With the dust settling a little bit on signing day, it’s time to revisit Missouri’s home win against a solid Xavier team on Tuesday night.
Despite what you may believe, heading into the game Missouri was favored! Yes, I know our lowered expectations following the Jontay Porter injury caused many of us to look at several matchups in the non-conference schedule and cast them losses. That was made easier after watching the Tigers struggle to sludgy victories against Central Arkansas and Kennesaw State.
A slogging pace and early turnover woes forced the Tigers to lean heavily on perimeter shooting as a path to success during their first nine games. But the sometimes blunt method masked a rough block of granite Cuonzo Martin was patiently chiseling away at and sculpting this team into a more aesthetically pleasing product.
On the surface, a 15-point win over a team just an offseason removed from a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament should be marked as a clear sign this team has turned a corner. But again I want to say: Mizzou was supposed to win this game.
The surprise was the 29-point lead with eight minutes remaining. Looking at the score, you’d imagine everything going the Tigers way. Yet this game was turned by a few critical defensive tweaks Martin implemented. Mainly, Martin tweaked his ball screen defense — which has been something of a problem this season — in a way which saw a soft trap over the mid-way read and retreat they’ve been doing.
Sending the ball screener defender at the ball handler instead of whatever it was they had Tilmon doing before disrupted the Xavier offense and forced one of the top two-point shooting offenses into their second-worst performance of the year.
Good adjustment, Cuonzo.
- This was not as dominating of a performance as we’d like to think: Over the last 8+ minutes of the game Xavier went on a 23-9 run which evened things out a bit, but the reality is outside of their early tear, the Missouri offense was merely good and not great. We’ve talked about their PPS being above 1.25 and their PPP being above 1.1 and neither of those things happened.
They were on their way towards those numbers before struggling to score 10 points in 8 minutes, but there’s a reason these numbers are possession based and on anecdotal perceptions of “when you’re playing well.” They weren’t shooting a blistering percentage from 3-point range, and their 2-point shooting was better than it’s been but not outstanding. 52.9 percent is still below Xavier’s mark for the season.
- Winning the BCI battle was important, and Mizzou’s newfound attention to ball screen defense seemed to force a lot of turnovers from the Xavier guards: Anytime the Tigers finish under 20% for their TO% it’s probably going to be at worst a close game. Mizzou is doing a solid job of getting their turnovers under control, the next step is to find a way into a few more assists. The ball movement is improving, but the tendency to stick with young hands, and feeding the post in Tilmon, who isn’t quite the passing aficionado Jontay Porter was last year has limited the numbers. But it’s getting better.
- THAT FREE THROW DEFENSE IS ELITE: I’m gonna keep riding this train until I can’t.
Your Trifecta: Jeremiah Tilmon, Jordan Geist, Mark Smith
My favorite line here might be Xavier Pinson, who’s GameScore would have been outstanding had he not had four turnovers. But six rebounds, five assists and a couple steals shows a step in the right direction.
Javon Pickett had his weirdest game yet, one in which he took nine shots and did basically nothing else. Very un-Pickett like, as the reason he’s started over the more polished scorer in Torrence Watson is his ability to fill the box score.
Mark Smith wasn’t supremely influential, but he still had a 113 offensive rating for the game.
But Jeremiah Tilmon: When he’s engaged, he’s really, really, really good.
A “good” Tilmon makes Missouri a team which can contend for an NCAA tournament bid. The difference is easy to see as Tilmon was +20 against Xavier, and the Tigers are 5-1 when his Offensive Rating tops 100, and 2-2 when he goes below. As a sophomore, it may be asking too much of Tilmon to be the difference between making the NCAA tournament or not, but it’s clear his play is the storyline of the season and whether or not Missouri can exceed the expectations before them.
So we’ve talked before about having guys above 40% of the Floor% is good? Tilmon being at 54% is excellent.
No other Tiger was above 40% which tells me they can be better. We also saw a pretty non-existent performance from Kevin Puryear.
Another interesting stat I’m watching is bench points. Nine against Xavier. Mizzou’s starters, namely Tilmon, Smith, and Geist carried the weight which was all that was needed. Going forward, you’d have to expect some leveling off.
The rotation seems to go eight deep plus spot minutes from Reed Nikko. Martin has shown he trusts Geist, Tilmon, Mark Smith and Kevin Puryear at around 25 to 30 minutes each. If they’re registering 120 minutes of game action that leaves 80 for the remaining four. Watson and Pickett seem to provide a yin and yang right now with Watson providing a little more offensive scoring while Pickett usually does the little things. Together they’re averaging about 40 minutes. Pinson gets around 15, Mitchell Smith chips in and Reed Nikko gathers his 6-8 minutes.
Which begs the question, if K.J. Santos gets healthy and in shape where do his minutes come in?
With Bragging Rights pending Missouri appears pretty set in its rotation of eight plus Reed. The offense is improving and showing signs of consistency. Turnover rates are trending the right way. Is it optimistic to think Missouri could and should end their losing streak in Bragging Rights on Saturday?
If they do, they’ll have put themselves in stable position heading into SEC play.