When Michael Porter Jr. went down to injury, many people instantly wrote off the Missouri Tigers. Expecting them to be a one-trick pony riding the success of a player likely to be a top 5 NBA pick, losing that star had to be a death sentence, no? Actually, this is still an incredibly talented roster with experienced, useful pieces at all positions. At point guard, a 5th year senior and graduate transfer Kassius Robertson (from my home and native land of Canada, by the way!), on the wing, senior sharpshooter Jordan Barnett, joined by physical junior Kevin Puryear. Though Porter Jr. was the gem of his recruiting class, Jeremiah Tilmon and Michael’s brother Jontay Porter were both highly ranked recruits on their own right, ready to help Missouri instantly and make their own mark on Tigers basketball.
Florida takes on this Missouri squad on Saturday, January 6th and will be looking to bring their SEC record to a crisp 3-0. What should you expect from this resilient Missouri team? Here is the scouting report.
Season To Date
Missouri is sitting at 11-3, working through a decent non-conference schedule without any major wins or debilitating losses. Victories over St. Johns, UCF, and South Carolina are standing as their best, and losses to West Virginia, Utah, and a 88th ranked KenPom team in Illinois are the tarnishes. Taking the Mountaineers down to the wire only losing 83-79, the Tigers proved they are able to hang with elite competition by handling the ferocious defensive pressure and almost coming out on top. If the Tigers were able to knock off the Gators it would be their best win by a sizeable margin to this point so you can bet they’ll be hungry to get this victory at home.
Mizzou Arena. Even though Missouri has been a struggling basketball program the last several seasons Mizzou Arena has always been a full house with an electric atmosphere, so you can bet now that they’re relevant again that arena will be rocking. KenPom ranks Missouri as having the 6th best home court advantage in the nation, and predicts their home court advantage gains them around 4.2 extra points per game. The Gators have played really well in hostile environments this season but seeing what kind of factor the home crowd has in this game will definitely be something to watch.
I guess I’ll just cut to the chase here. Threes, threes, and more threes. Corner threes, straight on threes, threes off the catch, threes off the dribble. This Missouri team loves to let it fly from deep, and I can’t blame them. They currently shoot 41.2% from the land beyond, 16th in the country. That effectiveness from deep gives them to confidence to shoot from deep over and over again as 46.1% of their field goal attempts are threes, a gargantuan number. The ring leaders for the 3-point show are Kassius Robertson (41.2% from 3) and Jordan Barnett (40.7%), and they are joined by Jordan Geist (47.1%) and Terrance Phillips (50%) who don’t put up the same volume of attempts but are more then capable of knocking down open looks. Robertson is the most difficult to handle, as his ability to both catch and shoot and create his own look off the bounce makes it certain that he will generate 3-point looks. Barnett is more of a catch and shoot guy, punishing teams for doubling down on Missouri’s post players by knocking down corner three after corner three. Running these guys off the line has to be the number one focus for the Gators, a stark contrast from their last game against Texas A&M when they were willing to give up open perimeter shots to take away the inside. If Florida is able to defend the 3-point line successfully then Missouri will have a really difficult time getting baskets as an astonishing 39% of their points come from behind the line and they get very little of their points from inside the arc (they are 334th in the country in percentage of points from 2-point range). The Gators can limit open threes in a few ways, but the most important is to not get beat easily off of the dribble. Most threes in college basketball come from a guard breaking down his defender, forcing help to come, and then finding the open man for the jumper so if Gator defenders can keep their man in front of them then they won’t allow open threes. Missouri also gets a lot of “inside-out” threes when their post players kick it out to open shooters, and that will also have to be something Florida is aware of. Jeremiah Tilmon, Kevin Puryear, and Jontay Porter are all very skilled on the low block, leading the Tigers to a team shooting percentage of 54.5% on post ups. Even though all the discussion around the Tigers will be their dead-eye shooting ability, Florida can’t forget about the players inside because if they do they can get hurt.
One place the Tigers can really struggle is with turnovers. Missouri has 8 player averaging over a turnover per game (most hovering closer to 2 per game) and all together they turn the ball over 15 times a game and on 21.8% of their possessions (302nd in the country in ball security). The Gators have done a really good job of creating turnovers this season and there is a really good opportunity to have another big time turnover creating game against Missouri. Many of Missouri’s turnovers are due to bad passes, trying to either force the ball inside or trying to thread a pass that isn’t there to a shooter. The Gators need to be aware at all times when defending off the ball and be ready to read passing lanes to come up with steals and stall the Tiger offense.
Seemingly always in the right place at the right time to contest shooters, Missouri is a strong defensive team that is excellent at keying in on shooters and not allowing open attempts. Sporting multiple layers of resistance, the Tigers make you work incredibly hard for your buckets forcing you to first go through speedy guard Kassius Robertson or gritty wings Jordan Barnett or Kevin Puryear, only to have you be met by towering bigs in Jeremiah Tilmon and Jontay Porter ready to contest. Allowing only 31.4% from three and 43.7% from 2-point range, they possess the necessary skills to frustrate the Gators if they aren’t able to solve their rugged man defense. Missouri’s plays “deny” man defense, a style where they attempt to restrict ball movement, forcing the opposing team to have to beat their primary defender off the dribble to generate offense. This can really slow down a team’s momentum and also prevents teams from running their normal offensive sets. When you stop a team from running their sets the game can turn into schoolyard basketball, and when you have the tough defenders that Missouri has then you like your chances when things go to one on one ball. Florida will have to figure out how they can make offense run when Missouri is trying to deny passes to not get bogged down and burn up shot clock. I expect Florida to use ball screen actions to hopefully get players like Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen going downhill towards the hoop forcing players that are normally playing tight to their man away from the ball to slide into the paint to help. If Florida isn’t able to get penetration into the paint they won’t be able to get kick outs to shooters which means there won’t be many 3-shooting opportunities available, and you’d love to see Florida get as many open looks as possible coming off that scorching performance against Texas A&M. If Florida does get penetration, they’ll see two excellent rim protectors in Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon. Tilmon (1.2 blocks per game) doesn’t get his hands on every shot, but he uses his thick 6’10”, 252 pound frame to close off the lane and have driving players bounce off of him. Jontay Porter, on the other hand, uses his long-armed 6’11” frame to meet shots at the summit allowing him to block 2.3 shots per game. Florida just played against some excellent shot blockers in college station, so they should be prepared for what is waiting for them under the hoop in Columbia.
Keys to the Game
Firstly, the Gators need to figure out how they plan on running Missouri off the 3-point line and then live with the results. No matter how well you defend good shooting teams are always going to hit at least a couple and you can’t allow those makes to phase you. The Gators need to be confident in their defensive schemes and remain disciplined in executing them. There is a good chance Missouri tries to pound the ball inside even more then they normally do, so finding a way to send help down low without giving up open jumpers will be a big challenge. Offensively, the Gators’ scorers need to work hard to get open as the Tigers’ perimeter defenders will look to deny them the ball. Florida needs to run sets with the knowledge that ball movement won’t be easy, but the Tigers’ aggressiveness could leave back doors cuts open and they’ll have less help side defense available if the Gators can get into the paint.
Will the Gators make it 3-0 in the SEC? Can the Gators keep up the excellent shooting form they had in College Station? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.