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The Verdict: Is Mizzou starting to feel the strain from its style?

The Tigers’ recent slide can be traced back to a limited roster absorbing too many minutes.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

We’re going to be taking a detour from our standard game breakdowns this week. Instead of going through a deep dive into film and data to find reasons why Mizzou won or lost, we’re going to take a step back and look at a bigger picture issue.

For those of you who have been Mizzou fans long enough to remember the Mike Anderson era, the reference I’m about to drop will not ring hollow: The Pressure Is Cumulative!

Yes, Fran Fraschilla has made an appearance in The Verdict. One of the best analysts in college basketball made a very astute observation when the Tigers played the Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball. An up-tempo system, built to press and trap opponents relentlessly as well as creating transition opportunities on offense, is hard to play against. An opponent may not feel it in the first half, but the constant energy and physicality required to combat that style will assuredly catch up to you later in games.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The thing is, it’s not just opponents who feel the pressure. Playing this style of basketball is hard. It requires impeccable physical conditioning and the proper mindset. Not just any group can decide they want to do it and do it well.

There are differences between what Mike Anderson did at Mizzou and what Dennis Gates is attempting to here and had been a part of previously at Cleveland State and Florida State. This piece isn’t about those differences. Rather, it’s about their similarities as it relates to roster depth. Both as an assistant coach at Florida State as well as the head coach in Cleveland, Gates has been at the helm of teams that apply relentless defensive pressure and hunt for transition opportunities on offense. It’s their very D.N.A.

While that style has not been fully implemented at Mizzou, the framework is there. Mizzou ranks 39th in Adjusted Tempo. Their defense sports the fourth best defensive turnover rate in the country. They use the third most offensive possessions and tenth most defensive possessions nationally in transition. The defense applies pressure on 36% of all possessions, 14th highest nationally. This team is flying all over the court. It’s up-tempo, it leads to points and its fun.

But it is also causing problems for the Tigers.

Mizzou is Playing Shorthanded

Early this season, Mizzou was churning through bench minutes like a hot knife through butter. A softer schedule allowed the Tigers to experiment with various lineups and get every scholarship player on the court each night. The minute distribution early on was very similar to what had been seen in Cleveland or Tallahassee. The depth was a plus.

But then the schedule got tougher. Starting with the Kansas game on December 10, the rotation has gotten shorter, and intuitively, those who saw the court typically saw their minutes go up.

Mizzou Minute Distribution

Player Minutes Since Kansas 12/10 Projected Minutes % Difference % Prior Gates Team Minutes %
Player Minutes Since Kansas 12/10 Projected Minutes % Difference % Prior Gates Team Minutes %
Honor 83.10% 65.80% 17.30% 73.50%
Kobe Brown 69.40% 71.10% -1.70% 71.10%
Hodge 68.40% 52.40% 16.00% 65.90%
East 59.40% 40.80% 18.60% 60.70%
Gholston 56.60% 13.50% 43.10% 52.40%
Carter 53.10% 60.70% -7.60% 40.80%
Gomillion 41.60% 34.70% 6.90% 34.70%
DeGray 37.20% 19.90% 17.30% 30.00%
Shaw 21.30% 29.90% -8.70% 24.80%
Diarra 5.90% 24.80% -18.90% 19.90%
Mosley 3.10% 73.50% -70.40% 13.50%
Kaleb Brown 0.00% 6.00% -6.00% 6.00%

The above chart shows four categories. The first is the minutes played percentage (% of minutes played per game). The second category was my best preseason effort at assigning minutes to this year’s team in a similar fashion to what Gates had done at Cleveland and Leonard Hamilton had done in Tallahassee. The third category is the difference between the two prior figures. Lastly, the far-right column is the average minute distribution over Dennis Gates’ last three seasons in Cleveland and with the Seminoles.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Why am I sharing this? Allow me to explain...

There’s been a lot — too much, really — of talk about Isiaih Mosley’s absence. Typically, those conversations focus on the loss of an elite scoring presence. That perspective isn’t wrong. In Mizzou’s last three losses they went through extended scoring droughts where an elite scorer would make a difference. Enough to win? Possibly. But what if I told you Mizzou is feeling his absence in other ways?

The loss of Mosely has taken a toll on the remainder of perimeter players. Every single player that qualifies (Hodge, Honor, East, Gholston and Gomillion) have been playing more minutes than I projected preseason. I’ll say out at the outset, the crack staff here at Rock M underestimated Gomillion’s minutes. There’s no other way to cut it, with Mosley playing or not. We were wrong there.

