On a different day, the narrative emerging from Florida might have been how Mohamed Diarra delivered at a vital moment to push Missouri to a road win.
Don’t scoff. It’s not far-fetched. I’ll walk you through it.
Tied at 45-45, Diarra shakily backed down Alex Fudge on the right block and gently kissed the ball off the glass to put the No. 20 Tigers in front. Thirty seconds later, Diarra, who had only played 28 minutes this season, rotated down to meet the cutting Will Richard as he rose to the rim and forced the Gators wing to botch a reverse layup.
After MU pushed into the frontcourt, DeAndre Gholston hauled in a skip pass and moved it to Nick Honor in the corner. What could be better? The Clemson transfer had drilled more than 50 percent of wide-open 3-balls off the catch this season. But, this time, the point guard watched his jumper rattle out, one of 15 missed attempts by the Tigers from long range.
But chance offered the Tigers a reprieve: Kowacie Reeves bricking a 3 at the other end. That miss triggered another secondary break – and offered Diarra an opportunity. Sean East II lifted his head and fired a diagonal pass to the sprinting Diarra down the right wing. Diarra snagged the ball, took a step, elevated — and watched his dunk roll off the rim.
In those 56 seconds, MU had a chance to extend its lead and take control. But, instead, Myreon Jones stepped into a 3-ball at the other end to put Florida ahead 48-47 with 10:49 to go. After that, the Gators never trailed again.
It’s the definition of a sliding-doors moment. Only this time, it slammed squarely in MU’s face.
We’ll get to the particulars in a minute, but from high overhead, this game — a prime Quadrant-1 pickup — was ripe for the taking. MU exerted its stylistic preferences for the first eight minutes to build an early 11-point lead. And while Florida eventually got a toehold and began whittling away, the Tigers did what we’ve come to expect: made the Gators bleed possessions, got into transition, and, for the most part, finished from point-blank range.
Their game plan for Florida’s Colin Castleton kept the big man off-kilter. At the same time, UF bailed on the offensive glass to sprint back and set its defense, which capped their chances to offset 14 first-half turnovers. Then, all the Tigers needed to do was punish Florida for giving up six wide-open 3-pointers.
And therein, dear reader, lies the rub.
Had the Tigers shot their season average from behind the 3-point line, it might have been enough to slip out of the O-Dome with a three-point victory. The moment that passed Diarra by came about because of all the mechanics at work that make MU successful. Except for the final component — shot-making.
For as nuanced as we try to be, sometimes, the game reinforces the most straightforward lessons. And leave you smarting.
Let’s mine that pain.
- A Shooting Funk is Here: Since knocking off Kentucky, the Tigers have connected at just a 27.6 percent clip from long range. Strip out the performance against Vandy, and MU is just 7 of 26 on open catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. I don’t know about you, but that is vaguely reminiscent of the past several seasons. Spacing is paramount to make this offense — or any system — work, especially now. Life is hard enough when traditional fives are looming in the restricted area. MU doesn’t need the added strain from defenses sagging into gaps. Currently, there’s no tax for shrinking the floor.
- Ball-Handling Was a Draw: After going 134 minutes without a turnover, Honor has tallied four in his last 65, including three in Gainesville. Not to be outdone, East chipped in three of his own. Saturday was MU’s worst ball-handling day since getting bludgeoned by KU. Florida wasn’t great in the first half, and it was probably coach Todd Golden’s chief talking point at halftime. All the shooting metrics tilted in the Gators’ favor. They didn’t need to be error-free, just closer to their season average. They posted a 15.5 turnover percentage in the second half — or five percentage points better than MU. It not only gave Florida chances to let its Castleton-centric game plan take hold but also choked off MU’s supply of easy transition baskets.
- Rebounding as a Red Herring: UF decided not to attack the boards in the first half. The Gators put a premium on getting back, loading up, and making the Tigers earn their keep against a set defense. Not in the second half. Golden let his guys crash down, and UF snatched 40 percent of available misses. But when you’re shooting 50 percent, that supply is pretty paltry. Still, corralling misses amounted to Florida’s offense for the first four minutes of the second half, before Castleton got rolling on duck-ins and feeding kick outs to shooters.
Your Trifecta: Kobe Brown, Tre Gomillion, Noah Carter
On the season: D’Moi Hodge 25, Kobe Brown 21, Nick Honor 16, Noah Carter 14, Sean East II 12, DeAndre Gholston 8, Tre Gomillion 5, Isiaih Mosley 2
Kobe Brown must be getting déjà vu.
Almost every game last season was an exercise in fighting through bodies: hard doubles on post-ups, guards stunting in on his drives from the elbow, or a post waiting for him after driving the middle gap. Meanwhile, he’s hoping the backcourt drains enough jumpers and help open gaps just a smidge. And eventually, the entire offense orients around assaulting the rim.
