Still, it doesn't take an overt number of "ifs" to turn this team into something pretty good. If Johnathan Williams III, who averaged six points and seven boards last year, can turn into more of a 13 & 8 guy (and when he was asked to step up and become a scorer last year, he acquitted himself alright), Mizzou will have a go-to guy. If one of the freshmen, perhaps Montaque Gill-Caesar, can pitch in about 12 points per game, with the others playing generally competent ball, Mizzou might have enough offense to get by. If Ryan Rosburg and Keanau Post can combine for about 12 points and 10 rebounds, Mizzou will have a legitimate post-presence and lots of fouls to give. And if the backcourt is able to make its share of open shots and play the type of defense Kim Anderson expects, this will be a pretty salty team from top to bottom.
Thanks to the last couple of football seasons, we've become pretty used to Ifs lists working out. I post things that need to happen at the beginning of the season, and then a lot of them happen.
It doesn't always work out that way, though. Case in point: this year's basketball ifs list that I posted in advance of the first exhibition game.
We've been hindsighting it a bit of late, reminding anyone who listens that we didn't expect much from this season. That's partially true, but I still remember a generally nonplussed reaction when Ken Pomeroy's projections suggested a .500 season was pretty likely. We were still hoping for some sort of potential postseason bid even if nobody was really thinking NCAA Tournament, and in late-October, I laid out what I thought needed to happen for Mizzou to pull off a pretty good season.
Needless to say, little of it came to fruition. Let's go point by point.
If Johnathan Williams III, who averaged six points and seven boards last year, can turn into more of a 13 & 8 guy (and when he was asked to step up and become a scorer last year, he acquitted himself alright), Mizzou will have a go-to guy.
Verdict: no (barely)
J3 has come pretty close. Instead of 13 & 8, he's at 12 & 7. He's averaging 12.2 points per game on 43% shooting 2-pointers, 36% on 3-pointers, and 63% on free throws; meanwhile, he's drawn fouls at a high rate (103rd in the country), and while he's not an elite rebounder, he's pretty good: he ranks 355th in the country with a 9.3% offensive rebound rate and 306th with an 18.4% defensive rebound rate.
Basically, Johnathan Williams III has been pretty good, but he's been asked to be great. J3 has tried to live up to what is needed of him, and it has resulted in some pretty spectacular ups and downs. In December's four losses to power teams (Oklahoma, Xavier, Illinois, OSU), he averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. In the SEC-opening win over LSU, he posted 21 and 10 against some stellar big men. And in his masterpiece, he scored 27 points (on 9-for-15 shooting) with seven boards against Mississippi State on Valentine's Day.
If one of the freshmen, perhaps Montaque Gill-Caesar, can pitch in about 12 points per game, with the others playing generally competent ball, Mizzou might have enough offense to get by.
Verdict: no (in 2015, anyway)
Mizzou's five freshmen combined to score 736 points in 30 games, 24.5 points per game, even if only one of the five (D'Angelo Allen) actually played in all 30 games. Generally speaking, 25 PPG from freshmen is pretty good; only, because this team was so bereft of experienced, quality contributors, Mizzou's freshmen needed to be better than "pretty good." And the inconsistencies were incredible, even by freshman standards.
Montaque Gill-Caesar has averaged 9.2 points per game, but after getting hurt late in non-conference play, he was not nearly the same player.
* Teki, first 12 games: 28.6 MPG, 12.4 PPG (42% 2PT, 37% 3PT, 82% FT)
* Teki, rest of season: 19.3 MPG, 6.3 PPG (45% 2PT, 21% 3PT, 56% FT)
Not including two good games (Arkansas and Auburn), Teki averaged 5.1 points per game and shot 3-for-30 on 3-pointers. Either because of injury (he certainly seemed to be avoiding contact for a while after his return) or general Freshman Wall issues, he faded dramatically. He was also suspended for a couple of games. The Auburn game (10 points on 4-for-9 shooting with three offensive rebounds and a key late steal) was quite encouraging, but while he was more or less what the Ifs list requested through 2014, he was nowhere close in 2015.
Namon Wright, meanwhile, has shown flashes of potential, but in a particularly inconsistent way. He scored 15 points in the first five games of the season, then scored 21 against Chaminade. He scored 12 against Oklahoma, then 17 in the next five games. He scored 13 against Tennessee, then averaged 4.8 per game over the next eight games. And then, out of nowhere, he knocked down six 3-pointers and scored 28 points in a win over Florida.
If we're looking for encouragement in small samples, then perhaps it's exciting that, in the two games since Florida, Wright scored 10 points in each. He was 3-for-6 on 3-pointers against Georgia, and while his 3s weren't falling against Auburn (1-for-5), he attacked the rim a bit more and made three 2-pointers.
Wright has also begun to make contributions to the box score that go beyond points: five defensive rebounds against Auburn, three steals against Georgia, four defensive rebounds against Florida. He's also been committing more fouls of late, but maybe that's a sign of extra confidence/aggression.
Jakeenan Gant's late-season play has been a bit encouraging, too. After scoring 13 points in his debut against Xavier, he proceeded to score seven against Illinois, then six or fewer in each of the next 11 games. He had a small burst at home against A&M, then mostly disappeared for another couple of games. He did not have enough strength to bang on the interior, and Kim Anderson drew reference to him hitting the freshman wall twice.
