The Missouri Tigers are at a crossroads. The path they choose will determine whether the patch on their jersey in March says NCAA or NIT.
What exactly are the Missouri Tigers? Are they the team we saw in November and in the first half of December, or are they the team we’ve seen in the past five weeks?
The Tigers find themselves in a precarious position. After starting the season 10-0 and climbing briefly into the top 25, MU has dropped four of their last eight games now following Tuesday’s 77-71 loss at LSU, two of which came to teams outside the RPI top-100. Missouri now finds itself squarely on the bubble.
Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown are Missouri’s best two players, both averaging just under 19 points a game. But what they account for in points, they lack for in distribution of the basketball. Show me a team that has a putrid assist-to-turnover ratio, as the Tigers do, and I will show you a team that won’t make any noise in March.
There were no signs Tuesday that the Tigers have the ability to change. Seven turnovers compared to 10 turnovers against LSU just won’t get it done on most nights, let alone on the road.
As a team, the Tigers assist-to-turnover ratio is 0.8, ranking them ahead of only Georgia in the SEC. The Bulldogs and the Indiana Hoosiers are the only two Division I teams from a major conference that rank below the Tigers in the assists to turnovers. Georgia of course, is one of those bad losses that the Tigers have sustained this year. In the five SEC games MU has played this year, the assist-to-turnover ratio is 42 to 53.
Out of the 345 Division I teams this season, the Tigers rank 289th in assist/turnover ratio, 314th in assists per game, and 316th in assists. This team misses Phil Pressey.
He was a frustrating player at times for Tigers fans, but he was without doubt a floor general for MU. It’s a void that Clarkson has struggled to fill. Last season with Pressey running the show, the Tigers ranked 98th in assist/turnover ratio, which isn’t great, but vastly better than this season. Pressey ranked 10th last year in assists per game at 7.1. Clarkson leads the Tigers this season at 3.4 assists per game, which ranks 238th.
In 15 of Missouri’s 18 games, they have had more turnovers than assists. It didn’t cost them early in the year. But is is now.
Mizzou is ranked 55th in the RPI right now and ESPN’s bracketology has them as a nine-seed. But the Tigers’ strength of schedule is only ranked 122nd and with the SEC ranked as the seventh best conference, it won’t improve much.
So where does that leave Mizzou this year? Even with Pressey, the Tigers bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round in each of Haith’s two years in Columbia. I can’t imagine the fate will be much different this year.
It’s hard to believe that Frank Haith wasn’t more prepared for Pressey’s departure. Maybe he thought freshman Wes Clark was going to be that guy, and he provides an occasional spark. But it’s not enough. With all of the transfers on this years roster, you’d think he could have found one player that had the ability to pass the basketball.
Sure, it’s nice to have a bunch of guys that are programmed to score the ball, as Parker, Clarkson and Earnest Ross are, but it creates the issues that have plagued the Tigers this year.
Judging by the attendance in Mizzou Arena this season and the lack of any buzz on twitter during MU games, the fans are in wait and see mode. The lack of a point guard has led to a lot of one-on-one offense, which can be tough to watch. In the Tigers’ 68-47 victory over Alabama last weekend, MU finished with four assists. Eleven assists total in the last two games.
By the second week of February, we’ll know whether or not the Tigers are going dancing. Missouri’s only chance to improve the tournament resume is during the next six games. After hosting Frank Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks this Saturday, the Tigers travel to Arkansas, host Kentucky, play Florida and Ole Miss on the road, before returning home to face Arkansas again.
The South Carolina game should be a gimme, but Missouri will likely be an underdog in three of the remaining five games in that stretch. This is a team that’s capable of beating just about anyone. They just don’t have all of the pieces to do it consistently.
The Tigers do a lot of things well. Defensively, they’re fine and they rebound the ball well. They just get stuck in the mud offensively too often.
The schedule eases some for the Tigers down the stretch. Win four of these next six games, then take care of business down stretch, and Missouri’s chances to make the big dance improve greatly. Drop four of six and they’re probably looking at hosting an NIT game.
Win them all and they’re back in the conversation to win the SEC.