In the Tigers’ 71-69 loss to South Carolina on Saturday, they were fairly reliant upon the services of Sean East II, Noah Carter and Tamar Bates. The trio combined for 50 points, 15 rebounds and four assists, providing a spark for this team whenever it needed it.
Watching those three go to work has become a trend in recent weeks.
Bates has scored in double-figures in each of the past six games after doing so only twice through the first ten outings. East has been the most consistent threat, averaging a team-high 17.3 PPG entering Saturday’s game and being relied upon to create with the ball in his hands when the team can’t turn anywhere else. Similarly, Carter has been a steadying presence, as he dropped 20 points in the recent loss to Kentucky and followed that up with another 23 against SC, a sign that he’s bounced back from a mid-December slump.
But, past those three players, it is generally anyone’s guess as to who (if anybody) will also step up on the offensive end for Mizzou. Since Nov. 19, nobody other than East, Carter or Bates has led this team in scoring in any single game.
One would expect graduate point guard Nick Honor to be that person. After all, he’s one of the most experienced players in the country, has a smooth stroke and was the aforementioned leading scorer on Nov. 19. But, with him not having scored in double-figures since the loss to Seton Hall, there are real concerns about Honor’s confidence levels and comfortability within the current offense.
“We want him to be Superman and sometimes we’ve got to put realistic expectations on young men,” Gates said of Honor prior to the UofSC game. “He’s averaging 10 points a game. There’s only one other time he’s averaged double-digits and that was his freshman year in college at Fordham. I love his leadership and what he’s doing and how he’s responding to the minimal adversity he’s going through.”
Caleb Grill was the answer to this question until he was injured. The former Iowa State guard brought a great spark to the team with his defensive energy and shooting ability, and the Tigers have greatly missed his perimeter scoring during this recent stretch. It remains to be seen if Grill continues to have a similar impact once he is back on the floor.
Jesus Carralero-Martin has looked like a dynamic offensive player at times...and in other moments he looks lost out there. His early-season passing against Jackson State (six assists), UAPB (five assists) and Memphis (three assists) showed that he is gifted when it comes to how he sees the floor and can anticipate, but he’s also committed his fair share of turnovers and has been in-and-out of foul trouble this year. On top of that, he’s somewhat limited when it comes to his scoring potential, as his outside shot is a work-in-progress and he doesn’t have the speed to blow by many defenders off the dribble. Carralero’s footwork is where he can win, and he’s begun to do more work in the paint as of late.
It is also worth noting that Carralero played some of his best basketball this week, combining for 10 points, seven rebounds and eight assists against Kentucky and South Carolina.
“Jesus played a tremendous game and had a great stat line, and once he fouled out our team took a step backwards with our rhythm,” Gates said following the SCAR loss. “Those were minutes that were earned. He’s a great passer, has a high basketball IQ, has great strength and a great mindset. So his minutes had to increase.”
Similarly, Connor Vanover has appeared to hit his stride in recent showings. The gentle giant racked up 11 points and a surprising three steals against Central Arkansas, and he followed that up with two solid showings this past week. The major key for Vanover will be if he can find his shooting stroke from the perimeter. Entering Saturday, the 7-footer hadn’t hit a 3-pointer since the Wichita State game, but he knocked down a good-looking one against the Gamecocks.
For a period of time, it seemed that freshman Anthony Robinson II may step up and become that needed “bonus contributor” on offense. He scored ten points in back-to-back games against SC State and Loyola (MD) and the way Robinson would flash on both ends of the floor made many Mizzou fans and analysts (myself included) believe that he would become a mainstay in the rotation.
But, as the grind of the season has truly begun to set in, Robinson’s minutes have fluctuated. He played 26 minutes against Central Arkansas, then 3 against Georgia. Robinson didn’t appear in the Kentucky game, but that can be attributed to him having missed practice time due to a situation regarding his sick grandmother and then subsequently getting sick himself. After that, he played 10 minutes against South Carolina. There are sure to be growing pains with a freshman guard during SEC play, but there’s no denying that Robinson’s talent and visible passion for the game will keep him in the rotation.
East, Carter and Bates are all great players. But, they also are not the caliber of players that could guide Missouri to an NCAA Tournament berth on their own. This team needs some other faces to step up on the offensive end if they are to have any hope of making a run at the Big Dance. Otherwise, it will continue to be a tale of “oh, so close” just like Saturday was.