The other four? Each are playing above and beyond. It doesn’t take much of a mathematical wizard to parse through the numbers in the “difference category.” Since the Kansas game, those four players cumulatively have picked up an extra 58.8% of minutes played. An extra 23 minutes every game. The Tigers lost 70.4% of minutes with Mosley’s absence.

Coincidence? Hardly.

The two most affected in this conversation are Nick Honor and D’Moi Hodge. Honor’s 83.1% of minutes played would be the highest percentage of time played by an individual on a Dennis Gates team since 2015. No other player in that time had cracked 78%, a figure rarely matched otherwise.

Likewise, Hodge was pacing at a similar trajectory prior to his illness against Vanderbilt. In the five games preceding that contest, Hodge was playing 74% of minutes. Not as extreme as Nick Honor, but still higher than the vast majority would play in this system.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

East, Gomillion and Gholston are more within the bandwidth of what you’d expect compared to past seasons, assuming you’d otherwise want them playing the minutes that they are. More on that to come below.

Furthermore, the lack of depth in the frontcourt is not helping. Kobe Brown has been the victim of foul trouble in multiple games, driving down his minutes. A player who would ideally pick up a minute slack hasn’t even been able to hit his own projection. So too has Carter fallen below expectation. DeGray, meanwhile, has been playing more than one might have expected, and that’s ok. He had plenty to spare. Shaw was pacing for expectations until he was held out against Florida. Diarra, until recently, hasn’t be given the chance. The group cumulatively is -19.6% versus preseason expectations. They haven’t picked up the slack; they’ve created more.

When you compare the current minutes played to historical data, the top 8 players in Mizzou’s rotation are logging 39.7% more minutes than prior teams playing a similar style. That’s an extra 16 minutes spread out over 8 individuals.

Mizzou is simply having to try to optimize their game plan — they’re best creating pressure defense & transition offense — with a lack of necessary depth. And it’s impacting games.

Lack of Depth is Impacting Game Outcomes

We now know there’s 28-30 additional minutes that several players are having to pick up with Mosley’s absence. What’s the big deal? Let’s look at it:


Game First 10 Minutes of 1st Half First 10 Minutes of 2nd Half First 10 Minutes of Half Total Last 10 Minutes of 1st Half Last 10 Minutes of 2nd Half Last 10 Minutes of Half Total
Game First 10 Minutes of 1st Half First 10 Minutes of 2nd Half First 10 Minutes of Half Total Last 10 Minutes of 1st Half Last 10 Minutes of 2nd Half Last 10 Minutes of Half Total
Kansas -13 -5 -18 -5 -5 -10
UCF 4 11 15 -5 -8 -13
Illinois 8 3 11 16 -5 11
Kentucky 9 4 13 3 -2 1
Arkansas 17 -8 9 -10 -5 -15
Vanderbilt -5 1 -4 5 2 7
Texas A&M -5 14 9 -13 -14 -27
Florida 7 0 7 -7 -9 -16
Total 22 20 42 -16 -46 -62

When we break the game down by quarters, the issue slaps you in the face like you insulted Jada Pinkett Smith. As a whole, Mizzou has been very good to start games and halves. Over a very difficult stretch of opponents, Mizzou is +22 in the “first quarter” and +20 in the “third quarter” of these games. Their fortunes shift rapidly in the latter parts of halves. They’re a combined -16 in the “second quarter,” and -46 in the “fourth quarter.” What’s worse? In their last three losses, Mizzou is +25 in the first and third quarters and -58 in the second and fourth.

Another way of looking at it: Mizzou has posted a 5-3 record in first quarters, 3-5 in the second, 6-2 in the third and 1-7 in the fourth. Frankly, it’s relatively impressive that Mizzou has managed a 4-4 record over this difficult stretch considering their late game struggles.

While we can’t say with absolute certainty that lack of depth is causing late half issues, it’s highly logical. When the game starts, players are fresh. As the game progresses, players tire. A halftime break allows to recoup energy. The process repeats. A player having to execute an up-tempo, trapping system is going to wear down more than one playing a half-court game. Early foul trouble causes the same issue.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve seen this movie before. Mizzou jumps out to a lead and tries to hold on. Sometimes they build a big enough lead (Illinois, Kentucky) and are able to do so. Sometimes the lead isn’t big enough (Arkansas, Florida) to withstand a late half avalanche. It’s like driving until your gas gauge is on “E,” and you try to coast into the nearest filling station.

The pressure has been cumulative, indeed.

