Rinse and repeat.
That was the theme for Missouri in the Hall of Fame Classic — and not in the way you hope, either. On Monday, Mizzou fell behind early after a lax defensive effort against Butler, and the same scenario played out last night against Oklahoma’s Brady Manek, a floor-stretching big man. Soon enough, the Tigers had fallen in a similar spot trailing 15-3.
Sure, it was kind of fun when they roared back to trim the lead to just one point with 10 minutes to play. However, its offensive issues run deeper than expected, and the rotations are a little erratic in a search for reliability from any corner of the roster.
Coach Cuonzo Martin is coaching like he’s on a search for his team, and he hasn’t found them yet. They show up in flashes, like in their 9-0 run to get back into the game. All too often, the offensive production becomes stagnant and the shots carom off the rim.
- Two games, two expected rebounding losses. Missouri lost the rebound battle on both the expected side and the raw side. Part of that is Martin testing out his smaller lineups; the other is heavy minutes for guys like Mitchell Smith at the five.
- To understand the 3-point shooting struggles, last night was Missouri’s second-best performance on the season. The “Tilmon Three” game was against Wofford, and they shot 39.1 percent from distance, but last night was decidedly not a good shooting night. The fact it rates so high is telling. And if you want more sobering news, the Tigers were 5 of 21 before Mark Smith made their last three attempts. In case you’re wondering, 5 of 21 is 23.8 percent.
- The Points per shot is actually decent. It’s completely in line with where they were for most of the season last year. Typically, anything above 1.25 PPS is something to build on, and Missouri has cleared that mark because they’ve inverted its offense. They’re good around the rim and can’t buy a spot-up jumper.
Maybe it’s the inexperience of the team. Maybe it’s the lineups. For whatever reason, MU fixed a lot of their issues from last year but blew a hole through what worked. Meanwhile, turnovers are still a problem, but the only fix is going to have to come from within because they’re all turning the ball over at a scary rate.
Your Trifecta: Mark Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon Jr., Torrence Watson
On the season: Mark Smith 15 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 11 points, Dru Smith 9 points, Xavier Pinson 4 points, Javon Pickett 2 points, Kobe Brown 2 points, Torrence Watson 1 point, Mitchell Smith 1 point.
Mark Smith rebounded there at the end, but I can’t help but think of how problematic it is for a guy to pile up half of his 18 points in the final five minutes. He also had three turnovers, including two offensive fouls, and was just 2 of 4 from the free-throw line. For Missouri to be good, Mark Smith needs to be better.
The same can be said for Tilmon, who was missing for a large chunk of the first half and for most of the last three games. When he got engaged, Missouri started to look like the team we hoped to see.
And HOOOOO-LEEEEEEEEEE COW was it good to see Torrence Watson make some shots. More than anything, the Tigers need guys to make shots, and one of the most influential guys in that category is Watson.
Another issue is with how many guys end up with negative adjusted game scores. If things are going well, you shouldn’t have more than a couple guys in that territory. At the moment, there are too many key contributors winding up there. Not to pick on Mark Smith, but he finished with a 40.0 floor percentage, and that cam after a late shooting flurry. What was his percentage before that?
Kobe Brown putting up an 80.0 shooting percentage on 16.0 floor percentage counts as a rough night. Meanwhile, Watson hurt himself even when playing well. He took his first free throws of the season when he was fouled on a drive and had his three-point makes, but he also committed three turnovers.
It’s hard to catch a break.
I tend to think if things aren’t quite working you might want to change things up
For two games in a row, the Missouri starting five — Dru Smith, Mark Smith, Javon Pickett, Kobe Brown, and Jeremiah Tilmon — have been on the floor for as opponents sank MU with early runs. And in three games against high-major opponents the Tigers have faced deficits between 15 and 18 points.
Martin desperately needs to find consistency, and as much as we’d like to think his starting five is the most consistent group, the lineup data says otherwise.
SUB PATTERN | To account for OU's stretch bigs, #Mizzou used four-guard lineups with Mitchell Smith at the five. After halftime, the Tigers swapped Tilmon and Smith, while using Kobe Brown and Javon Pickett at the four. With Xavier Pinson out, Mark Smith was occasionally at PG. pic.twitter.com/k9kerNTgfx— Matt Harris (@MattJHarris85) November 27, 2019
Mizzou suddenly gets better offensively when they play Pickett at the four. The defense might suffer a touch; the rebounding hurts a bit, but you get more athletic, and you’re running out another shooter on the floor to go with Smith.
Tilmon is crucial, but with a lineup of Dru, Mark, Pickett and Brown around him, you have one guy who is a threat to make a shot from deep. Brown started the season 2 of 5 from 3-point range, but the freshman has shot 15.3 percent (2 of 13) since then. Pickett wasn’t billed as a shooter, but 2 of 9 is problematic. And Dru Smith is struggling as well at just 5 of 18.
In theory, Mizzou’s offense presents a conundrum to defenses: you can guard Tilmon solo and let him eat you up on the left block, and if you send extra help, he’ll pick out open shooters to bury you in a 3-point barrage. When you rank 314th nationally in 3-point shooting, opponents aren’t put in a bind. Instead, they just send a late, soft double-team and watch Tilmon struggle to find an outlet as guards stand around.
Luckily, the team gets some time off, and some time away, to work some things out. They’re off until next Tuesday, but if I were these players, I’d be working on my catch and shoots.