If you watched Missouri last week, you knew they were struggling. Offensively, defensively, everything was a mess.
The bonus, if you were looking for one, was that these struggles unfolded against good teams. Butler moved into the top 25 this week, and Oklahoma is a top-40 team in KenPom. Undoubtedly, stepping up the level of opponents played a role.
Then on Tuesday, 313th-ranked Charleston Southern walked in the door. Fresh off a 10-point win over the 351st-ranked Delaware State and with losses by 35 points to Southern Utah and 44 points to Furman, the Buccaneers handed Missouri an 8-point loss on their own floor. There’s also this:
Broke my ankle July 20, 2017 and Mizzou took they offer back from me left me dry. Today we beat them and I’m thankful to be apart of this club even with a not so great game we pulled it out. God knows what he is doing.— TrellMix (@DontrellShuler1) December 4, 2019
Uh, congrats? Let’s just rip this bandaid off.
- Is putting up less than a point per possession against a team like Charleston Southern bad? Yes, it is. It’s a siren wailing to tip you off about a major problem. KenPom uses adjusted efficiency margin to rank teams, and it’s simple premise asking how your team would perform against the median team in college hoops. Right now, Oral Roberts is that team, and their adjusted margin is 0.00. The Buccaneers came to Columbia ranked 237th in adjusted defensive efficiency, giving up 102.5 points per 100 possessions. (Put another way, they give up 1.025 points each trip down the floor.) On Tuesday, only averaged 0.95 PPP. That’s not good. And even if MU had averaged 1.025 PPP, they still would have lost. Why? They allowed Charleston Southern — a team that didn’t crack 50 points against North Carolina A&T — to tally 1.08 points each time down on offense. Boiled down, MU’s offense sputtered, and it allowed the Bucs to resemble, at least for one night, a top-25 offense.
Sorry, I just threw up a little in my mouth.
- You’ve heard Bill C say this, but games are coming down whether MU makes enough 3s. It’s getting a little old that so much about college basketball hinges on that question, but that’s where the sport is right now. Missouri has been awful from behind the line this year, and it’s dragged their offense into an abyss. Last night, the Tigers finished 4 of 26 from long range. Subtract Mitchell Smith’s to 3-balls, though, and MU was 2 of 24 — or 8.3 percent. EIGHT. POINT. THREE. I’m not sure you can beat anyone when you shoot like that. At one point, it looked like Missouri was actively avoiding shooting from outside, which seemed for the best.
- The expected rebound margin is a bit of a fluke. After dominating the offensive glass early on, Charleston Southern steadily abandoned any effort to rebound. The Buccaneers quickly — and rightly — deduced that bailing out, sprinting back and setting their defense was more prudent. It effectively nixed any secondary break chances for Missouri, which had helped the Tigers make a push late in the first half. Without those transition opportunities, the Tigers had to rely on their feeble half court offense and hammer the boards to offset the possessions they squandered via turnovers.
Your Trifecta: Jeremiah Tilmon, Jr, Mitchell Smith, Javon Pickett
On the season: Mark Smith 15 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 14 points, Dru Smith 9 points, Xavier Pinson 4 points, Mitchell Smith 3 points, Javon Pickett 3 points, Kobe Brown 2 points, Torrence Watson 1 point
I’m not going to spend a lot of time here because these stats don’t feel right. Tilmon was good offensively for about 8 minutes in the second half. Mitchell Smith buoyed the offense in the first half. Javon Pickett, uh, played hard.
Mark Smith, your leading scorer, was 2 of 12 from the field, and were it not for him being perfect from the free-throw line, he might’ve broken algorithms for his rating. But watching last night begs the question, did anyone play well?
Even Reed Nikko and Mitchell Smith, who individually had great first-half moments, posted astronomical foul rates. Reed had three fouls in five minutes, Mitch had four fouls in 12 minutes. And Dru Smith, who has been Tigers’ best overall player this year, fouled out in just 23 minutes.
Early on, there were signs MU might have to capable ball-handlers, but the last four games punctured that bubble. After a promising start to the season, Xavier Pinson has regressed. He’s been loose with the basketball, casual on defense, and hasn’t hit a jump shot in weeks.
Meanwhile, the faint hope that Torrence Watson was finding his way out of the fog disappeared. He’s lost on offense, with a jumper that’s being pushed and coming off flat, and he’s getting lost off the ball defensively. Kobe Brown is now 5 of 23 from deep. Tray Jackson and Mario McKinney Jr. can’t get off the bench.
Nothing is working right now.
Something needs to change
This team is a world away from the group that was fighting and tenacious on defense and sorting itself out offensively in reaching 30th in KenPom. The pendulum has swung the other way in the last few weeks.
Pointing out disastrous 3-point shooting is easy. But what ails Missouri right now is more systemic. The Tigers offense is built around playing through Tilmon in the post. However, opponents have deciphered ways to play him off the floor.
As we saw last week in Kansas City, they can use a small-ball five to stretch the floor, relying on all manner of pick-and-pops. That tweak not only lifts Tilmon away from the rim, but it also forces MU to tweak its tactics guarding ball screens. At the other end, opponents send a soft double-team when Tilmon makes an initial move on the block. It not only throws him off kilter, but MU’s not doing anything to play off him in the post. Guards aren’t cutting or relocating, leaving Tilmon few outlets for a productive pass.
And this is before you consider that Tilmon is still prone to foul trouble. Putrid jump-shooting is a symptom of an ill offense.
What would I do?
First, I’d ride with Jackson more. Yes, the freshman struggles at times defensively. But he’s looking to drive the ball, cut into gaps and attack the rim. Next, I’d use Parker Braun more as a combo forward. The solutions at guard are a little tougher because you really need Mark Smith to be steady, and he’s not been good.
Watching all this, how much does it make you appreciate Jordan Geist?