Extra Minutes and Shooting Woes

Another aspect of fatigue is an expected shooting regression. This isn’t groundbreaking. A shooter’s foundation and lift are paramount to accuracy and shot repeatability. Having tired legs is going to impact a jump shot. And it has.

I’ve adjusted the sample a bit to better account for cumulative fatigue now that Mizzou is playing twice a week in league play. In December, there was at least a five-day break in between every contest.

Over Mizzou’s first 12 games, they shot 120-324 (37.0%) from three-point range as a team. Over the last 5 games the number had dropped to 36-119 (30.1%).

Looking specifically at Nick Honor and D’Moi Hodge — the two carrying the most extreme minutes load — both represent Mizzou’s highest volume outside shooters.

Nick Honor Catch & Shoot Attempts

  • Last 5 Games: 10 Shots — 1.200 PPP
  • First 12 Games: 36 Shots — 1.416 PPP

D’Moi Hodge Catch & Shoot Attempts

  • Last 5 Games: 26 Shots — 0.577 PPP
  • First 12 Games: 83 Shots — 1.325 PPP

While it’s true that league play has introduced road environments that can play a role in poor shooting, so too can having to pick up extra minutes twice a week instead of just once.

Honor’s shot efficiency has still been solid, but the rate of his attempts has plummeted by 50%. For Hodge, it’s been both things. He’s attempting two fewer shots off the catch per game and his efficiency has dropped by over half.

While there is something to be said about the defensive attention Hodge has commanded, it’s even a problem when the defense isn’t a factor. The regression on open opportunities isn’t as precipitous, it’s still there.

D’Moi Hodge Open Catch & Shoot Attempts

  • Last 5 Games: 10 Shots — 0.900 PPP
  • First 12 Games: 35 Shots — 1.286 PPP

Mizzou’s two best shooters are the players seeing the biggest increase in minutes to make up for Mosley’s absence. Not only have you lost a great scorer — or two, when Kobe is in foul trouble— two other scorers are now less effective. Your two best shooters off the catch had been posting a 1.325 PPP on 10 attempts per game. Now? The figure is 0.750 PPP on 7.2 attempts per game. That’s a massive 8 points Mizzou is missing.

Dennis Gates has said that Hodge was battling an illness during the Vanderbilt game that may well have affected his endurance and overall play in subsequent outings. Perhaps that is a factor to monitor going forward, but the overall trend is still alarming.

Limited Lineup Options

For his part, Gates has explored almost every backcourt combination possible — or 23 trios in all. But digging into substitution patterns and cutting lineup data shows the MU staff assigned 85.3% minutes to six lineups, and just four logged 30-plus minutes of floor time.

Most-Used Backcourts | Missouri | Since Dec. 10

PG CG Wing Duration %Min
PG CG Wing Duration %Min
Honor East Hodge 70:17:00 25.1
Honor Gomillion Hodge 55:04:00 19.7
Honor East Gholston 51:32:00 18.4
Honor Hodge Gholston 32:08:00 11.5
East Hodge Gholston 16:43 6
Honor Gomillion Gholston 12:58 4.6
This lineup data omits MU’s game against UCF, when Mosley logged floor time.

Honor’s logging almost 93 percent of the workload as a lead guard. Hodge and Gholston are splitting minutes on the wing. And in the runoff at combo guard, East barely ekes out a majority (51.0%) over Gomillion and Hodge. Or think of it this way: Among MU’s most-used guard groupings, Honor and East share the floor half the time, with Gomillion — the nominal starter — actually getting minutes allocation (28%) comparable to a reserve. Meanwhile, Hodge and Gholston rarely share the floor.

MU typically starts Honor, Gomillion, and Hodge. By the under-16 timeout, East is getting ready to check in. Sometimes, he spells Gomillion. Or MU might opt for a four-guard grouping that pushes Gomillion into the frontcourt. When Gholston enters the game, there might be a brief overlap with Hodge. But for the most part, there’s a familiar rhythm to the whole thing.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Pretty bland, right?

Well, the lineup data is where distinctions get stark. Those six lineups have a collective minus-10.2 net rating, but some are clearly better than others. The top four lineups, which have logged nearly 72.6% of possessions, own a minus-1.2 net rating. Essentially, they’re breaking even against quality competition. But the next two? The situation gets sideways — in a big way. In their 63 possessions, those two trios have been outscored by 37 points, working out to a minus-58.8 net rating. That’s a massive swing.

