The first bucket in Missouri’s comeback against Arkansas came out of late-clock necessity — and delivered by unlikely source.
For the most part, Sean East II’s night had been rather quiet, outside of a couple missed 3s in the first half. But with six minutes left, the ball reversed to the point guard at the top of the key. The point guard sized up Ricky Council IV, drove right, came to a jump stop and lofted a tear-drop floater that found the bottom of the net.
The bucket only narrowed MU’s deficit to seven, but its sputtering offense now had some starter in its engine.
The next trip, East wasted little time attacking again. Off the inbounds, he pushed the ball hard into the frontcourt, put Council in retreat again, and unleashed a runner that pared the lead back down to eight.
A minute later, East exploited Davonte Davis’ brief hesitation in a bluffed dribble-handoff to drive to the right block for another floater. Then, to cap his one-man run, East snatched a rebound in traffic, spun, and hit a streaking D’Moi Hodge on a runout, which ended after Anthony Black tugged him to the Mizzou Arena floor. After Hodge’s two freebies, the Hogs’ lead sat at four with 3:52 left.
From there, DeAndre Gholston’s shot-making, which helped him to 16 points, carried MU the rest of the way in a 79-76 victory. It halts a two-game losing streak, brings the Tigers back to .500 in SEC play, and adds another Quad 1 victory to its team sheet.
Once again, Kobe Brown stuffed the stat sheet — 17 points, six rebounds, and two assists —but Wednesday was about the Tigers’ supporting cast. Isiaih Mosley returned from a seven-game absence, tallying eight points and buoying a sluggish MU offense in the first half. And on another brutal night from long distance, three of the Tigers’ five 3-pointers came from Aidan Shaw and Mo Diarra.
We’ll get to the data soon enough, but Wednesday was a timely reminder of this roster’s resiliency. Especially after squandering stellar starts in all three of its recent losses. But when the Tigers needed it most, they drew upon the tenacity that helped them to wins over Wichita State and UCF.
Had MU lost last night, its season would not have been over. However, angst might have transitioned to a familiar fatalism with no relief as No. 4 Alabama arrives this weekend. Instead, coach Dennis Gates’ squad dispatched a young and reeling crew that showed up at its building. That’s what NCAA tournament squads do.
Let’s review how it unfolded.
- Foul Affair: I’m taking Wednesday night as conclusive evidence that Dennis Gates’ post-game carping about the whistle at Florida paid dividends. Just look at MU’s free throw rate. It’s the program’s fourth highest of the KenPom era, which stretches back to 2002. And those freebies were essential in a tilt where Arkansas outscored MU by two points at the rim and six from behind the 3-point arc.
- Robbed of Opportunity: MU’s familiar tactic of bleeding its opponents dry of possessions worked again. Arkansas obliterated the Tigers on the offensive glass, snatching almost half its misses. Forcing 21 turnovers, including 13 live-ball takeaways, offset that bludgeoning. MU converted them into 31 points, often in the form of microbursts like the 7-0 run early in the second half to take a 43-37 lead. It was also a sea change from the first meeting, where the Tigers only played in the open floor for a brief spell in the first half.
- Bear Market Beyond the Arc: The Tigers are now shooting 29.5 percent from 3-point range in SEC play, ranking 10th in the league. Take away a solid outing against Vanderbilt, and that proficiency plummets to 23.9 percent. MU’s would-be floor spacers — D’Moi Hodge and Nick Honor — are just 5 of 28 attempts in the last three games. Patience will also be required as Mosley, who was 0 of 4 from deep last night, tries to (hopefully) settle back into the rotation. Mental toughness is a great attribute, but making shots keeps the stress level. And the whistle won’t always be so obliging.
Your Trifecta: Kobe Brown, DeAndre Gholston, Sean East II
On the season: D’Moi Hodge 25, Kobe Brown 24, Nick Honor 16, Noah Carter 14, Sean East II 13, DeAndre Gholston 10, Tre Gomillion 5, Isiaih Mosley 2
I’m not going to delve into DeAndre Gholston’s shot selection from Wednesday. For every reasonable one-dribble pull-up or catch-and-shoot 3 in the corner, there was a scoop shot as he tumbled to the floor or a fall-away jumper along the baseline for a potential 3-point play. In the end, it qualified as efficient (109.8 ORtg) for the senior wing.
