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Hoops Preview: Can an improving Missouri make quick work of Texas-Arlington?

A rebuilding team out of the Sun Belt Conference will be a nice benchmark for whether the Tigers can put together a complete game.

UT-Arlington v Indiana Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

When Jordan Geist saw his No-No-Yes 3-pointer splashed down at the end of regulation on Sunday, it was a genuine moment of catharsis. For the senior, the jumper is a rebuttal to the drumbeat of criticism he faced in the wake of late-game struggles a year ago. And for a young team oscillating wildly, navigating treacherous terrain and come out the other sign is a marking worth plotting on the map.

Their reward: a 48-hour turnaround to face Texas-Arlington, which sits at No. 248 in KenPom.

Scanning the non-conference terrain, the Mavs aren’t a steep elevation to summit. Granted, we made a similar statement before the Tigers faced Kennesaw State — a disaster averted by Geist’s timely trips to the free-throw line.

Erratic as the Tigers have sometimes appeared, they haven’t skidded into the proverbial ditch. In October, the notion of incurring losses to Iowa State, Kansas State and a split with UCF and Temple would not have sounded outlandish. Given the youth that permeates the roster, it’s not surprising that poor ball-handling defined those losses, either. It’s early December, and MU is still steering itself toward a 9-3 non-conference mark, and it’s not impossible to imagine a .500 finish in SEC play.

Since a heinous outing against the Owls, MU’s offensive output has steadied and yielded 1.08 points per possession over the past four games, a raw efficiency that would rank around 90th nationally. What’s driving the improvement is better perimeter shooting (47.3 3FG%) and turnover rate (18.7%) that settles roughly around the Division I average.

Missouri | Offensive Progress Report

Oppnent UCA ISU KSU OSU K-State Temple UCF
Oppnent UCA ISU KSU OSU K-State Temple UCF
Possessions 69.3 69.1 59.9 64.5 62.5 63.8 59.2
PPP 0.98 0.85 0.9 1.07 1.07 1.21 1.08
PPS 1.06 1.34 1.02 1.25 1.4 1.54 1.02
2FG% 50.0 55.6 44.4 42.1 42.4 48.4 32.4
3FG% 30.8 34.6 17.6 29.4 60 57.9 41.4
FT% 46.2 70.6 70 78.6 63.2 70 54.5
TS% 38.8 57.3 43.7 51.2 59.4 65.5 47.2
FT Rate 0.20 0.39 0.38 0.51 0.4 0.4 0.17
BCI 1.90 0.56 1.67 1.88 1.07 0.87 1.3

Against UCF, Javon Pickett cobbled together the best outing of his freshman campaign, while Mitchell Smith turned in a complete outing of his own. If those are harbingers of steady contributions, it’s not outlandish to think the Tigers’ newfound efficiency could become entrenched.

Do deficiencies still exist? Sure. The Tigers continue to struggle finishing plays from point-blank range and are sit dead last nationally drawing fouls on shots around the rim, per Synergy Sports. At some point, jumpers won’t drop and the offensive pendulum will swing back the other direction.

And on the defensive end, there’s a stark dropoff when Geist, Smith and Puryear aren’t on the floor. During those possessions, Missouri sees its defensive efficiency plummet to 1.08 PPP from 0.88 PPP and allowing opponents to shoot 40 percent from behind the 3-point arc.

Missouri | Defensive Progress Report

Oppnent UCA ISU KSU OSU K-State Temple UCF
Oppnent UCA ISU KSU OSU K-State Temple UCF
Possessions 69.3 69.1 59.9 64.5 62.5 63.8 59.2
PPP 0.79 1.1 0.87 0.98 1.31 1.24 1.05
PPS 0.9 1.49 1.21 1.05 1.49 1.23 1.55
2FG% 29.4 53.8 31.4 50 58.1 63.2 65
3FG% 37 32 50 25 50 34.6 30
FT% 62.5 68.6 55.6 64.3 76.9 50 78.3
TS% 42.6 57.2 51.1 47.6 67.5 58.5 61.9
FT Rate 0.13 0.69 0.42 0.23 0.24 0.13 0.58
BCI 1.23 2.71 0.88 1.07 2.44 5.2 0.93

What does all this mean with the Mavericks on deck tonight?