Most-Used Backcourts | Missouri | Efficiency since Dec. 10

PG CG Wing Poss Scored Allowed Off. PPP Def. PPP NET
PG CG Wing Poss Scored Allowed Off. PPP Def. PPP NET
Honor East Hodge 121 137 140 113.15 115.63 -2.48
Honor East Gholston 82 94 96 114.06 116.49 -2.43
Honor Gomillion Hodge 81 89 87 109.22 106.76 2.45
Honor Hodge Gholston 55 71 72 129.34 131.16 -1.83
East Hodge Gholston 41 32 56 77.99 136.48 -58.5
Honor Gomillion Gholston 22 21 34 97.39 157.68 -60.3
Source: Pivot Analysis

The image becomes more apparent when you begin going position by position. Why is Honor logging almost 90% of possessions in these lineups? Well, Mizzou’s net rating plunges by 53.8 points per 100 possessions when East takes over the controls.

Most-Used Backcourts | Missouri | Point Guards | Efficiency since Dec. 10

Name Pos Poss %Poss Scored Allowed Off. PPP Def. PPP NET
Name Pos Poss %Poss Scored Allowed Off. PPP Def. PPP NET
Honor PG 361 89.8 412 429 114.1 118.8 -4.7
East PG 41 10.2 32 56 78 136.5 -58.5
Source: Pivot Analysis

Pairing up MU’s two veteran ball handlers maintains some sort of equilibrium (minus-2.4 net rating) almost half the time. But the slippage starts when Gomillion slots in next to Honor (minus-10.7), and it craters when East and Hodge (minus-58.5) join forces.

Most-Used Backcourts | Missouri | Combo Guard | Efficiency since Dec. 10

Name Pos Poss %Total Scored Allowed Off. PPP Def. PPP NET
Name Pos Poss %Total Scored Allowed Off. PPP Def. PPP NET
East CG 203 50.5 231 236 113.8 116.2 -2.4
Gomillion CG 103 25.6 110 121 106.8 117.5 -10.7
Hodge CG 96 23.9 103 128 107.3 133.3 -26
Source: Pivot Analysis

East and Honor could split time at point guard early in the season. While Honor got his wind back, Mosley could share the floor with East and Hodge in a trio that found the right blend between pushing the tempo and complementary skillsets in the half-court. For his part, East thrives on the first eight seconds of a possession, and he had kismet at high-speed with Mosley and Hodge.

But when a defense retreated and set up, East could still initiate the offense. Hodge could space off the ball for catch-and-shoots. And Mosley could use secondary actions — usually after a ball reversal — to mess with pace, get the defense out of sorts, and create advantage situations. Or hunt isolations late in the shot clock. If he found a rhythm, you could keep him on the floor when Honor returned.

Before he began accruing DNPs, Mosley was averaging almost 20 minutes per game. But now, Honor can barely leave the floor, and East needs a genuine secondary creator. Again, Gomillion does his level best, and MU offers DeAndre Gholston touches to replicate what Mosley might offer.

Most-Used Backcourts | Missouri | Wings | Efficiency since Dec. 10

Name Pos Poss %Total Scored Allowed Off. PPP Def. PPP NET
Name Pos Poss %Total Scored Allowed Off. PPP Def. PPP NET
Hodge Wing 202 50.2 226 227 111.9 112.4 -0.5
Gholston Wing 200 49.8 218 258 109 129 -20
Source: Pivot Analysis

Sometimes, that plan works out. Gholston’s instincts helped power key runs against UCF, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt. But the overall picture is still pretty sobering.

If you didn’t know MU’s starting five, you would look at these tables and assume Honor, East, and Hodge are on the floor for the tip, with MU alternating between using Gholston or Gomillion as the first substitute off the bench. Because that’s how possession data makes it look.

We can’t say how effective Mosley might be at filling up the stat sheet. But to some extent, his absence leaves Gates and the staff with three backcourt options that keep them competitive. Making use of them, however, means leveraging Honor and pigeonholing East instead of using him to add a bit of verve. And when MU can’t get the pace where it wants, Hodge, who mostly attacks the rim in transition, becomes inert.


What made Mizzou effective the first two months of the season is still this team’s best strategy moving forward. We appear to have reached the point, however, where the drawbacks of that strategy are significant enough that they will impact the game’s outcome.

There isn’t an easy solution to any of this. Mizzou is facing a minutes void in the back court. Their front court is often saddled with foul trouble or otherwise unavailable. Certain guard pairings work much better than others. And those players that have been most effective at posting positive margins are playing a carrying the highest burden of picking up extra minutes. It’s a matter of the staff having to choose the best option out of a bucket of suboptimal ones.

That is, until a full rotation is available.

NCAA Basketball: Houston Christian at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports