Vols

Show Me My Basketball Opponent: Missouri (II)

Show Me My Basketball Opponent: Missouri (II)

Well, look, I ain’t got much. Here’s what I said four weeks ago about Missouri in 2018-19:

Cuonzo’s second team at Missouri follows the Michael Porter, Jr. Sorta Was Here I Guess season, where Porter got hurt in preseason, came back for two meaningless games, looked awful, and then Missouri got blown out of the NCAA Tournament. (By the way, Porter, Jr. STILL has yet to play in an NBA game. Remember when every doofus said he was the #1 pick in a draft where Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton existed?) A 3-3 start (shocker!) that featured a 15-point loss to a massively disappointing Kansas State team and a follow-up home loss to Temple has ended with a 6-0 run, now with wins over UCF, Xavier, and Illinois.

If you watched any of Cuonzo’s run at Tennessee, none of what you’re about to read will be terribly shocking. Per Bart Torvik, Missouri has five 90+ Game Score performances in 12 games and seven of 80+. They also have Game Scores of 20 (a 55-52 win over #338 Kennesaw State), 24 (82-67 loss to Kansas State), 53 (Temple loss), and 59 (76-59 road loss to Iowa State). They’re very inconsistent, are a good defensive rebounding team, shoot it well from outside, and struggle with turnovers. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, a man walks into a bar…

And while I’d like to just leave it at that, some things have changed. Namely, a nice 2-5 record since Tennessee’s 87-63 win in Columbia, with the cherries on top being a blown 70-56 lead against LSU with TWO MINUTES TO PLAY (lost 86-80 in overtime) and a 92-58 death knell to Auburn immediately after. They entered the Tennessee game in the top 75 in KenPom; they start this one #91. Oddly, Bart Torvik’s site thinks Mizzou has gotten better since the first game, improving them from #60 to #51, largely based on two losses to Arkansas and LSU where they would’ve been expected to win both. Tennessee is favored by 17 and is the #1 team in the country.


WHAT THEY BRING

Same shooters, minus Mark Smith

Editor’s note: I had trouble getting new GIFs together for this game due to processing issues. What you’re going to see is largely the same GIFs I used for the first game, though with a few new ones sprinkled in.

Smith, the team’s best player, hurt his left ankle against Arkansas on January 23 and hasn’t played since. He was presumed to return against Vanderbilt and didn’t, so it’s anyone’s guess as to if he plays tonight. If he does play, it would be critical for Missouri, as it would be for any team gaining a 47.5% 3PT shooter. If he’s unavailable, that leaves…

Jordan Geist (41 of 114, 36%):

Torrence Watson (22 of 65, 33.8%):

Javon Pickett (20 of 61, 32.8%):

Other shooters of some note: Xavier Pinson (16 of 38, 42.1%) and Kevin Puryear (15 of 45, 33.3%). Sans Smith, this group has shot 20 of 70 from three, or 28.6%. Not ideal! His return would appear to be about the only thing keeping them in it offensively.

Oh yeah, everything else offensively still sucks, minus an exception

They’re still pretty terrible in transition (14th-percentile):

They’re still fairly mediocre in the post:

And, yeah, they’re now #307 in offensive turnover rate:

The good news for Missouri is that Jeremiah Tilmon is emerging as a key presence down low. Tilmon’s still a terribly frustrating player that can either give you 19 and 8 (Vanderbilt W) or 3 and 1 (Tennessee L), but lately, it’s been more of the former. From Texas A&M onward, Tilmon’s been averaging 14.4 PPG and 6 RPG. Over the last three weeks, he’s probably been Missouri’s best player (or Geist), which has been a big help for a team that had essentially no serious inside presence prior to the Tennessee game.

