It was probably easy to miss considering the amazing news night Missouri football received, but Mizzou basketball quietly went out and dispatched an inferior opponent.
It might be easy to overlook because Missouri has played three sub-200 KenPom teams: Central Arkansas, Kennesaw State, and now UT-Arlington. Before UTA, the combined point differential in those games was just 16. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Tigers easily eclipsed their previous efforts with a slow, steady separation in the first half keyed with a 15-4 run over the course of about five minutes of game action.
The Tigers did what they do best so far. They sank 3-point shots, utilized Jeremiah Tilmon on the inside, and got a kickstart from freshman Torrence Watson on a night when it seemed clear Cuonzo Martin was assessing his bench for options.
- Turnovers are just going to be a problem, and if you accept that going in you’ll feel better by the end: The Tigers turnover percentage on the season is a hair over 21.0, so the 22.1-percent rate last night isn’t far off from what they’ve been. For Missouri to be a tough out, their efficiency — or PPP — needs to stay above 1, preferably closer to the 1.2 range. Missouri is capable of shooting the ball well. (As we’ve seen, they lead the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage so far.) And as long as Mizzou doesn’t have a truly abysmal night in the turnover column — see the Iowa State box score — you’d have to think their shooting will help them hang in games.
- Defensively, it feels like Missouri is improving, and the numbers bear it out: After give up 1.31 and 1.24 points per possession against Kansas State and Temple, the Tigers cooled UCF (1.05) and iced out UTA (0.71). They did it with a strong showing from their bench guys, which seemed like what Cuonzo Martin’s objective.
- Two-point shooting got better after an incredibly ugly start: For a while, it was like watching a replay of all their worst moments to start the season around the rim. Kevin Puryear drive to attack the rim (GOOD!), ball skims off the side of the iron (BAD!). Jeremiah Tilmon gets an early touch (GOOD!), he bangs it off the back rim. Mark Smith gets an easy short jumper (GOOD!), he misses it to the right (BAD!). The mark of a good basketball team is one who is capable of converting the easier looks with consistency. The Tigers aren’t there, yet. The good news is those looks started going in and on balance the two-point percentage wasn’t awful by the end of the game.
Your Trifecta: Torrence Watson, Javon Pickett, Jeremiah Tilmon
On the season: Mark Smith 12 points, Jordan Geist 9 points, Kevin Puryear 7 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 7 points, Javon Pickett 5 points, Torrence Watson 4 points, Xavier Pinson 1 point, Reed Nikko 1 point.
It’s certainly interesting to see nary a negative value among the adjusted game scores, and on the flip side, nobody above the 12.0 Watson put together. I think you’d call this a team win?
But it was important for this team to notch a win without much help from Mark Smith. In turn, his former AAU teammate, Torrence Watson, was given plenty of minutes to figure some things out. Seeing Watson break out has been a development most Mizzou fans have been desperate to see. The fact Watson made shots shouldn’t be a surprise. While he’s only shooting 32 percent from deep this season, he’s long been capable. So seeing his shots start to drop had to be satisfying.
That said, Watson only chipped in a single rebound, plus a steal and a block. His future is really bright because of his shotmaking, but if he’s able to start putting it together in the other phases of the game? Look out.
Not to be outdone, Javon Pickett seems to have found steadier footing. His limitations athletically aren’t preventing him from doing all the other things on the floor Martin wants from Watson. Pickett rebounds, attacks the rim, moves the ball, and finds ways to get in the box — even when he’s not scoring.
Four Tigers with a floor percentages at 40.0 or higher, and two others in the high 30s is a good sign offensively.
Mark Smith has largely avoided the turnover bug — his turnover rate is the lowest on the team — but it bit him last night.
Where we’ve landed after a 5-3 start is a quartet Martin knows he can trust most nights: Geist, Puryear, Tilmon, Mark Smith. He’s also starting to get more production from Pickett and Mitchell Smith. The question marks remain Watson, Pinson, and the mystery man, K.J. Santos.
Martin was searching for more from Watson and Pinson against UTA, and I think both answered the bell. Pinson played with more patience, and Watson seeing the ball go in should give him a boost. As for Santos:
KJ Santos has been fully cleared, Cuonzo Martin said he'll probably play Friday— Brendan Lavell (@brendan_lavell) December 5, 2018
Missouri has one more game as a tune up before finals and the competition ramps up. Oral Roberts isn’t good. The Tigers will get another chance to run a lesser opponent off the floor at Mizzou Arena, and see K.J. Santos ease back into action. This team is starting to feel close to fully formed — if still imperfect — and still in search of its ceiling. But the outline is sketched. It just needs some coloring in.