Before we dive in, let’s talk a little about the odds of this game going in.
Ole Miss isn’t a great team, but they play like one at home. The Rebels are 5-3 in Oxford with a net rating of 0.08 points per possession during SEC action. Recently, they’ve been thumping people been: a 26-point win against Vanderbilt, a 25-point thumping of rival Mississippi State, a 17-point triumph over Florida, and a 14-point victory against South Carolina. Their lone loss was at home in a game where Alabama went nuts offensively.
So, going into this game, I didn’t have tremendous expectations for it to be competitive. It was also Senior Night for Breein Tyree, who piled up 29 points in the teams’ first meeting. Once Mizzou fell into a 25-12 hole, I figured it would be a decisive road loss. But Cuonzo Martin’s teams fight, scrap and drag themselves back into games. They did it again last night.
Unfortunately, they staggered offensively over the final 13 minutes, scoring just 14 points. And six of them came from the free-throw line.
- 53 points in the first 27 minutes, but just 14 in the last 13. That’s leaves a mark. Ole Miss, or rather just Blake Hinson, came out scorching in the opening half. Mizzou pieced together enough offense to finish with 1.143 points per possession and hold the deficit to nine points at halftime. The bad news: to finish at 0.96 PPP required putting up less than 0.80 PPP in the second half. The Tigers buckled down defensively. However, poor shooting (again) doomed them when there was a significant opening. It’s like this team can’t figure out how to play good defense and good offense at the same time.
- The sad thing is this team has learned to do a lot of things well. They rebound. They’re no longer an assembly line churning out turnovers. They’re taking timely 3-pointers. And they’re getting to the free-throw line. All that said, the overall shooting numbers are often terrible. Those free-throws aren’t supplementing efficient offense. Instead, they’re patching the Tigers through long stretches where shots aren’t dropping.
- They’re still mugging people. Last night, MU fouled Ole Miss — a lot. The Rebels attempted 11 free throws on Mizzou’s first seven fouls. They finished with 33 attempts, which translates to a 67 percent free-throw rates. That’s high, and the 11th time this season they’ve gone over 60 percent.
Mizzou again struggled from 3-point range, but it was their issues inside the arc that torpedoed the offense down the stretch. In the final 13 minutes, Missouri shot the ball 14 times, only three of which came behind the arc. They made just four of those 2-point attempts, finishing at 28.5 percent. Good defense takes you a lot of places, but that kind of offense takes you nowhere.
Your Trifecta: Jeremiah Tilmon, Torrence Watson, Xavier Pinson
On the season: Dru Smith 42 points, Mark Smith 23 points, Xavier Pinson 23 points, Kobe Brown 19 points, Javon Pickett 15 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 18 points, Mitchell Smith 15 points, Reed Nikko 13 points, Torrence Watson 8 points, Tray Jackson 3 points, Parker Braun 2 points, Axel Okongo 1 point
If you haven’t figured it out, when there’s a tie, I give the nod to the player with a higher per minute score. So, congrats to Torrence Watson on his first trifecta since the West Virginia game. Watson keeps plugging away, and he’s gotten pretty good defensively, so much that Cuonzo Martin has started to put him on the opponent’s top guard. In just 12 minutes, he provided three steals, three made free throws, a layup and a 3. That’s enough when everyone else can’t shoot.
I root pretty hard for all these guys, because I know they’re a group of really good kids. Torrence is towards the top of that group, too; he roots hard for his teammates and plays hard when given the opportunity. His minutes have rightly gone down as he’s struggled to shoot. So, it’s nice to see good things happen for him — even if it’s in limited doses.
These are some pretty rough numbers. I’m particularly concerned about Dru Smith. The junior is averaging nearly 37 minutes per game since MU’s home win over Arkansas. Couple that with nights where he has a 23 percent usage rate and 27 percent floor rate, and you’re at risk of running a guy into the ground. You can see it’s hurting his efficiency. Dru is just 35 of 79 (44%) from 2-point range and 8 of 30 (26%) from long distance over that span. His saving grace has been getting to the line, but he’s only attempted two free throws in the past three games. These aren’t good trends, and they boil down to overuse.
Xavier Pinson is maintaining his 2-point efficiency, but his jump shooting has regressed to early-season levels. In his last four games, he’s 5 of 25 from 3-point range. His turnovers have also started to tick back up.
This team needs Dru Smith and Pinson to be better than they’ve been over the last four games. It also explains MU’s 1-3 mark over that stretch. I think we can dub the hot streak over, too. Mizzou is now 4-4 in their last 8. The initial start to conference play tanked the season. And while the Tigers recovered slightly, we can chalk part of that up to some favorable breaks in the schedule.
The disappointing season is over after Saturday.
Then comes the SEC Tournament, and maybe MU will catch a break and play on in the postseason. By now, we have a 30-game sample size for this roster. We know its structural issues and what needs shoring up once the season comes to a close.
The result against Alabama is — outside of seeding position in Nashville — almost immaterial. Sure, it would be nice to win and send Reed Nikko out on a good note. It would be nice of Texas A&M to pick off Arkansas, a result that would help MU avoid playing Wednesday night. (Auburn also needs to win at Tennessee.) And it would be especially nice to go on a mini-run during the SEC tourney.
But there are limits to what this group can accomplish, and soon we’ll see how Martin and his staff go about addressing the issues that have plagued them in Year 3.
Here are the rest of the results from the early week SEC action:
- Tennessee 81, Kentucky 73
- Florida 68, Georgia 53
- Arkansas 99, LSU 90
- Texas A&M 78, Auburn 75
- South Carolina 83, Mississippi State 71
- Vanderbilt 87, Alabama 79
And the standings:
- Kentucky 14-3
- Florida 11-6
- Auburn 11-6
- LSU 11-6
- South Carolina 10-7
- Mississippi State 10-7
- Texas A&M 9-8
- Tennessee 9-8
- Alabama 8-9
- Arkansas 7-10
- Missouri 6-11
- Ole Miss 6-11
- Georgia 5-12
- Vanderbilt 2-16