That said, here are Gant's stats in the four games before his brief appearance against Auburn (which featured three fouls and a shot to the head): 21 MPG, 7.3 PPG (52% 2PT, 70% FT, only two 3-point attempts), 4.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG. That's not great, but it certainly isn't bad considering he hasn't been able to combat his general size issue yet. He is getting pushed around inside, and he was way too confident in his 3-point shot out of the gates (he's now 1-for-14 for the season: 1-for-4 against Xavier and 0-for-10 since), but he's begun to figure out ways to contribute. And I'd be shocked if he didn't put on at least 10 pounds in the offseason. He could use 20.
Then there's Tramaine Isabell. Suspended for five games for basically having a bad attitude, he has seen his minutes oscillate pretty wildly this year both because of an injury to Wes Clark and his own general inconsistency. He averaged 12.3 MPG in November, 12.5 in December, and then 25.2 in the first five games of January before shrinking back (11.8 per game in the next four games) and getting suspended. Post-suspension: 26 minutes, then 8, 7, 13, and 6.
Isabell's best games have been pretty fantastic: In the three games that followed his last-second 3-pointer against Oklahoma State (which sent the game to OT), he averaged 9.7 points per game (40% 3PT), 3.3 assists, and 1.3 steals. But then he lost the plot. He bounced back to post 13 points and three assists against Arkansas, but that was the only time since January 10 that his offensive rating has been above 100 (the national average). Because of the suspension and iffy minutes, we've been assuming that if a freshman is going to transfer, it's him.
And then there's D'Angelo Allen. He was never intended to be a 12 PPG guy, and he's hit a freshman wall at LEAST twice this year, but he's shown that he could certainly be a strong contributor on a good team in the future. His offensive rating is 103.4, in part because he's typically a fourth or fifth option, and in a four-game stretch in February (A&M, SC, MSU, Arkansas), he averaged 22.3 MPG and 8.3 PPG (56% 2PT, 67% 3PT, 100% FT). He is a heart-and-energy guy who can knock down open shots. You can use that, even if you need some more prominent scorers elsewhere.
If Ryan Rosburg and Keanau Post can combine for about 12 points and 10 rebounds, Mizzou will have a legitimate post-presence and lots of fouls to give.
In 30 games, Post and Rosburg have combined for 205 points (6.8 per game) and 171 rebounds (5.7 per game). Mizzou needed 12 & 10 and got 7 & 6. Post has had some random, stellar moments of offense in the post, but he has never gotten his fouling consistently under control. Meanwhile, Rosburg developed perhaps the most impressive case of the yips we'll ever see from the free throw line -- after shooting 57% from the line through his first two years, he was shooting 25% through Valentine's Day (he's an encouraging 4-for-6 since) -- which led to a lack of offensive confidence and longer stays on the bench. In the first 10 games of the season, he averaged 21.7 minutes per game; in the next eight, he averaged 6.5.
Meanwhile, Rosburg's rebound rates have been disappointing as well: 8.1% OR% (he was at 11.5% as a freshman), 10.2% DR% (he was at 13.3% as a sophomore). He found the rare junior slump, and Post certainly couldn't make up the difference.
This, to me, is the most disappointing aspect of Mizzou's season. I wasn't nearly as high as others regarding either Rosburg or Post, and they still combined to fall far short of what I expected, much less what I hoped for. These are two of the team's four upperclassmen, and they gave Mizzou no consistency whatsoever. And though we expect Mizzou to sign at least one big man in the spring signing period, the Tigers have signed no one yet, which means that the only actual big man on the roster for 2015-16 so far is Rosburg.
And if the backcourt is able to make its share of open shots and play the type of defense Kim Anderson expects, this will be a pretty salty team from top to bottom.
Though Gill-Caesar, Wright, Keith Shamburger, and Wes Clark have all had their moments, Mizzou is shooting 32.8% on 3-pointers for the season, 232nd in the country. Granted, that percentage ranks higher than Mizzou's 2PT% (44.7%, 295th) or FT% (66.9%, 255th), but outside of the post, perhaps Mizzou's biggest problem this year has indeed been knocking down open shots. The Tigers have missed so many of them, especially during the long SEC losing streak.
It's really difficult for me to judge Kim Anderson's offensive concepts for this reason; the offense often seemed to produce shots college players should make with regularity (barring Jakeenan Gant's and sometimes J3's extended forays on the perimeter), and they just didn't make them.
So Mizzou went 0-for-4 on the ifs list. That's how you go 9-21 (and counting).
That said, Mizzou wasn't terribly far away on a couple of them. That's encouraging. J3 was awfully close to 13 & 8, and Teki was indeed averaging 12 PPG pre-injury. And again, there were open shots to be found. If the nucleus returns intact, Mizzou should be able to improve on three of the four failed ifs from this season. There's a massive black hole in the post, and we'll see how that is handled in spring recruiting, but it's not hard to see how Mizzou goes about improving in 2015-16. Of course, "improving" in this case would simply mean "meeting Ken Pomeroy's .500 projections a year later." But when you fall this far this quickly, improvement is still improvement. There's probably no short road back to the NCAA Tournament for this team, but it's close to being a decent amount better than it was this year.