It feels like for the last two years I’ve been trying to convince myself that Mizzou was really better than they were showing. They were playing without their best players for significant portions of the season, but the offense was awful, they turned the ball over a lot, and sometimes they got beaten by enough you turned the television off early (well I didn’t, I watched each game to its cruel finish).
So it feels gratifying in a deep way to watch Mizzou go out and beat a top 25 opponent on a neutral court, and do it NOT PLAYING THEIR BEST GAME! That’s the cool part. Mizzou played pretty well, they hit shots they needed to hit, but they didn’t light it up. They won because they played together, defended well, and valued the ball.
This season is weird, and it’s going to continue to be weird. You’re going to see some wild results, and there’s going to be more than a few head scratching games. Good teams will lose to bad teams; that’s just going to be the nature of the season. But here’s what I can tell you, the Oregon Ducks are going to be a good team this year. And so, as it looks so far, is Missouri.
- 2point FG shooting was the big difference offensively: On 3-point shooting, Mizzou took ten (10) more 3’s than Oregon, but were only +2 in makes. On free throw shooting, Oregon was +7. Mizzou was 21/34 inside the arc, while Oregon was 19/42. Mizzou defended well and made Oregon take tough shots, and while I thought Oregon (mostly) defended well, Mizzou made their fare share of tough shots. Part of the high percentage was due to a couple things— Tempo and Ball Handling.
- So let’s talk about Tempo: For two games now, Mizzou has been fearless in running out of an opponent’s miss or turnover. Martin has seemingly given the keys to Xavier Pinson, Dru Smith, and Drew Buggs and said, “Let’s Go!”, which are welcome words for a lot of Mizzou fans. In game one, Mizzou played 75 possessions, in game 2 they played 71. And it was Oregon who was trying to slow the tempo with a full court zone press.
- Try and count the number of games we’ve had in the past few years with a TORate over 20%: and then look at the Turnover Rate against Oregon. 9.9%. Phew. (BTW, I counted, there were 34 games the last two years with TOR over 20%, and ZERO games under 10%)
So a Missouri team shot well from 2-point range but not from 3-point range, played fast, and took care of the ball, and walked out of a neutral court game against a top 25 team and won. Giving some credit to Oregon, they’re still waiting on eligibility on two players and this was their first game of the season. But any one result shouldn’t be an indictment or an acquittal of any single team. You simply take the information and apply to a larger set of data, but the early returns for Mizzou are as encouraging as we’ve seen in a while.
Your Trifecta: X, Mark, Jeremiah
I was worried about Xavier Pinson early, as he seemed to be pressing. After making his first 3, he forced another 3, then he got too deep and had an ugly layup attempt blocked, got taken out, came back in and missed another three and had a turnover. But in the second half, Pinson took over. He had 19 points, including 10 from the FT line. It’s like you could see his mind catch up to his feet while he was playing. It was a completely different look than the first half. He made shots, attacked the rim, and was the difference as he snuffed out Oregon’s comeback attempt.
We’re also seeing the new and improved Jeremiah Tilmon. He was the best post in the game, and looks like he's completely figured out how to defend with verticality. But he’s also reeeeeaaaallllly patient with the ball. The result is exactly what you need from him: points, rebounding, 30 minutes and just 3 fouls.
A healthy Mark Smith, yes.
A forgettable game from Dru Smith and a win over a top 25 opponent? Also yes.
I held off on my Javon Pickett praise for this spot, but Pickett had the 2nd highest game score per minute, and it feels worth pointing out how good he was. He’s a hard guy to figure out, because when the jumper isn’t going in he can really hamper the offense when he’s on the floor. You don’t need him to be a Mark Smith level shooter, but it would help if he were a little better. Where Pickett wins is through effort and garbage buckets. Cutting to the rim, running the floor, jamming passing lanes. He did those things against Oregon.
Something worth watching, Xavier Pinson +30% usage, +40% Floor%, +25% shoot, +40% pass. That’s basically two games in a row.
Also, Tilmon and Mark Smith both: -20% usage, +40% Floor%
Again, it’s early but worth watching.
Oregon needed a near-SuperHuman effort from Eugene Omoruyi to be in this game. Omoruyi, a graduate transfer senior combo forward from Rutgers, pumped in 31 points on 10 of 19 shooting, and was 9-11 from the free throw line. Here’s how good Omoruyi was: he is currently NUMBER ONE on the KenPom Player of the Year ratings. Atop the list! I have proof!
Omoruyi was so good he made Cuonzo Martin scramble his lineups just to find someone who could slow Omoruyi down a little. Without him we’re probably talking about a few more Wilmore dunks.
Again, it’s still not a complete picture
But it makes you feel like we were closer to the mark for how good Missouri will be this year, over the projections of other outlets. One thing I also like to point out with frequency— it’s not always about wins and losses, but playing better and improving. Mizzou started the season 59th in KenPom. After two games they’re 46th. They are also projected favorites in 17 more games this year (out of 26 remaining games — though KenPom hasn’t added Prairie View A&M, which was reported by PowerMizzou yesterday). If you include Prairie View A&M, plus 17, plus the current two existing wins, that’s 20.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, there are any number of bumps in the road. It’s a long season, and they’re playing during a pandemic. And as we’ve seen in the last few years, health is paramount. But the good vibes are justified. Mizzou beat a good, well-coached team, and did so without playing their best game. It was kind of a B game. If you can win a bunch of games playing that way, you’ll be fine all season.