The Missouri Tigers are coming off a huge, much-needed win against Mississippi State at home and now sit at 20-8 and 8-7 in conference play. Barring disaster, the Tigers have seemingly secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament, a pleasant surprise in year one of the Gates regime. The Tigers have three games left, two of which are on the road against Georgia and LSU, before closing out at home against Ole Miss on Senior Day.
Different bracket sites have various opinions and philosophies on where the Tigers should be seeded, but the general consensus is that the Tigers are floating around the 8-10 seed range. Joe Lunardi currently has the Tigers as a 10 seed, facing off against Michigan State in the Midwest region in Denver as of Tuesday, February 20.
Missouri still has time to improve its seeding, or even possibly play its way onto the bubble, but at the moment the Tigers are in the tournament safely. With that being said, I thought it would be interesting to examine why the Tigers could be a dangerous opponent in the tournament. Let’s review.
- The ability to force turnovers: When people think of the Missouri Tigers this season, they will often immediately recognize the team’s ability to get on the fastbreak and get scorching hot from the three-point line (don’t worry we’re covering that in a minute.) What some don’t often appreciate though, is the team’s aptness to speed the opposition up and force turnovers. In reality this is, by a longshot, what the Tigers are best at, as they rank fourth in the country in forced turnovers per game, with 17.4. While the Tigers may not be great in terms of defensive efficiency, they are sublime in the turnovers forced category. So, how do the Tigers do it, you may ask? Well, in a multitude of ways. Dennis Gates loves to cycle through different base defenses throughout the game, primarily starting out with man, then switching to either a 2-3, or a 1-3-1 zone, depending on how the game is going. When the Tigers run man, they tend to press the inbounds and also play lots of help in the half-court, hoping to trap smaller guards, which can lead to turnovers. They also love to send a double team when the opposing big man gets the ball in the post, typically sending a guy like former Horizon League DPOY D’moi Hodge, who has quick hands and can use them to make a quick swipe at the ball.
When the Tigers are in zone, this is where they do lots of damage and it’s been known as a “run-stopper” defense. Similar to man, they love to force teams into throwing the ball into the low block, then trapping that and hoping for a turnover. The Tigers will typically switch to a zone against a team that struggles from the three-point line, a prime example being Mississippi State. If the Tigers can speed teams up and continue to force turnovers at an absurd rate, that is its best chance of making a solid run into the second week.
2. Live and die by the three (hopefully live): As it stands, the Tigers are shooting 36% behind the arc this season, which is good for second in the conference, only behind Kentucky. Missouri is honestly an easy team to analyze because one thing remains consistent in their wins this season: did they shoot treys at an average/above-average rate? Now, I know that question applies to many teams across the country, and it often pertains to the games that they won. However, it especially applies to Missouri due to its lack of rebounding and defensive efficiency. There’s a reason Sam typically asks in his Study Halls, did you make your threes? Simply put, the three-ball is a band-aid to many of the Tigers’ problems, and if Missouri doesn’t apply that band-aid, its chances of winning plummet drastically. Fortunately, this team has proven it can shoot the three and can get hot when it needs to. It’s important to remember that a large part of what makes March so special is that it’s not always the best team who wins, but rather it’s the hottest team that makes the miraculous, memorable run.
3. Key depth: I’ll keep this last point short and sweet, but the last two weeks have proven to be promising as it concerns the depth of the team. Tre Gomillion made his return against Mississippi State after a groin injury kept him out a few weeks, and he showed why he was dearly missed. He showcased what a crucial role hecan play on this team down the stretch after he posted 8 points and 10 rebounds. Mohamed Diarra has begun to come into his own as of late, averaging around 20 quality minutes in his last five games and even earning his first start against Mississippi State. On top of this, even Mabor Majak has given quality minutes when needed, specifically against Tennessee and Mississippi State. In summary, guys are stepping up at the right time and alleviating stress from others, which could prove dividends come tourney time. And that’s not even counting Isiaih Mosley, should he rejoin the team and become a consistent contributor.