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STUDY HALL: Mizzou’s biggest strength (3-point shooting) stands to take a hit next year

The Tigers’ shooting (and their ability to prevent you from taking good shots) offset massive ball-handling woes. What happens when the 3-point shooters leave?

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

Knowing all the plot twists that occurred over the course of Missouri’s 33 games this winter, it feels a bit strange to step back and look at full-season averages. It felt like Mizzou was about seven different teams this fall, after all.

It can still be a pretty instructive experience, however.

Today, we’ll focus on Mizzou’s overall team stats, and in coming days we’ll shift to the individual level.

Team Stats

Mizzou played slow as hell in 2017-18, tinkering with tempo early in the year and then, as depth became more perilous, slowing way down in conference play and the postseason. They averaged nearly 70 possessions per game — still not fast but not absurdly slow either — through their first 12 games or so, then far less thereafter.

This approach made sense, and not only because of fraught depth — Missouri was also better in half-court offense than most of its opponents. Despite minimal transition opportunities, Mizzou ranked 28th in the country in 3PT% and, despite a few outliers we can all remember, 43rd in 3PT% allowed. The Tigers shot 6.3 percentage points better than their opponents from long range, a drastic change from 2017 (minus-4.0%), 2016 (minus-2.6%), etc.

So Mizzou shot better than its opponents, rebounded better, and drew more fouls on average. That’s three of the four factors! And when the fourth factor wasn’t a total disaster, the Tigers tended to win. Unfortunately, it was often a total disaster.

KenPom stats

Mizzou was in the country’s bottom 50 in terms of both turnovers committed and created and in the bottom 100 in both steals and steals allowed.

Shooting better than your opponent only means so much when your opponent is getting shots off on more possessions. Mizzou’s turnover rate was about five percentage points higher than its opponent’s, which basically means one more turnover for every 20 possessions. At Mizzou’s tempo, that’s three to four more turnovers in a game — three to four possessions when Mizzou couldn’t maximize its shooting advantages.

In conference play, it was the same story, only more exaggerated.

KenPom stats

Mizzou turned the ball over on 5.4 percent more possessions in SEC games, and the Tigers’ offensive rebounding disappeared, perhaps because of a combination of a) fewer size advantages and b) a concerted effort to get back in transition and keep the tempo slow. (Only Florida and Georgia had a slower tempo in SEC play.)

The shooting advantages remained, though, and Mizzou did a much better job than its opponent at getting to the free throw line. It was around this time that Jeremiah Tilmon began to slowly figure out how to stay on the court without fouling out in nine minutes, and that made an obvious difference.

The 2018-19 season presents an opportunity for identity change, good or bad. Mizzou’s 3-point shooting was a massive strength, but that was due mostly to the shooting of Jordan Barnett and Kassius Robertson — they made 42.4% of their 3s, while the rest of the team shot just 33.2%.

Take Jontay Porter out of the equation (since there’s a chance he, too, doesn’t return), and that percentage drops to 31.9%, barely higher than Mizzou’s 2016-17 percentage. Without them, your 3-point shooters are Jordan Geist (37%), Cullen VanLeer (30%), Kevin Puryear (26%), and the new guys, primarily incoming freshman Torrence Watson.

Your primary ball-handlers, meanwhile, will be Geist, Watson, point guard commit Xavier Pinson, and whoever else Martin attracts in the coming weeks.

Of course, with more Cuonzo guys — and returnees further learning Martin’s ways — the defense could improve further as the offense takes a reset. It better, at least.