Basketball is great, isn’t it?
On a night when Missouri probably didn’t need great performances to win, it was nice to see they went ahead and got a few anyway. Missouri already looks like the team we were hoping to see; they probably just need to sink a few more three pointers.
- SEVENTY EIGHT POSSESSIONS! Cuonzo Martin has talked about the depth of his team, and he’s talked about playing as many as 10 or 11 guys. Well, it took all of eight minutes and 26 seconds to use 11 players in the rotation. So, how do you pull that off? You play faster! For most of the game, Missouri was on pace to soar past 80 possessions but slowed down a bit in the second half with an enormous lead. This is a trend I’ll be keeping an eye on as we progress throughout the early parts of the season. Does Missouri try to use its depth and push the pace? Or does it slow down once Martin settles on a shorter bench?
- For a team struggling to shoot better than 20% from deep, Mizzou sure was willing to take those shots. Last year they were one of the top 100 teams in the country with just under 37% of their shots coming behind the 3-point arc. So a mark nearing 50% seems a bit high.
- Defense and rebounding have always been hallmarks of Martin’s teams, and even with a revamped new-look offense, his team last night dominated both. The Tigers pressured the ball more than they have the last two years, switched screens one through five, hard-hedged screens and made it hard for Incarnate Word to swing the ball around the perimeter. On top of the defensive effort, MU turned in a plus-9.7 on expected rebounds. That’s good. I’ll take that.
Improved defense and a not terrible offensive effort nudged the Tigers up in a few spots in KenPom’s ratings. Exceeding expectations on a poor shooting night is a solid start to the season.
Your Trifecta: Xavier Pinson, Jeremiah Tilmon, Jr., Javon Pickett
Full disclosure: I cheated and used KenPom’s offensive rating, because I haven’t fixed the spreadsheet yet. Sue me (but really, I’m sorry and plan on getting it fixed soon).
First things first, Tilmon’s presence on the floor was when Mizzou was at its peak. But you know that. So, I’m going to start with the guy on the top, Pinson. Last year, I was often critical of Pinson, who individually was quite good offensively, but that success often came outside the structure of the offense. That wasn’t the Pinson we saw last night. He was still able be the kind of playmaker we saw during his freshman year, but he did it in stride. He still got lost a few times defensively, but with how good he was on offense, it’s an easy trade-off.
Tilmon was dominant, though. After a little bit of an early struggle — he missed a few easy bunnies around the rim — he went on a tear. With Mizzou only up six points with under eight minutes to play in the first half, here’s what Tilmon did:
- Offensive Rebound
That was barely a few minutes and it boosted the lead from six to 14, and the rout was on.
When there are seven players who go over a 40.0 floor percentage, it’s usually a good offensive night. But for two of Missouri’s better offensive players — Mark Smith and Torrence Watson — their combined line was 6 points, 2-of-11 from 3-point rage. The positives? They both defended well, and Smith grabbed eight rebounds, but he seemed out of sync. It’s almost like sitting out months due to an injury and not taking part of full contact drills until recently might make you a little rusty.
This is obviously a tune up. On the most recent episode of Dive Cuts, Matt and I talked about this game like it was a second exhibition, and that’s about what it looked like. Incarnate Word didn’t have the horses to compete with Missouri for an extended period of time. They managed to stay close for a little while, but once the flood gates opened it was over and quick. The rest was playing out the string.
It was good to get to see the guys live. Dru Smith was awesome. His impact on the game from the tip was evident and he didn’t even attempt a shot until the second half. Javon Pickett was solid, knew went to pick his spots and provided an energy spark when things felt a little stale early in the game.
Kobe Brown was about what I expected. He’s versatile, plays hard, looks like he can be a capable shooter and defends well. Mario McKinney, Jr. also confirmed he is (still) exhilarating on the open floor, flying around with little regard for his life or others. Tray Jackson’s efficiency was really nice to see, and he made a lot of the plays you want him to make.
Clearly, Missouri can be even better if Mark Smith and Watson get going. I won’t worry about them after one game.
The competition steps up from here, with a game against Northern Kentucky, and next week a trip to Cincinnati to face Xavier.