Sitting at 0-3 in the SEC, this isn’t how we expected it to go for Mizzou.
When you hire Cuonzo Martin, you’re bringing in an experienced coach with the bonafides to will the program to a few more wins than you might expect. The optimists in the crowd were likely thinking Missouri could be 2-1 at this point, while pessimists thought 0-3 was possible. A 1-2 start, though, seemed probable. And after winning six straight games in December, MU’s now dropped the first three in conference games and whatever goodwill it earned over the previous month seems all but gone.
For most of the offseason and non-conference play, we talked about the soft entry the Tigers had going into conference play, with a realistic chance to start 4-2. They’re about to head on the road to Texas A&M and Arkansas, then follow that up with a home game against LSU. They’ll need a sweep to reach .500 and remain on track for an NIT bid.
Before we get into too much of the bigger picture stuff, let’s talk about why this game turned out the way it did.
- Alabama’s missing defense picked a GREAT time to show up: Since Avery Johnson took over the Tide have been at worst a top-50 defense, but that edge had been missing through non-conference play. With a roster stocked full of big-time athletes and depth to the 10th or 11th man, it was a matter of time until they started defending well. It just sucks for Missouri that it happened when they needed a win.
- Offensively, Missouri kind of went away from what they do best: Give Alabama some credit. They were running Mizzou off the 3-point line, and the Tigers struggled to convert around the rim. On the season, the Tigers usually take around 40 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. Last night, it was closer to 30 percent. If the Tigers had a typical night shooting the ball — and Avery Johnson Jr. doesn’t pick this game to have a career night — perhaps this game goes a different way.
- A BCI split is kind of weird: I don’t have any real deep thoughts on it, just thought it was strange.
- The difference in the glass was even worse than the expected rebounds: One of the things Missouri needs to figure out is how it can be more competitive around the rim. There were zero blocked shots on defense, and the number of rim attacks was problematic. A large part of that is the foul trouble Jeremiah Tilmon gets into, which takes away his ability to protect the rim aggresively. The result is the Tigers weakness in 2-point defense.
Your Trifecta: Mark Smith, Javon Pickett, Jeremiah Tilmon
Where would this team be without Mark Smith? He struggled around the rim but again continued his assault from the 3-point line. And on top of that, he grabbed eight rebounds (and was an effective defender). When Smith gets some help, he’s going to be a terrific player.
The problem is the Tigers’ thin depth. Missouri relies a lot on Jordan Geist, and he is scuffling. Mitchell Smith played five minutes and had the same game score as the one Geist put up in 33 minutes. I don’t mean this as a criticism of Geist, because I think we know where this team would be without him, but his struggles have coincided with a heavier focus from the defense. His shooting has gone downhill since conference play began, with the senior going just 3-of-19 from 3-point range. Mizzou’s recipe for success largely hinges on Geist being at least somewhat efficient.
It also relies on Jeremiah Tilmon staying on the floor. You could see the plan was modified with Tilmon. Yes, he started, and he was noticeably less aggressive at certain points. That being said, he logged 27 minutes and completed the entire second half without a foul. Progress is progress. The putback dunk had to feel good, and I’m pretty sure he let go of some frustration on the rim.
Offensively, the Tigers need to get a little more from Kevin Puryear. He’s mainly been an opportunist, but he’s not shaking loose for many outside jumpers, while his rim attacks have largely fallen flat. Since scoring double figures in four of five games during an early stretch of the season, Puryear’s struggled to have any real kind of scoring impact.
The small ball lineups also have a lot of kinks to work out. They’ve held their own at times, but the only version I seem to like is the one with Geist, Smith, Pickett, Torrence Watson, and Tilmon. The only problem is those lineups really struggle to rebound and defend around the rim.
Overall, this game was weird. The lack of flow benefitted the road team, while a fairly sparse crowd failed to get into the game. Then there are the oddities like Johnson’s 14-point night for the Tide. Mizzou did enough to win. If Johnson, who came in averaging 1.4 points per game, doesn’t go off the Tigers probably win. His breakout was more than enough for the Tide to overtake Mizzou on the road.
So now we turn towards Texas A&M, who lost by 19 to Auburn at home last night.