Hoo, boy! The season is already here and we’re playing games. I’ve published just five of the 14 SEC previews and four teams played last night. Of the four… none have a published preview. But Arkansas is coming today, and they ripppppppppppped Mississippi Valley State by 80 points. Meanwhile, Alabama dispatched Jacksonville, and Kentucky knocked out Morehead State.
The Missouri Tigers looked like we’d hope they would — for the most part — when they took the court in front of a mostly empty Mizzou Arena for their first contest of the year. The pace was quick, with the guards attacking off missed shots and turnovers and the Mizzou bigs running the floor hard and being rewarded. They defended hard, as usual, and kept Oral Roberts at arms length for much of the first half, and then used a quick hot stretch from Mark Smith to extend their lead and coast the rest of the way.
Considering the mess the country is in currently, it was fun to take a break and just watch hoops. And as we are want to do around here, we shall overanalyze a set of numbers providing our first sample of data from the 2020-21 season.
- 74, wonderful, glorious possessions: Look, I don’t expect Missouri to play this fast every game. After all, an average of 74 possessions a game would put them in the top 10 in the country. But considering all the things we think we know about “how Zo wants to play,” this is a very stark difference to that approach.
If you’ve been paying attention, Cuonzo Martin has never been anti-tempo. He’s always been pro-good shots— the difference is when tempo turns out of control. If he feels this team is the one he can trust to run, and do so while getting good shots, then they’re going to run. It only took a team of players who return nearly all of the production from last year, PLUS five seniors and four juniors.
- eFG% and TS% were both north of 60%: Missouri’s shooting woes from last year are hard to shake from the old memory bank. One thing I’ll be keeping an eye on this year is their 3FGA/FGA which sits at 39.1% after game one. The last three years, the Tigers have gone north of 40% on the season. And even though they hit 40% for the game, they did so behind Mark Smith hitting 4 of 6. I don’t think this team will ever be confused for an elite shooting team, but if they keep their 3FGA/FGA under 40 while also attacking the paint and rim, they’ll keep their eFG% up high enough to win a lot of games. It reminds me of this tweet about shooting being important:
- Win BCI, Win Expected Rebounds: Check, check. The BCI was close because Mizzou turned it over a lot. Bring that TO% down a bit. And even though the turnovers were high, it didn’t feel like they were careless with the ball. More possessions means higher turnover numbers, but the good news is that turnovers are generally pretty high early in the season and taper off. And I’d imagine with more point guards, those numbers should get better. In theory, anyway.
Your Trifecta: Dru, Mark, X
Dru Smith is just so-so-so-so-so-so-so-so-so-so-so-so-so-so-so good and fun to watch. He rarely makes a flashy play, but he nearly always makes the necessary play. I wonder if we’ll ever do something silly like take him for granted? I certainly hope not.
Xavier Pinson looked like he picked up where he left off a year ago, which is a good sign. But maybe the best sign is the extra bit of bounce in the step of Mark Smith. Smith had an alley-oop dunk that was impressive, and he even looked like the guy we came to know shooting the ball as well. And Jeremiah Tilmon looked springy, engaged, and was dominating on the glass.
Outside of those four, it was a so-so night for the rest of the crew. Javon Pickett was solid, but continues to struggle to make outside shots. Kobe Brown rebounded well, but was sloppy with the ball. And apparently Mitchell Smith was a little under the weather — nervous laughter — and Ed Chang was unavailable.
So trying a bit of a new thing, in highlighting the good and/or bad things. In the past we’ve made reference to the Floor percentage being over 40% as a good thing. It’s basically how often you cause a score when you’re on the floor. Usually, a good night is when you have four or more at 40% or above. Missouri had 8 of the 11 players who saw the floor hit that number.
Another thing to be happy about is the relatively low usage across the group, save Pinson, who is naturally high usage.
Overall, this night was what you wanted. Missouri blew out an opponent they were likely going to beat, but by nearly double what the Vegas line was. They improved their KenPom rating against a pretty solid mid-major, and did so in the way you want. With increased tempo, some shot making, and lots of attacking the rim early in the shot clock.
Up next? Well, we don’t really know. Maybe it’s Boston College, maybe it’s someone else. The only thing officially on the schedule is a December 6th game at Wichita State, a team currently paused due to COVID tracing. In the meantime, we’ll continue previewing the SEC, and try to keep track of who is playing and who isn’t.
Fun, isn’t it?