The bad news is that he commits 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes and has committed 4+ fouls in 11 of Missouri’s 20 games this year, including 7! foul-outs. Cuonzo is riding Tilmon hard right now, giving him 28.7 minutes a game over the last 2.5 weeks after he averaged just 22.6 minutes per game over the first two months. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Past Tilmon, Missouri remains a fairly average rim finishing team, ranking #167 nationally in rim FG%:

And, most maddeningly, they still take 26% of their shots from mid-range and hit just 32.1% of them. Cuonzo!

Still-solid perimeter defense, still with caveats

32.6% 3PT% by opponents is a good rate to have! Just three times all season has an opponent hit 40% of more of their three-point attempts against the Tigers, and one of those was a 4-of-8 outing by Kennesaw State. Really good! So why is this not as good as it seems? Well, it’s the exact same issues as a month ago:

  1. They allow 41.7% of opponent attempts to come from three, the 272nd-best rate in America.
  2. 48.5% of opponent catch-and-shoot threes are unguarded.

When they’re guarding the perimeter, they do a good job, as 30.6% of guarded threes are going in:

When they don’t, it’s a hit rate of 36.9%. That’s an additional 0.189 points per possession, everyone!

Here’s a stat for you: Missouri’s played seven games since they lost to Tennessee. They’re 2-5 in those games. Opponents may only be hitting 32.1% of their threes in this span, but a larger issue remains: 58 of 111 catch-and-shoot threes, or 52.3%, have gone unguarded. The national average on these shots is 37.6% (guarded average 33.2%). Somehow, Missouri has managed to escape these shots with opponents hitting just 32.8%. That’ll reverse soon.

Same awful rim defense

Missouri ranks #334 nationally in defensive Block Rate and #313 in Steal Rate. While opponents have been lucky/dumb enough to drag Missouri to the #178 defensive Turnover Rate, that won’t cure an inability to block shots. Couple that with a Missouri rim defense that ranks 342nd nationally in opponent rim FG% (68.1%) and you’ve got easy money:

I don’t know that I need to run through this much further, because you already saw Tennessee do it once. In the first meeting, Tennessee went 18 of 26 (69.2%) at the rim, got 21 free throw attempts, and generally looked unstoppable offensively after the early Missouri run. They also got 11 offensive rebounds on 27 attempts. Good to hear, folks! By the way, Missouri’s rim defense is sandwiched in between Portland State and Hawaii. Those two teams are ranked #189 and #291 in KenPom. Being in a good conference allows you a lot of positive rating adjustments.

Individual matchups to target

In the first game, Jordan Bowden left an entire defense smoldering, hitting 6 of 7 attempts at the rim. It was the unveiling of The New Jordan Bowden to a grander audience. Jordan Bone went for 17 on 10 shots. Kyle Alexander, 14 on 8. Grant Williams went 1 of 8 and Tennessee won by 24. That happened! The guys who got smoked most in that game were Javon Pickett, the starter at SF:

Jordan Geist, the PG:

And Xavier Pinson, his backup:

Collectively, they gave up 25 points on 18 possessions defended, or 1.39 PPP. Tennessee worked them, over and over. I think they’ll try and do it again.


HOW TENNESSEE BEATS IT

The same stuff they did last time

Tennessee was really incredible in transition against Missouri, hitting 9 of 13 (69.3%) attempts and going for 21 points on 15 possessions (1.4 PPP). Considering Missouri’s transition defense ranks in the 17th-percentile on Synergy and their half-court defense in the 80th, Tennessee would be wise to do this again:

Likewise, Tennessee obliterated Missouri on cuts and off screens, to the tune of 19 points on 10 possessions – an almost unthinkable 1.9 PPP. Missouri’s still bad at both of these, so:

And, yeah, Missouri still can’t defend the rim. So…you know, drive. Like you like doing.

This next one is also a play from the Georgia game, but Tennessee could use it here, too. John Fulkerson’s been in struggle mode for most of 2019, but that play would work well for both he and Derrick Walker. A quick screen to get Tennessee’s big men the ball down low will drive this Missouri defense to…give up a layup. Works for me!