On paper, Brown gives the impression that he was a consistent presence throughout the night. Yet the senior did most of his work in two short bursts — three minutes midway through the first half and two minutes early in the second half. The effort required to create them was modest: runouts on the break, bullying a smaller defender driving from the top of the arc, slipping a screen into a post-up, or putting back a miss. Sure, Brown logged 37 minutes, but his usage rate (22.7%) was substantially lower than it has been since late December. If MU can make nights like these a more common occurrence, Brown and the offense will be better off as the stakes get higher down the stretch.
Before tip-off, it was reported that Noah Carter tested positive for COVID-19, depriving MU of its de facto starting center. It was also an open question whether Mosley might return, and Shaw was held out of Florida. So, there was a world in which the Tigers — already grappling with the strain of their playing style — might reach a breaking point.
Instead, Diarra and Shaw buttressed the front-court rotation. And Mosley’s self-imposed exile came to an end. Look at the percentage of minutes logged by Honor and Hodge. That’s where it should be. Not only that, but MU averaged 1.333 points per possession during a span that largely overlapped with Mosley’s floor time. Last night was particularly encouraging for Diarra, who navigated open space well and understood where he needed to be most of the time in the shell. Toss in a corner 3, and the JUCO import put a good foot forward as he earns more minutes.
Finding a way to keep that trio interspersed in the rotation will be worth monitoring as we start approaching February.
That said, there were still times when the usual bugaboos emerged. For example, when Arkansas wasn’t turning the ball over in the first half, they could find the occasional bucket in the open floor when MU’s transition defense — ranked in the 34th percentile nationally — struggled. Exploiting that same weakness — and the back end of the Tigers’ press — spurred Arkansas’ 10-2 surge into the lead during the second half.
And as mentioned earlier, the Tigers still get buried alive when an opponent decides to send waves of bodies crashing to the glass. Per KenPom, MU ranks 357th nationally in opponent’s offensive rebound percentage. Obviously, that’s the worst among high-major programs. And lastly, opponents have started to find ways to pick the lock on MU’s zone defense by getting the ball to the nail and playing in high-low situations.
Yet all those issues are baked into our understanding of this roster and what makes it tick.
Wednesday’s result might also age well in MU’s rick house — assuming Arkansas gets Nick Smith, Jr. back at some juncture. Three of the Hogs’ next four SEC outings come against teams at the bottom of the table. They draw undefeated Texas A&M, but the Aggies visit Bud Walton Arena. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Eric Musselman. Each of his teams has started slowly in SEC play and surged down the stretch.
In the near term, the victory’s value is pretty modest. The Tigers moved up just spots to No. 49 in the NET rankings. Still, the outcome effectively replaces a win over Kentucky that slipped into the Quad-2 column last week. Had MU failed to rally, the pressure would have ratcheted up against Iowa State or on a road trip to Mississippi State.
Why are the Tigers stuck? Look, the NCAA’s evaluation metric is proprietary. Even if it was public, I’m not smart enough to un-skew the algorithm or suggest tweaks. Nevertheless, I feel modestly comfortable saying that the quality of MU’s non-con slate is likely acting as a drag. Look at the table below:
Peer Review | How the middle of the SEC fares in NET
|Team||NET||Q1/2 W||Q1/2 L||Win%||Q1/2 Margin||Non-Con SOS||Q4 Games||Avg Q4 RK|
|Team||NET||Q1/2 W||Q1/2 L||Win%||Q1/2 Margin||Non-Con SOS||Q4 Games||Avg Q4 RK|
Among teams in the middle of the SEC pack, the Tigers are tied for the second-most quality wins, have the second-best win percentage, and own the best scoring margin. That said, their non-con strength of schedule isn’t great. By contrast, Arkansas has mastered finding a handful of Quad-3 home games each season that are winnable but won’t blemish their predictive metrics.
This is how savvy programs operate. They build a schedule that aligns with the health of their roster. In Columbia, Gates prioritized forging cohesion and continuity. But now that MU has the good problem of worrying about how it impacts seeding.
Keep this in mind, too: NET rankings are a tool, not a gospel. Joe Lunardi, the patron saint of bracketology, has Kentucky among the last four teams in the field, Texas A&M among the first four out, and Florida nowhere near the cut line. Meanwhile, the Tigers occupy a slot on the No. 9 seed line. Why? Ultimately, quality wins are the coin of the realm. When Selection Sunday rolls around, the committee wants to know who you beat. Often, teams left on the stoop are high-majors whose schedules offered up a ton of opportunities.
Not MU, though.
The jump-shooting was flaky. The defense was a tad leaky — again. It required the friendliest of whistles to offset both. Doesn’t matter, though. On Wednesday, the Tigers scraped together enough money and left the store with the win. Six weeks from now, the evaluators in Indy won’t ask about how it was financed.
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.