I’ll be honest, when the news hit about Jeremiah Tilmon’s foot injury I didn’t even want to watch the game. For all this program has been through in the last few... and that’s a really loose few... years, it just gets exhausting having to deal with a constant waiting for what’s next.
So without arguably their best — though underachieving — player, the Tigers took on a reeling Tennessee team who had lost four of their last five and were playing without their starting point guard Lamonte Turner. Since losing Turner, UT’s offense had gone into the tank.
Don’t worry, that’s nothing a trip to Mizzou Arena couldn’t fix for the Vols. Five different Vols hit three pointers and they shot 45% from deep. Even though Rick Barnes played nine different players, only six played more than 7 minutes, and the difference was the performances of Jalen Johnson, Josiah Jordan-James, and Jordan Bowden. Johnson and Bowden were each +10, and Jordan-James played 35 minutes at +20.
Meanwhile Missouri’s best player, transfer guard Dru Smith, played 21 minutes and fouled out, and Tilmon sat at the end of the bench with a boot on his foot.
- Just a few short weeks ago we were talking about Mizzou’s improved 2FG shooting: Well, that’s all gone out the window. Missouri has HARD regressed to the mean the last few weeks, and it’s come against better competition. Against Tennessee just 34.5%, against Kentucky just 37.5%, against Illinois just 45%. Missouri was converting around the rim and now they aren’t.
- Mizzou won the turnover battle by 8, meaning they had that many more possessions and still lost by 10: At their current PPP, Missouri would have needed 14 more possessions to tie the game. So the difference between these two teams was 22 possessions. To get to 71 points tonight the Tigers would’ve needed nearly 80 possessions.
- At least they won the rebounding battle: but if you can’t win a rebounding battle against the Vols’ undersized front court there are even more problems.
Your Trifecta: Mitchell Smith, Tray Jackson, Reed Nikko
On the season: Dru Smith 20 points, Mark Smith 19 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 15 points, Javon Pickett 10 points, Mitchell Smith 6 points, Kobe Brown 6 points, Xavier Pinson 5 points, Torrence Watson 3 points, Tray Jackson 2 points, Reed Nikko 1 point
So some notes on Tray Jackson...
When you look at GS/Min, Tray had a +1.07. A +1.0 or higher GS/Min while playing more than 1 minute has happened one other time this year (both Tray and Reed Nikko posted a +1.0 against Illinois and Wofford but only played one minute) and that was Xavier Pinson’s effort against Incarnate Word.
Matt and I have devoted a fair amount of space for why Tray should get a little more run, and he did last night, and he made things happen. If you play younger players, there are going to be some growing pains, but the long term benefits usually pay off. When you watch him on defense it’s easy to understand he still needs work, but he’s big and athletic and can play offense. If you’ve been paying attention, being good at offense is a needed area for the Tigers this year. So why not give it a try?
The offense successfully ran through Mitchell Smith, Dru Smith, Tray Jackson, and Reed Nikko. Just like we all thought, right? I want to reiterate a point I made the other day about the trifecta, who is in the trifecta matters for this team. Who is helping them win?
Right now, the wrong guys are doing heavy lifting. You can survive if Nikko and Smith give you negative game scores, but you can’t if it’s Pinson and Pickett. Mario McKinney struggling? Fine, but Mark Smith? Not ok. Missouri isn’t getting enough from the guys it needs to get production from right now.
If you were going to draw up a worst-case scenario for the season to date, it would look a fair amount like this. Missouri has fallen about 30 spots in KenPom, lost their starting center to injury, sputtered (and that’s being kind) offensively, and can’t seem to string together any kind of luck or winning streaks. They’re 8-6 and they are who they are at this point. You can expect some minor fluctuations to the end of the year, and may there’s enough to trend upward, but this isn’t a team who can make an NCAA tournament. At least in its current form.
An important part of coaching is the process of self evaluation.
Can Cuonzo Martin self evaluate this program? Can he look at the issues facing this team and program and make the necessary changes to improve?
That’s the bet Jim Sterk made nearly 3 years ago. Where Missouri is good is obvious. They defend, they rebound, they play hard. These are the marks of a disciplined focused coach and staff. But they’ve focused plenty on positional defense and effort. It’s time to start worrying about the things holding this team back.
There needs to be a little bit of balance and right now Mizzou doesn’t have any. I did a quick exercise because I was curious:
This is Cuonzo Martin’s Power Conference teams ranked by KenPom, including their Efficiency Margins. Martin’s three best teams all had an offensive rating over 110. And while this team is trending to be his best defensive unit, it’s also trending towards being his worst offensive one.
The path gets trickier now that Tilmon is out indefinitely. Tilmon provides block touches and dimensional change to the offense that Reed Nikko and Mitchell Smith just can’t provide. Smith has had multiple post ups in the last two games, he doesn’t get doubled, he struggles to get off anything more than a fade away jumper, and he’s averaging 0.4 points per possession on post ups. Without a reliable threat inside, that’s going to push defenses even further out onto Missouri’s already struggling wings.
The offense is going to need to get creative here in the next few weeks if they’re going to keep their head above water. The only good news is... yep... the SEC is still pretty terrible.