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Study Hall: Mizzou 69, Kentucky 60

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What a resilient, resourceful team this Mizzou squad has become.

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

Things have changed a lot in a week, huh? Last Sunday, Mizzou was bearing a three-game losing streak and had played its way to the (slightly) wrong side of the bubble. Now, we’re back to expecting 10 conference wins.

And while we’re reflecting ... before the season, Missouri was, despite some wacky Vegas championship odds, projected as basically a No. 8-12 NCAA seed with Michael Porter Jr. That’s what the Tigers are without him. It’s been a strange year.

Theoretically, things could change right back to “PANIC AND FREE FALL” over the next week, but ... damn, that was a nice win on Saturday. We will enjoy it right up until Tuesday, when it’s time to worry about getting upset by Ole Miss*.

* KenPom projects only a one-point Mizzou victory against Ole Miss, so “upset” is a stretch. Go with it.

Team Stats

A checklist:

  • Kentucky is really good on the offensive glass and was +2.6 in terms of expected offensive rebounds.
  • Kentucky can’t shoot 3s well and went just 2-for-20 on 3-pointers. Worse than normal, obviously, but within the realm of possibility.
  • Kentucky plays at a slightly faster tempo than normal, and this was only Mizzou’s second 70-possession game since mid-December.

All according to plan. BUT...

  • Kentucky blocks a ton of shots but managed just two to Mizzou’s eight. Mizzou making two-thirds of its 2-pointers was rather unexpected.
  • Kentucky gets to the line a ton but managed just 0.34 FTA to FGA (season average: 0.43). The refs never really had a grip on this one — they let a ton of physical play slide by but still ended up calling 49 fouls. (Consequently, the damn game lasted a ridiculous 2.5 hours.)
  • Kentucky doesn’t force many turnovers, but Mizzou willed its way to 20 turnovers all the same. And while UK’s late-game defensive pressure was mostly well-organized (especially considering John Calipari is once again coaching a team of mostly freshmen), a lot of Mizzou’s 20 turnovers were of the unforced or minimally-forced variety. A dragged-foot travel here, a should’ve-called-timeout 10-second violation there. The good news here is that those were dead-ball turnovers, and UK only managed 15 points off of these 20 TOs because of it. An accidental saving grace.

Player Stats

Your Trifecta: Porter-Tilmon-Robertson

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that with a Trifecta of Porter-Tilmon-Robertson, it’s going to be very difficult for Missouri to lose a game. If Good Jontay shows up, and if Tilmon is staying out of foul trouble enough to play enough minutes to reach the Trifecta, Mizzou is a really damn good basketball team.

(The exception: something like the Florida game, where both made the top three, but Tilmon did so because only Jontay and Jordan Barnett contributed much to the box score. And Florida still needed a terrible call and a Chris Chiozza miracle to win that game.)

For the season, Mizzou is 6-3 when Tilmon makes the Trifecta and 9-2 when Porter does. Mizzou went 2-0 this week because both of its freshman bigs stepped up in key moments.

  • Porter against Alabama and UK: 44 minutes, 26 points (7-9 2PT, 3-7 3PT, 3-6 FT), 11 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, four turnovers.
  • Tilmon against Alabama and UK: 36 minutes, 21 points (10-10 2PT, 1-3 FT), eight rebounds, three assists, three blocks, four turnovers.

Are those shooting percentages sustainable? Of course not. But Mizzou won those games by a combined 18 points, so they could have fallen off a bit, and Mizzou still would have been okay. Both of these guys still have another funk or two left in them this year — after all, young bigs are gonna young big — but Mizzou is taking advantage of this freshman surge, however long it lasts.

After the Bama game, I noted that the key to Mizzou victories was having three guys having an over 40 percent Floor% (percentage of your possessions that result in points). Mizzou reached that mark on Saturday, if by technicality — Reed Nikko was one of the three.

In this case, though, that technicality furthered the narrative of the game. Mizzou won by clogging the middle on defense and getting outstanding contributions from its young bigs. Jordan Geist struggled with UK’s young, athletic, long backcourt (only one contributor is under 6’5), and while Kassius Robertson’s late-game free throws were the key to holding the Wildcats off, he, too, struggled with the ball, turning it over five times.

The Wildcats, however, couldn’t maximize their backcourt advantages because they couldn’t shoot. And Mizzou’s touch near the basket was outstanding. UK had the rebounding advantage, but Mizzou needed far fewer rebounds.