Of all Mizzou’s early-season visitors, Wofford worried me a little bit. If you watched the Terriers last season, you saw a team capable of spreading the floor and sinking a lot of deep jumpers. Sure, Fletcher Magee moved on, but all their other shooters were coming back.
Now, I didn’t necessarily expect Missouri to lose, but the Terriers were also coming off a rough shooting night against Butler, which set up a rebound. It’s hard to keep a good shooting team down — even if it’s playing a second road game in roughly 48 hours. And that’s how the first half played out.
Wofford stretched out MU, ran the Tigers ragged on screening actions and generated good looks for the massive collection of marksmen. By halftime, coach Cuonzo Martin’s group had scraped together a five-point lead.
However, Martin’s developed a bit of a reputation as an architect of tough defenses. Any lingering worries melted away midway through the second half as MU slowly coiled itself around the Terriers and suffocated them. Starting at the 13:34, the Tigers went on an extended 21-4 run, putting a 45-45 game out of reach.
- Let’s start with the offense and a good night for ball-handling. Missouri doled out 15 assists on made 28 shots and posted a solid BCI score. Granted, Wofford isn’t known for extending its defense and pressuring the ball, but MU only committed 10 turnovers and just three after halftime. So while the Terriers were mired in offensive futility, MU kept a firm grip on the ball, moved it to the right man, and generated 1.47 points per shot. What is an efficient offense? Shooting well and valuing the ball.
- After putting up decent offensive numbers in the first half, the bottom fell out for Wofford. To be clear, posting 1.0 points per possession and generating just 1.192 PPS isn’t setting the world on fire. But against a team like MU, that’s a small victory. If MU went cold, Wofford could have clawed its way in front. It didn’t. Instead, the Terriers made just four shots in the second half, a 15 of 16 performance at the free-throw line sparing them a bigger rout. Closing down a good shooting team like Wofford and forcing an effective field goal percentage of 42.3 is precision.
- At a slower pace, Cuonzo also went with a tighter bench. The Tigers crawled to 62 possessions, which is the slowest game of the season, and Martin used only 14 different lineups. Here’s the lineup data per Matt:
As I mentioned earlier, #Mizzou really kept the rotation pared down. The Tigers only used 14 lineups, and it was a productive night for their small-ball groupings.— Matt Harris (@MattJHarris85) November 19, 2019
That makes sense against Wofford, a smaller squad reliant on jumpers. We need to see it against bigger foe. pic.twitter.com/tYFZFWQMiH
Aside from losing the expected rebound battle, it was a clear win for the Tigers. MU also moved up to 32nd in KenPom, and its defensive efficiency is gaudy, ranking eighth nationally.
Your Trifecta: Jeremiah Tilmon, Mark Smith, Dru Smith
I want to start with Xavier Pinson, who I mentioned last night as being my MVP of the game. His game score or his offensive rating wasn’t the best, mostly because he struggled a little early in the game. That being said, Pinson keyed the run that gave the Tigers the separation they needed. It felt there in the first few minutes (and really most of the first half, too) that the Tigers were just trying to scratch together a string of four possessions to extend the lead. Each time Wofford answered. But in the second half, the Tigers’ defense clamped down, and Pinson sank a jumper, assisted on a 3 for Mark Smith, nabbed a steal that led to a dunk, and tacked on a few free throws. Voila. Missouri had its working margin, and Wofford never threatened.
It was also nice to see Mark Smith put together a productive night but even better that came in tandem with a dominant outing from Jeremiah Tilmon.
Finally, Torrence Watson remained in a shooting slump and had a couple of ugly drives that ended in turnovers. Yet it hasn’t eroded his effort as a defender. The sophomore is moving his feet and is attentive off the ball. His game score should be better, but it doesn’t account for defensive metrics. However, I peeked at Hoop Lens data and found that MU only allows 0.55 PPP when Watson is on the floor. That was before the Tigers snuffed out a quality mid-major. The good news is his shoot seems close to being dialed in.
Parker Braun stepped into some kind of role, didn’t he?
You can see why he hadn’t gotten consistent minutes, especially when he got mauled on the glass and gave up several offensive rebounds. (He may be solely responsible for Missouri losing the expected rebound battle.) Still, he’s a fundamental big on the offensive end. If he’s able to keep adding some muscle, you can see a role for him as a part of this program moving forward.
I don’t know why Tray Jackson, Mario McKinney Jr., and Mitchell Smith didn’t play. We’ve seen Martin restrict McKinney’s minutes, so I think they’re bringing him along slowly. As for Jackson, I thought he played well at times against Xavier. It was surprising Martin didn’t toss a few minutes his way. It almost seems like Martin was looking to send a little bit of a message.
Quietly, Javon Pickett had one of his better nights so far this year.
Missouri isn’t going anywhere this year. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster is the latest of the national writer to catch on. The Athletic’s Seth Davis has gotten there as well. Last month, most predicted the Tigers would finish towards the bottom of the SEC standings. Then the KenPom rankings rolled out, and Missouri landed inside the top 40. Since then, they’ve climbed upward, and mostly by being simply amazing defensively.
Get this, Wofford’s 0.91 points per possession was the highest against the Tigers this year. Before that, Incarnate Word’s PPP was 0.54, Northern Kentucky put up 0.86, and Xavier limped to 0.79.
To repeat a thought from earlier: Observers seem to have forgotten Martin’s reputation for putting together teams that defend and rebound. Now, MU still needs to improve offensively. (The Tigers are 76th in adjusted efficiency.) Yet if the Tigers really are this tough on the defensive end, it gives some leeway to them offensively. Put simply, your offense just needs to be effective, and that’s what the Tigers currently are.