Oh, and he spends defensive possessions hand-fighting and jostling with an All-SEC big on defense.
Since Braggin’ Rights, Brown’s usage has eclipsed 30 percent five times, per KenPom. When he hasn’t been saddled with foul trouble, he’s logged 35-plus minutes against Illinois, Kentucky, and Florida. That’s not sustainable, and it’s not how Gates’ blend of tempo, triangle concepts, and egalitarian spirit is supposed to function. The guy needs help. Pronto.
The version of Noah Carter we saw Saturday could be an option. For the first five minutes of the second half, the undersized five revived a familiar act he put on at Northern Iowa: bullying guards in mismatches. Instead of running a slot DHO, he accepted Jones on the switch, used a crab dribble, and got to the rack. Two minutes later, Carter caught Fudge on an off-ball switch at the elbow, dove to the block, collected an entry pass, and put his shoulder into the sophomore’s just before finishing. Then, he capped with a dunk as a trailer running to the rim after MU used a long UF miss to crank up the pace.
When Carter’s making those plays, it’s easy to overlook going 0-of-3 from behind the arc. Toss in five rebounds, and you’ve got another big who might efficiently offload some touches from Brown. Meanwhile, bless Tre Gomillion for trying to fill in the margins. More than scoring, he chipped in on the glass, robbed UF of three possessions, and tried to keep the balance on MU’s side of the ledger.
The splashes of red tell the tale, but I’m going to underscore it: the backcourt can’t go AWOL like this.
Aside from Gomillion, Tiger guards notched 14 points on 7-of-23 shooting, missing 10-of-11 attempts hoisted up from behind the 3-point arc. Their two ball handlers coughed the ball on half of their possessions. And in grinding the pace for long stretches against Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Florida, D’Moi Hodge’s dynamism in the open floor has given way to stagnation.
Wonks like us appreciate how Hodge is a paragon of efficiency, but 75.9 percent of his touches in the half-court are catch-and-shoot jumpers. If he attacks more than one closeout per game, it’s an outlier. That makes the lean wing an easy cover in the half-court because Hodge cuts less frequently than when he played for Gates at Cleveland State. So, when he enters into a shooting slump — which happens during a season — the Tigers lose a vital supply of offense.
I touched on Gholston after the loss in College Station, and I’ll just re-emphasize the fact that he’s average. That’s not an anecdotal finding. On a per-possession basis, he’s in the 50th percentile nationally for efficiency. It’s also the same as Rutgers’ Paul Mulcahy, the sixth or seventh man in coach Steve Pikiell’s rotation. Is a replacement-level wing enough?
My esteemed colleague Matt Watkins is cooking up a piece on this topic, but the backcourt is getting spread a bit too thin, both in minutes and output. You can probably guess why, too. But I’ll let the other Matt walk you through the ramifications of Isiaih Mosley’s absence on his own time.
The frontcourt also had its issues on Saturday. Aidan Shaw was held back by Gates for an undisclosed reason, meaning Diarra stepped into his minutes. The JUCO prospect has the physical tools you want in a modern big, but the questions around him aren’t about measurables. Instead, they revolve around understanding where he’s supposed to be, when he’s supposed to be there, and why. And even when he was on the floor, his presence didn’t deter Florida from its objective — funnel touches to Castleton.
Watching MU’s scheme for Castleton was fascinating. When he trotted out to set high ball screens, a guard would step in front, almost pre-switching and allowing the on-ball defender to go through. When Castleton posted up Brown or Carter, they’d play three-quarter denial with help rotating over. But when Castleton drew a smaller defender, they’d front him, and on the catch, a second defender arrived for hard traps. The Tigers were spared from boxing him out in the first half as Florida remained passive on the offensive glass.
After halftime, Castleton began rolling and diving into duck-ins, pinning smaller defenders and putting a hand in the air. Once the ball went inside, Castleton could usually get a shot on the rim. Yet, if MU did collapse, the senior is savvy enough to pass behind help to an open shooter. It’s how he collected most of his six assists.
And what about MU’s NCAA tournament résumé?
In the wee hours of Sunday, the Tigers slipped to 53rd in the NET Rankings, a 22-spot drop from where they began the week. That’s what happens when your victory over Kentucky loses value, you drop two valuable road games, and you fall to 2-4 in Quad 1 games. At the moment, Bart Torvik’s TeamCast projects MU as one of the last four squads to make the dance. That means a trip to Dayton.
This situation isn’t entirely new, either. We experienced it two years ago. That year, MU scored quality wins early on, but predictive metrics hinted at that roster’s underlying issues.
