season. He does have a bit of a hit-and-miss style to his game. In five games he’s averaging 15.6 points, in the other four games he’s at just 6.5 points per. Smith also seems to rebound better when he’s scoring, in his five good games he averages 6.4 rebounds vs 3.5. He doesn’t altogether disappear but that’s a pretty significant drop off. I imagine Martin will be looking for a little more consistency from Smith the rest of the way.

We’ve talked a lot about the change in approach from Geist, he’s upped his usage substantially, his turnover rate is down and his Offensive rating is only down slightly despite his % of shots being around 23% (up 9% from last year).

With the rotation looking fairly set at this point it’s going to be interesting to see what they get from K.J. Santos. Santos just starting playing again and the expectations for him coming into the season were high, warranted or not. There’s still room on the wing and at the combo forward spot for Santos to step in and provide a boost.

study hall 2019 player% after 9 games

A 40% Floor% is the sign of good offense, so I think it says a lot about Missouri’s almost good offense that they’ve got one player over 40%, and five at 38% or higher, and three more higher than 30%. Get Jeremiah Tilmon playing with more consistency like he did the last three or four games and it’s likely to see those numbers creep up for everyone.

This is why you hired Cuonzo Martin, going young and still putting a product on the floor where you feel there’s a chance to win each game. And the margin of error is also looking a lot larger than it was at the beginning of the season thanks to the way this team appears capable of shooting the ball.

There are three more games remaining before the start of conference play. Xavier and Illinois should provide tests for the Tigers. Morehead State is somewhere between Oral Roberts and UT-Arlington, so that should be an easy tune-up.

With a couple of breaks over the next few games Missouri could be looking at a 9-3 record going into conference play, having surpassed a lot of expectations. It’s probably unreasonable to expect them to beat both Illinois and Xavier (they’re both considered toss-up one possession games right now), but if they do it sets up really well for conference play.

The SEC has been down more than expected. There’s room in a soft middle for a team like Missouri to overachieve and possibly move themselves into contention for an NCAA spot. Which would be a monumental achievement for this team and this roster.