The Huskies have poor advanced numbers expectations, but have already picked off a Power 5 team on the road in 2021.
So. Perhaps we’re not as far removed from days of old as we thought?
Monday’s loss — it was more of a start-to-finish beatdown though wasn’t it? — to UMKC signaled a low point in the Cuonzo Martin era, one that foreshadows potential dark days ahead in year five. As Sam was quick to point out on Twitter, it’s not just that Missouri looked bad… it’s that they looked totally unable to stage a comeback:
$6m is a lot to eat for a basketball coach, I’m sure we’ll flesh out more thoughts on the pod recording tonight. But you just can’t lose to UMKC. That’s what this amounts to. You can play bad against UMKC, you can win a tough ugly game, but you can’t lose that game.
— Sam Snelling (@SamTSnelling) November 16, 2021
Everything went as wrong as it could have on Monday, and it’s safe to say that any goodwill Cuonzo Martin built up with last year’s tournament selection is effectively gone. He’ll need to turn the ship around quickly if he doesn’t want to be sweating come March.
Even so, the schedule offers a few more opportunities for the struggling Tigers to find their footing. Kobe Brown has had a rough start to the season, but has shown for two seasons that he’s capable of more. DaJuan Gordon struggled to put together a complete game in his first outing as a Tiger. Anton Brookshire is still searching for his jump shot despite the lofty praise that followed him from high school.
Northern Illinois is one of three schools left on Missouri’s non-conference schedule that falls below the KenPom top 300, including Eastern Illinois and Paul Quinn. From there, things get daunting, with the entirety of the SEC (save Georgia) falling well within the KenPom top 100, a distinction which Missouri no longer shares at this point. That’s also not counting the likes of SMU, L*berty, Kansas and Illinois, all of whom wait in the coming weeks.
Wins over any of those teams could well prove that the loss to UMKC was a fluke. The way it went down was nothing short of dispiriting, but sometimes flukes are just that. If there’s any juice left in the Cuonzo Martin era, it has to start showing itself against the Huskies. It’s just about as important as a mid-major, week night, third game of the year could be.
Note: These starting lineups are projected.
Unlike the Tigers, or the Roos that just took it to the Tigers, Northern Illinois seems to be dealing with less roster turmoil than the vast majority of schools. Four of the 10 rotation Huskies thus far are in their first year in DeKalb. Those include freshman Noah Kon and senior Chris Osten — who transferred from Arizona State to help round out the bench — along with junior Darweshi Hunter and sophomore Keshawn Williams. Hunter has played some primarily defensive minutes (though he’s 2-3 from deep thus far), but Johnson has been a stout addition to Rashon Burno’s squad. Along with Trendon Hankerson, Williams forms a two-headed guardo duo that leads the team in usage and shots. He’s not much of a distributor and struggles with turnovers, but Williams finds his way to the cup and doesn’t miss a lot when he’s put on the line.
Outside of the newcomers, the Huskies have a team full of players who have at least one year together under their belts. The aforementioned Hankerson is shooting well over 40 percent from three on the season while acting as a stingy defender. He’s not going to attack the rim, as he’s not as effective there, but he’ll be a threat from deep all night. Senior Anthony Crump should also present some real issues for Mizzou’s interior, a true distributor out of the post. Crump leads the Huskies in assist percentage by a wide margin (34.1 percent) while contributing excellent effort on the defensive glass and the ability to soak up fouls.
Aside from Hankerson and Crump, Willliams is the only other player averaging more than 70 percent of minutes played with Burno opting for a longer bench. When he’s in, Kaleb Thornton allows the two to move off ball, as Thornton is a much more natural passer (though he also struggles with turnovers) and can also hit a spot-up three pointer if asked. Seniors Adong Makuoi and Chinedu Kingsley Okanu provide the Huskies with two interior defensive threats along with some rebounding, but both are extremely foul prone and neither contributes too much on the scoreboard.
When Missouri has the ball…
What to Watch | Capitalize on second chances, free trips
It’s not as if Missouri’s offense has done much to inspire confidence, but at least it ranks 111th to Northern Illinois’ 289th defense. Those numbers, however, are a bit skewed by the fact that KenPom is still filtering out irrelevant data from last season. In reality, the Huskies haven’t been all that bad on defense, ranking in or around the top 75 in effective field goal percentage, two-point and three-point defense and block percentage. What the Huskies can’t do, however, is prevent themselves from giving up offensive rebounds and trips to the free throw line. It seems likely the Tigers will experience some positive regression to the mean on Thursday, but they’ll need to make the most of their trips to the line and consecutive possessions to offset any continually cold shooting.
When Northern Illinois has the ball…
What to Watch | Create one-and-dones
Northern Illinois’ defense is even more woeful than their offense, mostly due to their bottom 10 standings in turnover percentage and two-point shooting, not to mention being dead last in shots blocked. The Huskies have, however, had a hot start shooting the ball from three and getting to the line, shooting 41.2 percent from deep and ranking in the top 10 in free throw to field goal attempts. If Missouri can prevent Northern Illinois from getting second chances, they’ll avoid the possibility of getting burnt too often from three or the charity stripe. Fortunately, the Huskies shouldn’t put up too much of a threat there, as they’re one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country thus far.
Missouri 78, Northern Illinois 62 | It may be the shock of the UMKC loss rubbing off on me, but I have to say I’m pretty surprised Missouri is a 15-point favorite in this one. I get that the KenPom numbers won’t have adjusted yet, so it’s not surprising to see the computers taking Mizzou heavily. But the Huskies have already picked off a weak Power 5 opponent on the road, and Missouri has proven susceptible to hot shooting from the opposition. The Tigers should win this one in a reasonable world, but we said the same thing on Monday. A loss here would likely start the ticking of the clock on the Cuonzo Martin era… if it hasn’t started already.