Following some concerning losses, Missouri Basketball moved to 6-2 on the year with a win against the Pittsburgh Panthers of the ACC.
It has not been smooth sailing for Missouri Basketball who had high expectations coming into the season. Head coach Dennis Gates flipped the program around in his first year which was the 2022-2023 season. Following some disappointing years, he helped flip the program into an exciting team with lots of potential ending the season ranked #23 and boasting a 25-10 record. All of this along with some great wins on the resume led many to believe they would continue on that trajectory this season.
However, Missouri suffered some tough losses early on to Memphis and most notably, Jackson State. While both of these teams are respectable opponents, you would expect the Tigers to take these wins with the roster they have. Luckily for them, they saw a decent win come against the Pittsburgh Panthers of the ACC who had a 5-1 record heading into the game. So, what does this win mean for the program going forward, and what can it tell us about how they’ve responded to their losses?
1. Defensive Ups and Downs
One of the biggest struggles early on for Mizzou has been the defense struggling at times and basically letting opponents get what they want. In general, the Tigers are pretty solid on defense. They create turnovers and have guys that can stay in front of the ball across the floor. They stay pretty efficient and pressure their opponents. The issue comes more in the sense that they tend to let opponents get away or make come backs to keep the game tight throughout. Pit was able to go on a few scoring runs that allowed them to pull ahead of a 7+ point deficit multiple times.
Obviously games have ebbs and flows and momentum changes, but these runs happen often for the Tigers. In the last five minutes of the game, Missouri had a 64-54 lead and allowed Pitt to come all the way within two point in roughly three minutes of game time. These are the sorts of runs especially late in the game that can hurt the Tigers. Momentum sways, but keeping these to a minimum is crucial for Missouri.
2. The Three
Staying with that final comeback Pitt made in the last five minutes, one other factor was noticeable. In that three minute span where Pitt made a comeback and it looks like they were primed to take the game, Missouri failed to score at all. In that time, Pitt took some big shots that could’ve easily swung the game in their favor. Shooting from deep has not been a strong suit for Missouri. Now that’s fine to an extent as they do find success inside most of the time. However, last night Pitt was able to match their presence a little more. In truth, this point could be an overall offensive question to look at.
Inside the arc, they have been decent or at least passable, but from the three and at the line, the Tigers have missed a lot of key shots. Against Pitt, Missouri only had a free throw rating (FTR) of 23.3 which basically means they are not getting to the line often compared to the shots they are taking. Again, the bigger question still stands as their ability to find shots from deep.
3. Pick and Excel
You may have noticed a trend with this so far. Missouri is a solid team so far based on what we know, but has some weaknesses. They’re good at a lot of things, but not great at them. They can shoot from three at times, but are very middle of the road there. They can play defense, but let teams get at them at will. They might have a good night on the glass, but typically don’t dominate. In essence, this team needs to pick an identity and excel in it. That could go a few ways depending on who you ask.
The three ball is a huge part of today’s game, so the Tigers could begin to emphasize their shooting abilities. They have a solid interior presence, so maybe they can find ways to grab boards and keep that presence inside. Maybe they try to find rotations that allow them to keep a consistent defensive presence. Whichever way they go, if Dennis Gates gets his team to find something to not just be on and off or just okay at, but really excel, then this team can take a step forward.
The Tigers remain in a bit of limbo right now until that ability is achieved. They open up their December schedule at home against a pretty good Wichita State team. They then have a rough few matchups at #5 Kansas, against Seton Hall, and at #24 Illinois before a final game against Central Arkansas. They will be thrown into the fire so to speak, but this is an opportunity for the Tigers to sink or swim. Again, if they can find something to really excel in, then this team can do great things. As it stands right now, the question is what can that be?