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Study Hall: Mizzou 75, Morehead State 61

Mizzou got what they needed from three guys, and not so much from the rest of the roster.

NCAA Basketball: Morehead State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

From the tip, it looked like this was going to be a runaway, but a funny thing happened which certainly made a lot of people take a second look. Cuonzo Martin went into this game hoping for the opportunity to play some of his role guys with more prime time minutes as the SEC conference schedule inched closer. Mark Smith pumped in 14 points, and the Tigers jumped all over the cold-shooting Eagles in route to a 35-7 lead. Morehead State eventually steadied itself to going into halftime down 23.

Then Martin started his tinkering. After scoring 45 points in the first half, the Tigers needed 14 minutes to score their next 15 points. With Jeremiah Tilmon struggling with fouls, Martin went ahead and invested in experiments trying any combination of the remaining nine players.

Check out yesterday’s posts:

The tinkering reminded us sharply of one thing, Mizzou has a skinny margin of error this season. With Tilmon out of the game the offense shifts so heavily towards the perimeter, it causes the Tigers to take more contested shots, and be a little more one dimensional. This, of course, is the bad version of Mizzou. But in a way, you can see how Martin was trying to find a version that worked without Tilmon in the middle.

He went with smaller lineups, running Pinson and Geist, with a traditional wing plus Kevin Puryear and K.J. Santos — in his first extended action — out there, swapped Puryear for Mitchell Smith at times. He even tried four guards with Santos or Puryear playing the five for stretches. Playing against a team like Morehead State, with a lead well into the twenties, the Tigers struggled to make the offense work. Here’s all the tinkering in chart form, thanks to Matt’s twitter feed:

It’s a fascinating experiment but one worth going after to see how your guys react. The next game is against Tennessee, currently ranked 3rd in the country and an absolute monster of a team. They’re loaded with talent and experience, and they’re going to want to avenge a loss from last season. I don’t expect Cuonzo Martin to get very cute with his lineups against the Vols.

Team Stats

study hall 2019 morehead st team stats
  • Overall a pretty average offensive performance: On the season Mizzou shoots 47.1% from 2, and 39.3% from 3, so hitting 50% and 36.7% is about right. The FT shooting was a tick up, and it was good to see, considering the Tigers didn’t take that many (only 16 to MSU’s 26).
  • Mizzou again winning the BCI battle by a lot is something I could totally get used to: The turnover numbers are going to be an issue on bad nights consistently. However, Mizzou’s assist rate has inched up, while the Tigers’ stingy brand has kept BCI in positive territory. The last time Mizzou’s BCI slid under 1.30 was also their last loss.
  • The free-throw defense had a slightly off night: but the Tigers need to find a real balance with their getting to the line versus sending people to the line. Even with a free-throw defense as elite as Missouri’s you still want to limit opportunities. The best free-throw defense in the country still gives up 1.12 points per possession at the free-throw line.

Player Stats

Your Trifecta: Jordan Geist, Mark Smith, Kevin Puryear

study hall 2019 morehead st gmsc

On the season: Jordan Geist 19 points, Mark Smith 15 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 12 points, Kevin Puryear 8 points, Javon Pickett 6 points, Torrence Watson 5 points, Xavier Pinson 4 point, Reed Nikko 1 point.

How many nights is Jordan Geist going to save the Missouri offense? So far this season I’m going with a lot. Combined with Mark Smith, Geist accounted for 59% of the points against Morehead State.

Without Tilmon, Missouri relies heavily on ball screens for Geist and Smith and hope they make a play. Sometimes it works, and other times they need another spark to see the ball going in. When Pickett is cutting and making shots, it gets a lot tougher, even moreso when Watson is sinking 3s.

Against Morehead, the Tigers lost Tilmon and got virtually nothing from Pickett, Mitchell Smith, Reed Nikko, and even Santos (who still looks like he’s knocking the rust off his joints). If not for the solid support of Puryear and enough of a burst from Torrence Watson Mizzou might have been in real trouble.

I imagine there are going to be more than a few nights things come down Geist and Smith doing their thing, with help from Puryear, just hoping for something else to come along. And if Tilmon is there out of foul trouble that’s enough to win a fair amount of games.

study hall 2019 morehead st player%

I’m not sure you want someone like Pickett with a 29% usage rate. I applaud his higher willingness to attack the rim, largely based upon his success so far this season. But having a usage rate near 30%, with a floor% near 20% is not where Javon Pickett needs to live. If things are working, Pickett has those numbers reversed at the least, but closer to a 15 to 20 percent usage rate (he’s sub 20 percent on the season) with a 40.0 floor percentage is where you want to see him. That’s taking good shots and moving the ball.

Missouri wasn’t at their best against Morehouse State, and it let this game get closer than it probably should have been.

But that’s who this team is. At their best, the Tigers are probably a top-40 team, one capable of beating just about anyone. On an average night, they’re closer to the team KenPom sees currently: likely headed for a finish around .500 in SEC play, if not a step worse. They sit at No. 72 in KenPom, and when things were going well, they looked like a team in the top 40. Things went south on Saturday, and they looked a lot worse. But the toughness continued through, and as Morehead State pressed on, the grit of the Tigers was enough to get them beyond the run, and past.

The initial run coupled with some trademarked Jordan Geist gamesmanship — goading MSU Guard A.J. Hicks into an ill-timed technical foul — which stemmed any momentum the Eagles thought they had. It was enough to get past Morehead, but it won’t be enough to get past Tennessee. The Vols await, and the task gets much tougher next week.