It’s hard to gauge much from a team when they win by 40 points against a team who is clearly overmatched. Coming into the game last night, Missouri was going to be the heavy favorite, with a projected win percentage hovering around 88%, and Northern Kentucky did everything you hoped they would do. They put up a fight, they made Missouri sweat, and they went home with a loss.
The Tigers used a Jeremiah Tilmon dunk to key a 15-0 run that turned a tight game into an easy win, and they cruised* the rest of the way down the stretch.
* - the asterisk is because things got really choppy offensively, but it ultimately didn’t matter, because things had progressed well enough to that point.
- Game 1 had Missouri at 78 possessions, and things were trending over 70 for most of the 1st and 2nd half, then Missouri got their big lead and slammed on the brakes so hard they managed to land at 65 possessions. With a shorter game came shorter rotations, as Missouri really only played nine guys.
- What’s funny is watching the game I felt like Missouri was kind of struggling on the boards, and yet they still were a +4.2 expected rebound. NKU just missed a LOT of shots, and they did occasionally find their way to an offensive rebound.
- Missouri still hasn’t gotten on track from deep, but the portion of threes tonight seemed far closer to where they should be over the last game. If you’ve forgotten, they were nearly at 50% 3FGA / FGA, which is quite high. Last season they were closer to 41%, and last night, 35% felt about right.
What we saw from Missouri was probably more like the team we’ll see for much of the season. Missouri played with pace at opportunity, terrific defense, and a balanced offensive attack. I want to move on to the player, because the early season is where you start to learn about how guys are doing.
Your Trifecta: Mark Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon, Jr, Mitchell Smith
The Offensive Ratings are still messed up and I’m sorry. The math is really complex and involves like 200 different things and the Study Hall spreadsheet only has like 10 or 15 of the things I need. So it’s still in progress. The numbers above are Individual PPP*100.
It was obviously nice to see Mark Smith find his shooting stroke so early. After watching him miss against Incarnate Word, you could see he wasn’t that far off, but enough to rim out. Still, it was nice to see some early shots going in and his cold streak wasn’t something which would extend over multiple games, particularly with a big road game coming up.
Jeremiah Tilmon has been terrific. He’s been especially good defensively and has done such a good job of going high and walling up and playing vertical.
But I want to thank Mitchell Smith for making me eat my words. I’m not 100% convinced he’s the answer at the five for backup minutes when Tilmon needs a break, but I do love the idea of what Mitch can bring— his ability to move and play away from the rim and create more space offensively. There’s also this:
Dru, Mark, Mitch, Kobe and Tray and they’re switching everything. I love it.— Sam Snelling (@SamTSnelling) November 9, 2019
Defensively, Smith has been hit and miss, largely because he’s struggled to defend on hedges and get guys through screens. But you just put him out there and switch everything? I feel like I can get on board with that. What’s even more fun about that lineup is you aren’t playing “small”, you have two big guards, two versatile forwards, and a mobile 6’11 Mitchell Smith.
First, don’t worry about Mario McKinney, Jr or Reed Nikko. Each has a role on this team, and I do think their lack of playing time was Martin trying to find some answers with other guys. He’s openly talked about what Mitchell Smith can do at the five, and you’re not going to know until you see it in games. Plus NKU’s (lack of) size also likely played a role. Nikko would have had a much more difficult time matching up with the Norse’s smaller, more guard-oriented lineup. So Zo adjusted. McKinney, on the other hand, is likely to find his playing time more sporadic this year.
The guy I’m a little more worried about right now is Torrence Watson. After he broke through late last year, I think we all expected him to carry that momentum into his sophomore year. But part of the reason for his breakthrough was Mark Smith’s injury. With Mark healthy, Torrence needs to find a role another way. The good news is he looks much better defensively than he did last year. He works hard moving his feet, so he’ll still find minutes. But he’s also a guy long identified with scoring the ball and he’s pushing right now.
Here’s lineup data from Matt:
To wrap up the night, here is every personnel grouping #Mizzou used against NKU. Notice how four of the top six lineups were small-ball groupings.— Matt Harris (@MattJHarris85) November 9, 2019
Again, balance at PG, a breakout for Mark Smith, and Mitchell Smith puts together one his better games for the Tigers. pic.twitter.com/A0C3r8YB2P
So Martin has shaved the lineup tinkering again, and the progress Missouri has made by simply just doing things slightly better in a couple areas has taken the pressure off their shooting. The outside shooting hasn’t been there, but their turnover rate is just 18.1% on the season, and they’re comfortably in the top 100 in FTA / FGA. So they’re not turning over the ball as much, and they’re manufacturing more points. I also don’t think they’re going to finish the season shooting 26% from 3, either.
Anytime you can take the floor and improve your KenPom rating, that’s objectively a good thing. An AP poll or Coaches poll is something which can be manipulated simply by winning at the right time, but formulas are harder to fool. Missouri has gone from 39, to 36, now at 33. They’re improving on their projected numbers by playing the games.
Missouri isn’t going to go undefeated this year. But it’s easy to see some early returns and like the direction of this team. There’s a VERY big game next week as the Tigers travel to Cincinnati to play Xavier.