What if, what if, what if. As exhilarating as this basketball season was at times, as awesome as it felt to be relevant in the sport of college basketball once more, there will always be that twinge. There will always be the thought of what could have been.
We didn’t get the full Michael Porter Jr. experience on Friday night, which means that, barring a surprising stay-or-go draft decision in the coming days/weeks, we’ll never get that experience with him wearing black and gold unless he spends time in a Warriors or Lakers alternate jersey.
We did, however, get a glimpse of Porter’s strong mental game, his if/then process for scoring points Jumper’s not falling? I’ll post up. Or drive. Or get out in transition. And draw plenty of contact.
The jumper was most certainly not falling on Friday in Nashville. He was 1-for-4 from the field in the first half and, for good measure, 1-for-3 from the line. But while the jumper never really rounded into form, he went full-on point manufacturer in the second half, generating 13 points from eight shots and making all six free throws. Not bad considering he had no hops and, for about the last eight minutes or so, he had no legs.
That Porter ended up tops in the team’s Adj. Game Score Trifecta, despite three turnovers and 33 percent shooting from the field, tells you all you need to know about how Mizzou fared.
Despite first-half struggles in transition, defense was very much not the issue for Mizzou on Friday. The Tigers held FSU to under one point per possession even with the issues that Jordan Barnett’s absence presented. They wiped a good offensive rebounding team off of the offensive glass and forced 11 turnovers — not great, but not bad for a team so iffy at forcing TOs. But FSU made some outlandish 3-pointers at times (the kind Mizzou needed to make) and did a masterful job of drawing contact and forcing foul trouble. That was enough.
Also: I think we’d have all been willing to bet a large sum of money on Mizzou’s NCAA Tournament loss — whoever it came against — including a drastic BCI deficit (and 2.45 to 0.87 qualifies as drastic, even if it wasn’t the worst of the season for this team), huh?
Your Trifecta: MPJ-Robertson-Puryear
Kevin Puryear had a nice spurt, Kassius Robertson hit all the 3s he could, and MPJ found a couple of if/thens that bore fruit. And, of course, Brett Rau had that awesome and-one.
That was almost literally all the offense Mizzou could manage. Reed Nikko finished fourth in the Trifecta with two rebounds, a steal, a block, and no points. Another sign that things didn’t go the Tigers’ way.
Mizzou got a combined four points and plus-0.2 Adj. GS points from Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon; as importantly, the Tigers got only a combined 40 minutes out of the two thanks to Tilmon’s foul trouble. And bless his heart, Jordan Geist had nothing to offer as he battled cramps, an injured wrist, lanky, athletic defenders, and a missing jumper.
Jontay was my barometer this year. If the team wasn’t doing very well, but he was still calm and smooth and playing in control of himself, I figured things were fine. But in the first half, he was rushing his shot, dribbling too much at times, and generally looking a little panicked. It felt like that was a very bad sign. It was.
(Speaking of bad signs, Mizzou came out playing zone defense. That’s about as much of a “We’re scared of getting into foul trouble because we have no bench!” announcement as possible. It was not a terrible idea in theory — and hey, FSU only had one point in its first six possessions — but it was very revealing, too.)
Our final Floor% Watch of the season. When Mizzou had at least three guys hitting 40 percent or more in Floor% (the percentage of your possessions that result in points), the Tigers tended to win.
They got one on Friday (Puryear), and he did almost nothing in the first half, when the Noles were rolling to a 22-point lead. Robertson’s jumper somewhat offset his four turnovers, but only somewhat. And MPJ’s mistakes offset the 16 points he ended up with. Mizzou was just too dreadfully inefficient offensively.
The Tigers showed fight, though. For one last time, they responded to massive adversity with brilliance. Sadly, it only lasted 10 minutes. Mizzou went on a 24-8 run to cut a 22-point deficit to six, then demonstrably ran out of gas. Michael Porter Jr. began clutching his shorts, Mizzou missed a series of chip shots, FSU went on a 15-0 run, and that was that.
This was truly one of the most resilient Mizzou teams I’ve seen. Injury, youth, odd roster imbalance, and increasingly perilous depth created more adversity than most teams will face. And time and again, the Tigers responded with fight.
- They lost MPJ and laid eggs against Utah and Emporia State, then responded with about 2.5 games of brilliance in the Advocare Invitational.
- Following the late collapse against WVU, they won five games in a row.
- They lost C.J. Roberts and Blake Harris to transfer and lost three games in a row in conference play, then ripped off a five-game winning streak.
- They lost three games in a row again and responded with a brilliant final week to the regular season to lock up a tourney bid.
They responded to gut-wrenching losses, constant lineup changes, foul trouble, you name it. They reached the tourney, and while we will soon raise our expectations, that’ll do for now. Hell of a year, guys, what-ifs or no what-ifs.