There’s no telling what story lay before this team if it could get a few breaks to go their way early instead of late.
The reality is Missouri is vastly behind Kentucky in the talent department and the majority of outcomes tonight we’re going to see Kentucky exercise that difference to a win. The Tigers fought and made it a respectable final, but the reality is once Mizzou took a one-point lead for approximately 19 seconds in the first half, Kentucky did what they needed to do to win the game.
With 16 minutes to play the Wildcats took a 20-point lead, and with an impending wintry mix weather event happening outside it was understandable for the Tiger faithful to start heading for the exits. But even as the fans began to trickle out, Martin made a change. He gave his four-guard lineup a chance. With Mark Smith and Ronnie Suggs available Mizzou’s rebounding wouldn’t suffer too terribly, and with Jeremiah Tilmon on the floor, the Tigers countered Kentucky and made a run.
Mizzou cut the gap to 13 points with 8:33 to play, 11 with 4:38 to go and seven with a minute to play. They had chances in between to creep closer along the way. However, they never felt close to breaking through. Maybe it’s merely a function because the talent disparity between the two teams is so stark. I noted at the start of the game on Twitter, Mizzou’s rotation versus Kentucky’s in 247Sports’ composite rankings is something to behold.
|PG||Jordan Geist (NR)||Ashton Hagans (12)|
|CG||Mark Smith (79)||Tyler Herro (38)|
|Wing||Javon Pickett (292)||Keldon Johnson (13)|
|CF||Kevin Puryear (387)||PJ Washington (15)|
|Post||Jeremiah Tilmon (43)||Reid Travis (26)|
|Reserve PG||Xavier Pinson (248)||Immanuel Quickley (22)|
|Reserve CG||Torrence Watson (113)||Jemarl Baker (73)|
|Reserve Wing||Ronnie Suggs (302)||-|
|Reserve CF||Mitchell Smith (212)||E.J. Montgomery (9)|
|Reserve Post||Reed Nikko (281)||Nick Richards (18)|
|Reserve Wing/CF||K.J. Santos (259)||-|
Now, scouts aren’t infallible. They miss sometimes, but, for the most part, their rankings are pretty accurate. Moreover, when you’re talking about the top players in the country, it’s fairly obvious which guys clearly belong among the top-50 prospects in any given class. Once you get outside that range, interpretations become far more subjective and variable. It’s how you get outliers like Jordan Geist or Javon Pickett. But Kentucky is who they are because they get elite talent, and John Calipari — by and large — gets the talent to buy in.
- Kentucky’s defense is really, really good and it caused Missouri problems: Now, MU was able to get shots. The Tigers simply struggled to knock many of them down. Part of it is by design. UK isn’t a team that turns you over, instead forcing you to take and make shots over length. Their transition offense, when its working, can be created by snatching misses and out-letting the ball quickly. But given the number of possessions, the Cats never got the tempo up. A turnover rate under 20 percent is respectable, and even most of those giveaways were the result of offensive fouls. The Tigers woes were just a matter of not being able to scheme around Kentucky’s length and athleticism.
- But again, you see the culture taking shape: Mizzou kicked UKs butt on the glass. The difference is stark considering Kentucky lost Reid Travis, and when they did, Mizzou went small and still won the rebounding battle going away.
Again, the Tigers executed two out three directives from the scouting report in valuing the ball and cleaning up the glass. They just couldn’t find a way to manufacture offense consistently enough to turn mild game pressure into a genuine upset bid.
Your Trifecta: Ronnie Suggs, Jordan Geist, Javon Pickett
On the season: Jordan Geist 47 points, Mark Smith 25 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 27 points, Javon Pickett 16 points, Kevin Puryear 11 points, Xavier Pinson 10 points, Torrence Watson 6 points, Ronnie Suggs 3 points, Reed Nikko 2 points.
Have yourself a game, Ronnie! That’s how you celebrate going on scholarship.
We know Suggs provides consistent effort and plays very good defense. The issue with Suggs playing significant minutes has been his high turnover rate and inefficient offense. And while I don’t think we need Suggs to consistently go 5 of 8 from the floor, including 3 of 5 from deep, at the very least, he needs to provide some offensive production on the margin. He even seemed to find a home as a small-ball four, defending PJ Washington incredibly well and forcing defensive shifts on offense that freed up floor space for Jeremiah Tilmon.
And some plus-minus ratings based on position for you, too. pic.twitter.com/FwZjN2dvaI— Matt Harris (@MattJHarris85) February 20, 2019
Maybe Missouri has found a potential hack for a four-guard lineup when Puryear needs a break.
It was really nobody’s night offensively, but Pickett came along late, and Suggs did what he did. And by now we know having Tilmon on the floor makes Missouri far more competitive.
The long game says Mizzou wasn’t likely to win against Kentucky. Not with the talent disparity, not with the Wildcats playing as they’ve been playing coming off whipping the #1 team in the country. But that physical game against the Vols likely taxed Kentucky enough to give the Tigers a fighting chance and fight they did. One of the issues with analytics is it does base most of your productivity on whether or not you make a shot or not. After all, that is the goal of basketball, to put the ball in the hole.
In every facet of basketball, Missouri did what they needed to win but one. They rebounded, valued the ball and forced Kentucky to make guarded shots. In the end, though, they couldn’t make their own shots, until they got a few to fall late, to make the difference.
I’ve been watching Cuonzo Martin coached teams for a year and a half now and what I can say about Martin is he’s a good basketball coach. He gets his guys to buy in and play hard. The only issue is Mizzou is playing from behind from the tip in most games in SEC play, and it will take some time to fix that. Nonetheless, I honestly feel like Missouri hired the right person to do the job.