For six games, Missouri did a lot of things right. Then for the first 14 minutes against Tennessee, the best version of the Tigers showed up. Ball movement was crisp. The defense made the Volunteers take tough shots. And they rebounded with gusto. The underdog took the ring against the favorite and landed a surprise combination which left the No. 3 team in the country weak-kneed.
But this wasn’t going to be the story of Rocky triumphing over Apollo, or even Creed against whatever foes he’s facing in those movies, like Drago Jr. or something. Instead, the favorite eventually gathered itself methodically dismantled their opponent, with the Vols landing a knockout blow early in the second half.
Missouri is a work in progress. We knew that before the season, we knew that during the first six games and even the next six games, and it was evidently clear against Tennessee.
A quick note on the Vols before we proceed: They’re as good of a basketball team as I’ve ever seen. For one, they have a lot of good talented players, but all the great teams I remember consisted of several elite players, and I just don’t see the Vols having that level of talent. I think there are, at most, four pros on Rick Barnes’ roster, but nobody who’ll likely be more than a role guy in the NBA. But they are destroyers of dreams, ranking four in offensive efficiency and 18th in defensive efficiency. On a night where Grant Williams fouled out and Admiral Schofield started slow, they hammered a decent team on the road.
- We’ve learned the Tigers aren’t very good inside the arc this year. Against the Vols, it was truly the difference in the game. They were basically even from behind the 3-point line, while UT was only three points better at the free-throw line. Yet UT hit 61.5 percent of its 2-point shots, while MU was an abysmal 37 percent inside the arc. It’s even more of a disparity if you consider Grant Williams’ 1-of-6 performance from the floor. The Tigers aren’t great from inside the arc, and that’s before you consider the ramifications of losing Jeremiah Tilmon, the only guy who shoots better than 50 percent, to foul troubles.
- Mizzou got worked on the glass. Mainly, they had no answer for Kyle Alexander who had 17 rebounds. Seventeen. Ponder that. Alexander took Tilmon out of his game nearly immediately and abused anyone who encountered him along the way. Meanwhile, the replacement post for Tilmon, Reed Nikko, combined offensive and defensive rebounds equaled...let me tally this up real quick... um, zero. Oh. Well, that’s not good.
- It wasn’t a great night for BCI. However, they limited a team like Tennessee to a pedestrian 1.55, and that should be considered a win.
Overall, the Vols are the SEC’s gold standard. They’re a nearly perfect basketball team in that they score efficiently and defend with urgency, and have lots of guys that buy into doing both. Missouri is a young team trying to get to that place, and while they’re closer than at the start of the year, there’s still some distance to go.
Your Trifecta: Jordan Geist, Xavier Pinson, Mark Smith
On the season: Jordan Geist 22 points, Mark Smith 16 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 12 points, Kevin Puryear 8 points, Javon Pickett 6 points, Xavier Pinson 6 points, Torrence Watson 5 points, Reed Nikko 1 point.
Jordan Geist had about the best opening eight to 10 minutes of the game, but then Tennessee’s defensive approach of Tennessee found ways to neutralize him. (Geist was also just missing more shots than usual.) Missouri had no plan B. With Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith in foul trouble, the offense stagnated.
However, Xavier Pinson was good. He’s definitely shown he’s not afraid to mix it up and took the initiative at times to attack the Tennessee defense. There’s still plenty for him to clean up and plenty of time to get stronger, but it’s easy to see why he’s considered an important piece.
Replacing the good version of Jeremiah Tilmon with the bad version of Reed Nikko for 15 minutes isn’t going to win many games. A combined 24 minutes of minus-9.7 Adjusted GameScore from both netted Mizzou a minus-18 while they were on the floor. Meanwhile, Kyle Alexander was plus-22 during his 32 minutes.
If you’re going to compete against a potential Final Four team, you need one of the better nights from your team, and Missouri didn’t get good nights from the bulk of its roster. When both Mark Smith and Tilmon hit early foul trouble, the Tigers had an initial burst, which quickly wore off as the Vols proceeded to flip the game with a 24-4 run.
Tilmon is so important to the success of the team, and they really can’t afford for him to take many nights off mentally as he did against Tennessee. But before I put too much of this on Tilmon, nobody really made up the slacked in his absence.
A lot of the credit goes to Tennessee and how they play. Mizzou made them take tough shots, and Tennessee made them. Then once they expanded their lead a little bit, they tightened the vice grip and squeezed the life out of the Tigers.
Up next is a perplexing South Carolina team who started off SEC play 2-0 after a 5-7 run in non-conference. Their best win before SEC play was Coastal Carolina, who sits at 168th in KenPom. So this is really a game Missouri should win on the road. Instead, it’s more like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.