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Study Hall: Ole Miss 90, Mizzou 87

Man, give credit to Ole Miss. The Rebels found a couple of things to exploit and played like they didn’t give a damn. That’s a dangerous combo.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Harris already did the “talk people down from the ledge” thing, so I probably don’t have to, but just in case, a reminder: Mizzou was very safely in the NCAA Tournament field on Tuesday morning. This loss stinks, but the Tigers aren’t suddenly on the bubble. I know that’s where our brains tend to naturally go after any upset loss, but no.

A couple more losses, and we’ll see, of course. But Mizzou’s fine. For now.

Team Stats

Remember the glory days of yonder (last week) when the stats were suggesting Missouri might be turning a corner from a ball-handling perspective? Wonderful times, in my opinion.

  • Opponent BCI, last 2 games: 2.40 (29 assists, 19 steals, 20 turnovers)
  • Mizzou BCI, last 2 games: 1.03 (26 assists, 8 steals, 33 turnovers)

In an almost paradoxical way, I look at these stats and marvel at how good Missouri’s offense was in this one. To average more than one point per possession while turning the ball over on more than a quarter of your possessions? That’s really hard to do. And to make sure things are as tricky as possible to analyze, the players who added the most good things to Missouri’s box score also delivered the most bad.

Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon combined for 29 points on 9-for-15 shooting, grabbed 10 offensive and 11 defensive rebounds, and added five assists, two steals, and two blocks as well. That is ridiculously good, the type of game we might see a lot more of next year (assuming no one unexpected attempts to go pro).

Porter and Tilmon also committed seven turnovers and, for good measure, went just 8-for-15 from the free throw line, with most of the misses coming at the worst possible time.

You can add Kevin Puryear here, too: he scored 11 points in six shots. Good! He turned the ball over three times. Bad!

Throw in two turnovers from Reed Nikko in six minutes, and you quickly find the primary cause of Missouri’s ball-handling issues. (It wasn’t the only cause, of course — Jordan Geist had six turnovers of his own.)

It makes a lot of sense for opponents to pressure Mizzou’s bigs, of course. This is a ball-movement offense — the Tigers still had 16 assists, after all, and rank 70th in assists per FG made. Plus, they’ve made a concerted effort to run the ball through the bigs. That has resulted in a lot of nice scoring opportunities. It’s also resulted in turnovers.

As Matt Harris pointed out, the turnovers it resulted in also created transition scoring opportunities for Ole Miss, and the Rebels took advantage of that a lot more than some other opponents have.

Honestly, obligatory criticism of late-game execution aside, I think I was more impressed with Ole Miss than I was alarmed by Missouri. The Rebels identified a couple of things they would try as hard as possible to exploit, they played with nothing to lose, and they won.

And, of course, Mizzou missed too many damn free throws at the wrong time. That, too.

Player Stats

Your Trifecta: Porter-Tilmon-Barnett

Give me that Trifecta, and I’ll assume Missouri wins about 90 percent of the time.

Ole Miss is not a great rebounding team, but the Rebels are still top-100 in offensive rebounding, and Mizzou erased the Rebels from the offensive glass. This was Mizzou’s best rebounding performance in a while, and a lot of the improvement came from those assertive bigs who were turning the ball over a lot.

Jordan Barnett was assertive, too, at least on the defensive side of the court. He grabbed seven defensive rebounds and came away with a huge block as well. That almost made up for the fact that he was camped out at the 3-point line (10 3-point attempts, one 2-pointer, two free throws) on offense.

FLOOR WATCH LIVES! Mizzou is nearly unbeatable when it has at least three guys with a Floor% (the percentage of your individual possessions that result in points) of 40% or higher. The Tigers only had two. One more scoring possession (or one fewer turnover) from Tilmon might have mad the difference.

From a seeding perspective, this one obviously hurts a lot. Mizzou probably isn’t getting a double-bye in the SEC Tournament, and at the very least, the chances of getting a 6-seed in the NCAAs are about done. But the sources of most of the Tigers’ downside on Tuesday were also the sources of a lot of upside. We know that ball-handling will end up being Mizzou’s fatal flaw this year, and that’s not going to change, but while I’ve been wrong before, I didn’t see signs of an impending slump on Tuesday — only a little too much volatility, mixed with an opponent playing with its hair on fire.

(Of course, “impending slump” or no, there’s a very good chance Mizzou is riding another three-game losing streak come Sunday morning. That’s no good no matter what the stat indicators say.)