When Jeremiah Tilmon trudged to the bench following the 6th time he’s fouled out on the season, and third game in a row, Missouri fans likely despaired as the chances for a comeback stepped toward and sat down on the bench.
There’s no question Mizzou is a better basketball team with Tilmon on the floor. He’s 6’10 250 lbs of skill and potential, he sucks down double teams and is capable of kickstarting the offense because of the attention he draws. If you read Matt’s preview, you read the evidence of what Tilmon is doing on the floor. The problem for Missouri is he hasn’t shown the ability to consistently stay on the floor. With Tilmon on the bench it causes both the plans for the Tigers offensively and defensively to suffer. Defenses are able to key strictly on shooters, and work on bottling up Jordan Geist.
A micro problem like foul trouble has become a macro problem because Tilmon can’t seem to cure it. During the Tigers six game win streak three of those contest were against High Major opponents (UCF, Xavier, and Illinois). In those three games Tilmon averaged 30 minutes, 16.3 points, and nearly 8 rebounds, so is it any surprise the Tigers were more competitive and won all three?
So Tilmon has shown he’s capable in small stretches but his issue has always been consistency.
This is where the loss of Jontay Porter at the start of the season rears its head. Consistency was always going to be an issue for this team because of their over-reliance on youth. Losing a talent like Jontay exasperated the problem, and for a while Tilmon playing at a high level masked it. But the issue doesn’t go away, it’s just when it rears it’s head it becomes frustrating because it’s so much more visually appealing to watch this team when it does all the things they need to do. So let’s reset.
Mizzou isn’t a bad team, but they aren’t a good team either. They’re a flawed team capable of being pretty good.
The bad news, or maybe it’s good news, is we’ve seen both versions of this Tiger team so far. So on one hand you know the floor, and the other you also know the ceiling.
Before the season, without Jontay, we all thought 6-12 in SEC play was possible. Then with the middle of the league in turmoil, while Mizzou was beating Xavier, UCF and Illinois... we all started eyeing 10-8. But after an 0-2 start it seems like the bottom has fallen out for some. I’m not there yet, but I do think we need a little bit of a zoom out. 6-12 is still possible but so is 10-8. It all depends on getting more from Tilmon. Mizzou is a middle of the pack SEC team, and the breaks of the league are the difference in going 10-8 or 6-12.
With that in mind, please give the Gamecocks credit. After a disastrous start to their season, Frank Martin has righted his ship in an incredible way. Before taking down the Tigers, South Carolina beat two teams who are better than the Tigers in Florida and Mississippi State. The Gamecocks had their third straight game with a PPP over 1.0, and with the way they defend that’s going to win more games than not. They’ve also endured losses to Michigan and Virginia, who are both undefeated and top 5 teams.
South Carolina did everything they could to pull away in this game and yet MIzzou kept fighting back. So even with the loss, there were a lot of things you can take away from this contest as a positive. I’ll have more in the Study Hall post tomorrow but Javon Pickett scored a career high, Jordan Geist had some terrific moments, and the Missouri offense was still pretty good despite a near 30% TOrate.
But for now I just wanted to get a couple quick thoughts up, and hopefully help people zoom out. Because it’s always frustrating to watch a loss, particularly one where, if you watched, looked like the Tigers could have pulled it out if Tilmon could have stayed on the floor. There’s still a lot on the table for this season, but more than anything there’s a lot in the future for the program Martin is building.