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Notebook: Missouri gathers itself after rough stretch of play

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Cuonzo Martin met with the media Thursday morning and discussed a number of topics surrounding the Missouri men’s basketball team.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Basketball Tipoff Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Confidence is still strong

Some of the biggest praises sung about Cuonzo Martin during his time at Missouri, or really anywhere in Division I, have been about his ability to motivate and hold a locker room together.

This was apparent during his first two years in Columbia, in which injury troubles required a complete retooling of the team’s philosophy, not to mention the media circus surrounding Michael Porter Jr. And yet, there was never any appearance of quit in his teams.

If Dru Smith’s reaction to a brutal stretch of basketball is any indication, this Missouri team will be giving nothing less than everything it has until there are no more games left to play.

“There’s a lot of the season left, There’s a lot of games left to be played, and we can definitely still turn it around,” Smith said.

He has a point. After the loss to Charleston Southern, the sky was falling for fans. It’s different in the locker room.

“You’ve just gotta come into that next day of practice just trying to have positive energy,” Smith said.

There are still 23 games left on the schedule. We’ve seen this team play good stretches of basketball against good opponents. It remains to be seen if they can finish with complete games.

Three point shooting

Three point shooting. It’s been bad. It’s lost Missouri games. It simply has to be better.

The Tigers are shooting just a hair above 25%, good for 345th in Division I. If that doesn’t improve significantly, Missouri’s preseason ranking of 13th out of 14 in the SEC will quickly become a reality.

The season is, however, eight games old. There is belief that the shots will eventually fall.

“I think it’s shots not going down,” Mark Smith said. “ A lot of them are going short. The new line is playing a big role. It’s going to come eventually.”

Smith is shooting 35.8% from deep, down almost 10% from a year ago.

Martin echoed Smith’s belief that the shots will eventually fall, and agreed that the three point line being moved back by the NCAA has certainly been an adjustment. “If you look around the country, percentages are probably down,” Martin said.

He did mention, however, that the Tigers have to be better at getting set in the right position. The staff has noticed a tendency of players to back up on film.

“When you’re struggling to make that shot, you continue go out further, it makes it hard,” Martin said. “When they’re guarding you at that line, drive the ball. It doesn’t necessarily mean continue to move back, because that makes it a tougher shot. You don’t get an extra point if it goes in from deeper.”

Combating slow starts

It was bad against Xavier and Butler, and felt like a comedy script against Oklahoma. I’ll spare mentioning anything about the Charleston Southern game for your sanity on a fine Friday afternoon. That being said, Missouri’s starts to games have been incomprehensibly bad.

“A lot of little things that lead to big things.” Shots not falling, Jeremiah Tilmon getting in foul trouble and struggles with turnovers were the main reasons Martin cited for his team consistently finding itself in big holes before the television networks have gone to their first commercial break.

Tilmon and his struggle to avoid foul trouble was specifically cited for throwing off Missouri’s game plans.

“You might have a game plan going inside to Jeremiah and he gets in foul trouble. When you have a rotation, it’s not a flow like you have in practice. Here’s a guy who knows he’s going in and out, and now you have a guy in there that’s probably not ready to be in that situation.”

In each game that saw a brutally slow start, the Tigers recovered and played even. That is perhaps what has been the most frustrating aspect for Martin and the team. They know what they’re capable of, and have struggled to live up to it.

Mario McKinney and freshman minutes

Missouri fans have been active in questioning why Mario McKinney, Jr, perhaps the most athletic player on the team, has not seen more minutes.

The freshman guard has seen just 11 minutes of action this season. “He’s learning how hard you have to work,” Martin said.

McKinney is making the transition from slasher to ball-handler, and Martin emphasized that is no easy task at the Division I level for a freshman.

“Some of the same things you might say about Tray Jackson, and why he’s not on the floor. It’s different things you go through as a freshman, and I think if he continues to work on those things he’ll be better at it,” Martin said.

Of all the freshman, Kobe Brown is who Martin has relied upon the most. Brown has been in the starting lineup at the four spot, averaging six points per game.