Play Missouri tight at the rim

Again, just like last time. Missouri shot just 11 of 23 at the rim, including six blocked attempts. Pretty good! Keep this up:

Also, get that turnover rate up

Missouri’s the second-worst team in the SEC at turning the ball over, just ahead of Georgia. The first time out, Tennessee forced 15 Missouri turnovers on 68 possessions for a 22% turnover rate. Repeating that would be ideal, especially for a Tennessee defense that’s had one truly impressive defensive outing in the last month (West Virginia).

GUARD THE PERIMETER

GOOD GOD. YOU COME OFF THE SCREEN AND YOU STAY IN FRONT OF YOUR MAN. THIS IS BASIC COACHING ARGH

LESS OF THAT

MORE OF THIS

Thank you for my TED Talk or whatever. Those things suck. Maybe a Will Talk.


LINEUP NOTES

Missouri:

  • In the three games without Smith, they’ve run out a different starting lineup each time. Prior to that, they hadn’t changed the starting lineup once this season.
  • If Smith starts: Geist/Pickett/Smith/Puryear/Tilmon.
  • If Smith can’t play: Geist/Pinson/Pickett/Puryear/Tilmon.
  • KJ Santos is on the Yves Pons treadmill: barely played at all in 2018, had three 20+ minute outings in January, and has played 10 minutes total in his last two games.
  • Ronnie Suggs is #1 at SF by default, but I wouldn’t worry much there. He garnered five DNPs in 2018, played five minutes in Mizzou’s first three SEC games, and only recently has become a major rotation player. He’s 3 of 22 on field goal attempts this year. Sag off.
  • People you can be at least somewhat mad about hitting a three: Pickett (32.8%), Puryear (33.3%), Suggs (16.7%), Santos (1 of 5), Tilmon (zero attempts), Nikko (zero attempts). Everyone else, whatever.

Tennessee:

  • No lineup changes expected; Bone/Turner/Schofield/Williams/Alexander.
  • Tennessee essentially ran with a six-man rotation against Texas A&M. None of the top six played fewer than 24 minutes (Schofield), and no other bench player topped five minutes. Fulkerson and Walker combined for 7, their second-lowest combination this season.
  • Yves Pons hasn’t made a field goal attempt since January 19 (a dunk) and has recorded just three different stats in his last 25 minutes of play: 3 fouls, a turnover, and a missed three. I think he’s done.
  • A lineup that Tennessee has run out way more over the last month that you’re going to see down the stretch is Bone/Turner/Bowden/Schofield/Williams. Williams has missed eight straight three-point attempts, but he was 8 of 21 on the season prior to the Arkansas game. That ability still exists for him, and you can tell he’s trying to shoot out of the only liability he has, recording at least one 3PA in every game in 2019. If he can hit at even a 33% rate, Tennessee can run out their own Lineup of Death, or Hamptons Lineup.

KEY MATCHUPS

Jordan Bone vs. Jordan Geist. I thought Bone handily won this matchup the first time around, forcing a 3 of 10 outing from Geist in which he needed four free throws just to get to 12 points. Bone, for his part, shot 5 of 10 (2 of 5 from 3) and had no turnovers. Missouri needs 4+ threes from Geist to stay in this game, which he’s delivered once in the last eight games.

Kyle Alexander vs. Jeremiah Tilmon. Tilmon has been Missouri’s best player over the last couple of weeks, but he rarely blocks shots and isn’t terribly efficient away from the rim. If Alexander can force Tilmon off the post, he’ll win this matchup.

Grant Williams vs. Kevin Puryear. Not that this one should be close. Puryear has been awful all month and has essentially stopped shooting the ball on offense all together, though he’s still a great rebounder. Williams should have a nice rebound performance after his brutal first outing.


PREDICTION

Tennessee 80, Missouri 63.

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Vols

Will Warren is a contributor to FOX Sports Knoxville. He loves Popeyes, computers, the Nashville Predators, and melatonin.

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