It’s no secret that this year has been far from smooth sailing for Missouri Basketball. Currently, the Tigers (7-8) sit below .500 and have been the victim of a disastrous loss to UMKC and been blown out by their rivals Kansas, Illinois, and Arkansas.
However, when things have gone right for the Tigers this year, one man has been at center of things for the Tigers.
Brown’s stellar season has been one of the lone bright spots for this Tigers team that seems to need a nuclear performance from the Junior if they want to beat their competition.
Luckily for the Tigers Brown has been able to provide that this season like when he exploded on the No. 15 Alabama Crimson Tide for 30 points and 13 rebounds last Saturday or his 27-point performance against Utah on December 18 and his 24 point performance against SMU in the Jacksonville Classic. The forward even mixed in a 20-20 game against NAIA Paul Quinn.
Brown has been so instrumental to Tiger victories that in the Missouri’s last four wins, KenPom has given him the distinction of game MVP in all four.
For his efforts against Alabama, Brown’s stellar season was finally recognized with some hardware in the form of SEC Player of the Week. “It was a big deal for me,” Brown said about receiving the honor. “I wasn’t even thinking about it. When I saw the notification on my phone, it was a big time accomplishment that I was proud to have.”
While Brown may relish that honor, his performance this year has been much more than just one great week. In a new role as the go-to guy for Cuonzo Martin, Brown has stepped in and done his job about as well as anyone could’ve expected.
“He’s always been a good all around basketball player,” Martin said of Brown’s performances this year. “He’s always had the tools to do a lot of things. Now he’s just mastering those things.”
Brown has improved his scoring from just 8.0 PPG last year to 14.7 PPG this year, good enough for 10th in SEC. Likewise, his always reliable rebounding has also improved from 6.2 RPG to 8.6 RPG. However, what makes Brown’s improved statistics so impressive is that he’s remained as efficient, if not more efficient, in almost every statistical category while seeing a significant increase in his responsibilities and usage rate.
Brown’s usage rate has increased from 21% last year to 25.6% this year as the offense now runs through him. But even with more responsibility and more attention from opposing defenses, Brown has still managed to raise his offensive rating (ORtg), true shooting percentage (TS%), assist rate (ARate), and lowering his fouls/40 minutes (FC/40).
Brown’s ORTG has taken a near 4.5 point leap this year from 101.4 to 105.8, and a large amount of that improvement can be attributed to the success he’s found attacking teams in the paint.
Brown has been incredibly efficient by being the aggressor with opponents. Whether it’s backing players down or grabbing offensive rebounds for putbacks, Brown has bee making his living down low this season, and when he’s not, he’s probably doing damage at the free throw line after being fouled.
“When his nature is aggressive, he’s a high level player on both sides of the ball cause he’s assertive, he’s locked in,” said Cuonzo Martin of Brown. “He plays best when he’s aggressive and attacking and going and getting offensive rebounds.”
Brown currently is 4th in the SEC in FG% at 50.6% and his TS% and FT% have both seen significant jumps. His TS% has leaped almost 6% from 52.5% to 58% which can also be attributed to his 23% increase in FT% from last year to a solid 77.3% this season.
Currently, Brown is 3rd in the SEC in RPG at 8.6, but according to him, he hasn’t made any real changes to his approach, he’s just a better version of himself. “[I’m] just being more aggressive, I haven’t really changed anything,” he explained about his success on the boards this year. “Just staying aggressive, staying gritty, and just wanting it more than the other guy.”
While Brown may not think there’s much to this success he’s found on the glass, his coach has praised his unique ability to create second chance for the Tigers. “He does a tremendous job on offensive rebounding,” Martin said. “He rarely gets fouls when he offensively rebounds. [He] knows how to position his body, [he] knows how to swim move. He’s not one of those guys who just tries to push on your back.”
One other key things Martin mentioned there that Brown has improved on is his ability to play without fouling. As a young player, dealing with fouls had always been one of his weakness, but this year Brown has seen a decrease in his fouling from 5.2 FC/40 to 3.8 which allows him to say on the floor for a team that desperately needs him.
Perhaps, the one area Brown hasn’t improved has been his 3-point shooting. After shooting 25% last year, Brown has stayed par for the course with 24.3% this season, but Martin believes that might be the next step for his main man, “When he’s catching and shooting his three ball then it’s really tough because now he has that to go with his low post game and also driving the ball because he’s a good passer,” Martin explained.
Nevertheless, the improvement and success Brown has seen this year has been nothing short of exceptional, and the Tigers have needed every bit of it, however, Brown still seems to be the same humble kid he was as a role player.
“[I] Just [have to] keep staying confident in myself. I’ve put in the work, and I just have to show it,” Brown said about his approach as the go-to guy this year. “Anyone who works hard will be rewarded, so you know I’m just staying determined with what I’m doing, trusting my teammates, trusting my coaches, and that’s really it.”