A similar market correction is probably unfolding now.
In late December, outcomes trumped process. A banked-in 3 at the horn delivered MU a Quad 1 win over UCF. And MU was fortunate to catch Illinois as it wallowed in internal strife and a Kentucky squad trying to sort out its offensive identity. To be clear: you don’t turn down any of those wins. But anyone paying close enough attention could see the issues that have come into bloom recently.
Consider this: In nine games against KenPom top-100 teams, MU’s scoring margin is now minus-five. Once we strip out garbage time, the Tigers’ net rating is minus-0.27. Dead even. And while the defense was slightly better in Gainesville, the Tigers still guard at a level in line with a No. 11 seed in the field of 68.
Don’t panic, however. Just be more pragmatic. There’s still ample time to shore up the rotation and gussy up the team sheet. What matters in the near term is halting the slide.
Wednesday is a prime opportunity, too. If the Tigers are feeling some anxiety, Arkansas should be in a full-blown panic. On Saturday, the Hogs let Vanderbilt pile up 63 points in the second half of a loss in Nashville. That followed on the heels of getting blitzed by No. 4 Alabama. As a result, Eric Musselman’s crew is now 1-4 in the SEC, still missing its top two players and sitting at 10th in the league for offensive efficiency.
A wounded team that still counts as a Quad 1 win? Yeah, it sounds like the opportune time to bounce back.
True Shooting Percentage (TS%): Quite simply, this calculates a player’s shooting percentage while taking into account 2FG%, 3FG%, and FT%. The formula is Total Points / 2 * (FGA + (0.475+FTA)). The 0.475 is a Free Throw modifier. KenPomeroy and other College Basketball sites typically use 0.475, while the NBA typically uses 0.44. That’s basically what TS% is. A measure of scoring efficiency based on the number of points scored over the number of possessions in which they attempted to score, more here.
Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%): This is similar to TS%, but takes 3-point shooting more into account. The formula is FGM + (0.5 * 3PM) / FGA
So think of TS% as scoring efficiency, and eFG% as shooting efficiency, more here.
Expected Offensive Rebounds: Measured based upon the average rebounds a college basketball team gets on both the defensive and offensive end. This takes the overall number of missed shots (or shots available to be rebounded) and divides them by the number of offensive rebounds and compares them with the statistical average.
AdjGS: A take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It takes points, assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls into account to determine an individual’s “score” for a given game. The “adjustment” in Adjusted Game Score is simply matching the total game scores to the total points scored in the game, thereby redistributing the game’s points scored to those who had the biggest impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.
%Min: This is easy, it’s the percentage of minutes a player played which were available to them. That would be 40 minutes, or 45 if the game goes to overtime.
Usage%: This “estimates the % of team possessions a player consumes while on the floor” (via sports-reference.com/cbb). The usage of those possessions is determined via a formula using field goal and free throw attempts, offensive rebounds, assists and turnovers. The higher the number, the more prevalent a player is (good or bad) in a team’s offensive outcome.
Offensive Rating (ORtg): Similar to Adjusted game score, but this looks at how many points per possession a player would score if they were averaged over 100 possessions. This combined with Usage Rate gives you a sense of impact on the floor.
IndPoss: This is approximates how many possessions an individual is responsible for within the teams calculated possessions.
ShotRate%: This is the percentage of teams shots a player takes while on the floor.
AstRate%: Attempts to estimate the number of assists a player has on teammates made field goals when he is on the floor. The formula is basically AST / (((MinutesPlayed / (Team MP / 5)) * Team FGM) - FGM).
TORate%: Attempts to estimate the number of turnovers a player commits in their individual possessions. The formula is simple: TO / IndPoss
Floor%: Via sports-reference.com/cbb: Floor % answers the question, “When a Player uses a possession, what is the probability that his team scores at least 1 point?”. The higher the Floor%, the more frequently the team probably scores when the given player is involved.
Touches/Possession : Using field goal attempts, free throw attempts, assists and turnovers, touches attempt to estimate, “the number of times a player touched the ball in an attacking position on the floor.” Take the estimated touches and divide it by the estimated number of possessions for which a player was on the court, and you get a rough idea of how many times a player touched the ball in a given possession. For point guards, you’ll see the number in the 3-4 range. For shooting guards and wings, 2-3. For an offensively limited center, 1.30. You get the idea. Anyway, using the Touches figure, we can estimate the percentage of time a player “in an attacking position” passes, shoots, turns the ball over, or gets fouled.
In attempting to update Study Hall, I’m moving away from Touches/Possession and moving into the Rates a little more. This is a little experimental so if there’s something you’d like to see let me know and I’ll see if there’s an easy visual way to present it.