Surprise! I bet you didn't expect to see my name on the byline here. Sam contacted me and asked me if I'd be willing to contribute on some basketball content, and I was happy to. Now begins my sunshine pumping reign atop the RMN commentariat. Just kidding. I want the same thing you all want - to talk about our team. I hope you'll find that I have something worthwhile to contribute in this role. Please don't hesitate to offer constructive criticism.
I'm more words and less pic and tweet-savvy than Sam, so this might be a bit of a wall of text. I will endeavor to improve the multimedia aspects of my contributions as I write more of them.
With that, it's on to...
Let's get this one out of the way early. There were 3 freshmen suspended for the A&M game - Tramaine Isabell, who's been suspended since the Ole Miss game, and two new contestants, Montaque Gill-Caesar and Namon Wright. A great deal has been written elsewhere about the reasons for the suspensions, so let's keep it to game impact. Isabell has been the only freshman who's demonstrated a consistent ability to create plays on his own, off the dribble. Gill-Caesar and Wright haven't demonstrated the same level of playmaking ability on a consistent basis, but they're guys who have contributed some significant offense for the Tigers this year. That we still scored more than 50 points without those 3 guys is impressive, but it's a moral victory at best. We needed a great deal more offense to beat both teams, and we probably needed to not have to roll two 4s (Gant and Allen) out to guard the 3 position. Gant and Post in particular had an absolutely brutal problem with communicating on screens against A&M, and it was a big reason why the Aggies were able to run the score out as much as they did.
That's the average point differential across these two games. We've talked a lot this season about Mizzou's series of close losses. These weren't particularly close. Alabama's last field goal came with 8 minutes remaining in the half. From there, they let our guys foul and burned clock. A&M led by 7 at the half, stretched it to 11 in the first minute of the second half, and never really looked back. Whether it's fatigue, suspensions, fading interest in the season, or any other of a myriad of possible causes, Mizzou didn't give themselves much of a shot against either Alabama or A&M.
17.5 (again!) and 20
That's the average 3 point percentage and the number of 3 point attempts across this stretch, and while there are still some less-than-stellar shots being taken, they're only taking 20ish long range shots per game, not the close to 30 they've shot at times. That shooting percentage is abysmal, and it includes rough nights from the guys we absolutely want shooting the ball - Wes Clark and Keith Shamburger combined to go 4-23 in against the Aggies and the Tide. If our guys shoot 30% from range, the additional 9 points makes up most of the final deficit against Alabama.
29 and 14
Let's bring up a good thing. Keanau Post and Ryan Rosburg have contributed 29 points and 14 rebounds in the past two games. It goes without saying that we needed more from these guys early on in the season, and it's unfortunate that, now that they've at least somewhat figured things out, enough other things have gone wrong that it hasn't made much difference. Post is finally looking like a guy who both knows how and wants to play basketball, and his athleticism is occasionally very impressive. Rosburg has had some rough moments (and it's a testament to how brutal his early season was that his current level of play is a positive thing), but he's spelled Post, played inconsistently not-awful defense, and, by god, scored a few points. His ceiling may be a Steve Moore type reserve role, but he is at least a lot closer to that than he was earlier this season, when you wondered if he'd just give up and ride the bench for the rest of his career.
Last one. Jonathan Williams III has only contributed 13 points in the last two games combined. He's having a Jordan Clarkson kind of experience right now, in that teams have figured out his tendencies and taken them away from him. Until he develops some kind of consistent countermove to force defenders off his left side, or the strength to go left whether a defender is there or not, he's going to keep having rough offensive games. The film is out there at this point.
Frank Martin had some nice things to say about Mizzou earlier today.
Martin says if you watch Missouri on film you wouldn't know its record or that the Tigers are on a losing streak— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) February 9, 2015
A lot of us are probably inclined to laugh at that, because we've watched all of these games, and the team is pretty bad. But they're bad in a way that suggests inexperience may be a large source of the problem. It's an inexperienced team made of inexperienced players.
Let me unpack that. The team is inexperienced because it hasn't played together enough yet. This is a team that, when one of its big men posts up and has great position, has already started passing the ball to the opposite side of the court. It's a team that runs a pick and roll, and forgets to follow through with the roll. It's a team where a guy desperately hucks up a 3 point shot as one of his teammates comes wide open on a backdoor cut. It's a lot of guys who haven't played enough Kim Anderson basketball together yet to know without thinking where their teammates are going to be, and what they should do in a given situation. That's partially due to circumstances (qualification issues, suspensions, injuries), and partially due to an apparent lack of emphasis on offense in the offeseason. The good news is, if they stick around (and Kim Anderson isn't a failure of a head coach), they'll learn those things.
It's also a team relying on inexperienced players. To succeed this year, we needed Gill-Caesar, Wright, or Gant to be ready to contribute when they hit campus. It looked early on like Gill-Caesar was the guy, but he hasn't been the same since getting whomped in the Illinois game. Wright and Gant have both shown flashes, but no consistency - Gant in particular veers between hitting nice looking jumpers to letting perfectly placed passes to him bounce right off and out of bounds. Relying on 4 star recruits to provide someone who can contribute at a high level right away is a gamble, and it didn't pay off. The silver lining is that inexperienced underclassmen eventually grow into experienced upperclassmen, and consistency should come with repetition.
One last number, 8: There are 8 games left in conference play. It's too late for this to be a good season. This team has 8 games to get it together enough to create some goodwill and hope for next season. Let's go, Tigers.