Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Missouri (#2)

Missouri offense

Shooters do shoot, but sometimes, they shouldn’t

Pretty similar to last time, but with a more obvious “they really can’t shoot threes” problem. Missouri ranks 322nd in the nation in three-point shooting at just 27.9% on the season, and I’m sad to say that even that number might be kind of rosy. In the first game of the season, they shot a pretty solid 10-for-25 against an okay Oral Roberts team. Not bad! They then went 9-for-31 in their win over Oregon. Not efficient, but hey, nine threes! Pretty okay. Since then, they have three genuinely mortifying stats:

  • They haven’t made more than six threes in any game since December 2.
  • They’ve made 43 threes total in the last nine games, or just under five a game.
  • They’re shooting 25.9% from downtown since the Oregon game, which is actually higher than what it was before they made 5-of-13 on South Carolina Tuesday.

No matter how you prefer to slice it, Missouri genuinely cannot hit outside shots with any serious consistency. They can’t really hit non-rim twos, either; they sit at 35.6% on the season, per Bart Torvik, and Synergy has them as 24-for-75 (32%) on two-pointers from seven feet or further out. Pretty awful!

Still able to score at the rim, especially now that Jeremiah Tilmon is rolling

And yet: they still remain very efficient at the rim and terrific at finding points there, both in transition:

And in half-court:

Lately, the biggest beneficiary (and Missouri’s best player) has been Jeremiah Tilmon. Since Tennessee held Tilmon to nine points and Missouri to 53, it’s been Tilmon’s team: 25, 16, 14, and 19 points across his last four games, even despite a week-long COVID stoppage for Mizzou. Cuonzo’s shown a lot of comfort in going to Tilmon with frequency as of late, whether it’s in the post:

Or as part of Mizzou’s frequent ball-screen packages:

With Tilmon as the main driver of the offense, Missouri’s gone 3-1 and picked up a pretty impressive road win at Arkansas. However, even the post-Tennessee Tigers still aren’t running on all cylinders offensive. Their offensive performance against South Carolina was legitimately impressive – Bart Torvik has it at a schedule-adjusted 1.216 PPP – but the other games are less exciting. Torvik’s same metrics have Mizzou post-Vols implosion at 1.091 PPP, 1.101 PPP, and 1.068 PPP. Agreeable and fine, sure, but not exactly lighting the world on fire. Add in the fact that Mizzou’s toppled the 20% TO% mark in four of their last five and they’re a shaky two-point day away from a loss.

Same backcourt as last time, but seeing some serious cracks

Just like last time, though, a lot of action is going to run through the backcourt. Xavier Pinson (12.9 PPG), Mark Smith (11.7 PPG), and Dru Smith (12 PPG). Pinson is the point guard that drives the offense initially and is Missouri’s go-to guy in any clutch situation; he uses a ton of possessions, 31.8% when he’s on the court. Pinson has never been terribly efficient at Missouri and has yet to crack even a 100 Offensive Rating over a full season, but he still represents a threat in a pair of very specific ways. He’s getting better at turning down bad mid-range twos to get to the rim instead:

And still loves to take threes, whether or not he can actually hit them:

Pinson still remains a fine enough passer, but he’s had a ruthlessly ugly turnover rate this season that has only gotten worse in conference play. No coach wants their point guard to be turning it over on 23.2% of their possessions, and Pinson makes a lot of truly unfortunate errors:

In the battle of the Smiths, we’ll go with the Dru half first, as he’s the much better player. Smith remains a very good defender, which I’ll explore more shortly, but he’s also been the only Missouri player to have any real success at all from downtown in conference play. I’m serious: across Missouri’s entire roster, Smith is the only player making more than 30% of his threes against conference opponents. He’s 7-for-15 and 13-for-33 on the season:

Something notable is that he’s gotten much more aggressive with the ball in his hands as of late, attacking off the dribble and trying to get his opponent in a one-on-one situation:

Tennessee’s got to guard him with someone mobile; luckily, they have their pick of defenders in this case.

Lastly, Mark Smith has simply been awful in SEC play. Torvik rates him out as the worst member of the Missouri rotation in conference play. It would be one thing if he were just missing threes, as he is (7-for-25):

But he’s also committing an absolutely insane number of turnovers. Smith is sitting on a career-worst 23.7% TO% for the season. Some of this is driven by one of the worst games of his career against Arkansas (8 turnovers), but it was remarkably ugly against a ferocious Tennessee defense, too.

The Missouri offense is a strange piece of work. When you get to the line (41.7% FT Rate, 26th) and score at the rim as well as they do, you’d imagine it would open everything else up…and yet, it doesn’t seem to. While 9-2 looks nice, it’s really hard for me to see Missouri doing much of anything if they can’t consistently hit shots beyond six feet from the rim. And I didn’t even get to their second-worst-in-the-SEC negative turnover margin! Woof, woof, woof.

Here’s a quick scout of Missouri’s rotation. As a reminder, a player must get at least 10 minutes per game to receive coverage. Position in parentheses is from Bart Torvik’s algorithm. Top five players are projected starters.

  • #1 Xavier Pinson (scoring PG). Junior, best passer on the team. Pinson draws 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes, a pretty absurd rate for a point guard. Tennessee needs to force Pinson to stay out of the paint; he’s 81-for-244 on everything that’s not an attempt at a rim the last two seasons.
  • #12 Dru Smith (combo G). Senior, transfer from Evansville. Best two-way player on the roster. Smith draws and commits about four fouls per 40 minutes both ways, but he’s probably the best pull-up shooter on the team and can score at all three levels.
  • #13 Mark Smith (wing G). Senior. Not the guy who wrote “Leave the Capitol”. Takes more threes than twos, but like Pinson and Smith, pretty good at getting to the free throw line. Has committed a ton of turnovers as of late.
  • #24 Kobe Brown (PF/C). Sophomore, pretty good rebounder who hasn’t had much success lately. Cannot shoot well at all; 23.1% this season from downtown, 24.8% for career on 101 attempts.
  • #23 Jeremiah Tilmon (center). The 1-in on the 4-out, 1-in motion front. Tilmon’s main skill is getting to shoot free throws more often than just about anyone else in the SEC. New Chris Silva, but not quite as efficient on his post-ups. By the way, the main post-up guy.
  • #5 Mitchell Smith (stretch 4). Gets the most minutes of any frontcourt player not named Tilmon, but doesn’t start. Splits his time at 4 and 5; Cuonzo brings him in for the double-big lineups. Easily the funniest player on the team in terms of how photogenic he is. Is probably related to Chris Bosh somehow.
  • #4 Javon Pickett (wing G). Wing that is a bafflingly poor shooter (29.7% from three on 172 attempts, 61.1% FTs on 95 attempts) but rarely turns it over.
  • #2 Drew Buggs (combo G). Very inefficient backup point guard that is named Drew Buggs. 4-for-21 from the field this year, career 27% 3PT shooter in three seasons at Hawaii. Went from Long Beach to Hawaii to Columbia, MO, which is truly depressing.

NEXT PAGE: On the next page I will be giving my thoughts on Tennessee’s football coaching search

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