An optimist might say a Sun Belt Conference starting a hard reset under Chris Ogden is a safe proving ground to try and find a measure of consistency. The Mavs are undersized and struggle shooting from behind the arc — a combination that offers the Tigers a chance to shore defensive slippage and pound the ball inside.

In other words, maybe the Tigers put together a complete game for the first time this season.

The Scout

NCAA Basketball: Jackson State at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Starters

Position Missouri (4-3) UTA (3-5)
Position Missouri (4-3) UTA (3-5)
PG Jordan Geist (Sr., 6-2, 180) Brian Warren (Jr., 5-9, 160)
CG Mark Smith (So., 6-4, 220) David Azore (Fr., 6-4, 205)
WING Javon Pickett (Fr., 6-4, 207) Pedro Castro (Fr., 6-6, 185)
CF Kevin Puryear (Sr., 6-7, 238) Patrick Mwamba (Fr., 6-5, 188)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (So., 6-10, 250) Andres Ibarguen (Jr., 6-5, 230)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense | The Mavs roll out one of the nation’s smallest rotations, which might afford the Tigers a chance to beat a team up in the paint. The Tigers won’t own a bigger size advantage than they do tonight, which makes it logical to assume Jeremiah Tilmon should get plenty of post touches. The lack of rim protection and high foul rates figure to make it advantageous to play through the paint for Tilmon, Puryear, Mitchell Smith and Reed Nikko.

UTA Defense | It may not matter that guards Brian Warren, DJ Bryant and David Azore excel at defending the 3-point line and generating steals. The Mavs allows foes to shoot nearly 60 percent around the bucket, foul too often and are merely average keeping opponents off the backboards. Even if MU misfires, and let their opponents win the war on the offensive glass. At worst, MU can default to bully ball if its normal offense isn’t producing steady returns from the perimeter.

Missouri offense vs. UTA defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Missouri 106.6 (108) 19.2 (332) 49.5 (208) 21.1 (267) 31.7 (103) 34.0 (183) 38.3 (55) 44.3 (305) 67.2 (235) 9.6 (197) 9.6 (242)
UTA 104.5 (201) 15.8 (23) 50.1 (161) 19.0 (179) 28.2 (149) 45.6 (323) 26.9 (16) 54.3 (271) 65.3 (72) 6.0 (288) 10.3 (75)

When UTA has the ball...

UTA Offense | Ogden hit the transfer market hard this spring after the Mavs saw their top four scorers move along. He grabbed guard Brian Warren and undersized forward Andres Ibarguen from Texas JUCOs and imported Edric Dennis as a graduate transfer from Jackson State. Those moves, meant to offset an upheaval of continuity, haven’t exactly panned out. While Ogden’s gone small with his lineups, he lacks a reliable perimeter shooter, while his best interior threat is no bigger than many opposing guards. Toss in poor ball-handling (the Mavs are 333rd in TOV%), and you can understand why the Mavs’ offense is routinely scuttled.

Missouri Defense | Sitting down and guarding consistently for 40 minutes should be enough. The Mavs are the country’s fourth-worst 3-point shooting team and average inside the arc. Warren’s at his best when leading the break, and Prince is a shooter you have to track off screens, but that’s about it as far as threats go. Inside, Mizzou should have the size to lean on Ibarguen, who is only 6-foot-5 and feats on putbacks and off-ball cuts.

UTA offense vs. Missouri defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
UTA 97.7 (284) 19.0 (320) 44.0 (323) 23.0 (333) 32.5 (80) 40.5 (67) 22.4 (351) 51.8 (143) 75.0 (45) 10.5 (238) 10.1 (279)
Missouri 99.4 (87) 18.3 (320) 50.9 (190) 17.6 (246) 25.2 (63) 21.2 (126) 35.7 (53) 49.1 (140) 67.2 (118) 3.9 (344) 7.4 (269)

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 73, UTA 61 | As we near the home stretch of non-conference play, MU has yet to bolt from the starting blocks, open up a big lead and coast through the finish. Blowing out a team that seems destined to finish worse than 250th in KenPom’s ratings is — on its own — unremarkable. Seeing a youthful team do the rote work of efficiently putting away a weaker opponent, however, is a just another positive data point to file away.