Missouri closes out the “light” portion of its non-con schedule with a visit from the current Ohio Valley bottom dwellers.
Is it possible to have a calm before the storm if the calm is also preceded by another storm? What is that? A calm-storm sandwich? The eye of the hurricane?
Whatever the case, Missouri is in a bad spot. Things were supposed to be easier in the first nine games of the season, nothing more than a rough tune up in preparation for the real testy part of the schedule that starts in Lawrence. Instead, however, Missouri has trudged to a 4-4 record with blowout losses to UMKC and Liberty. I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, to be honest. If you’re here, you already know and are just a glutton for punishment, I guess.
However, Missouri doesn’t get to discount any remaining games at this point, especially against teams which would appear to be its inferior. We’ve been to that rodeo more than once this season, so it’s best we approach each one remaining with a mild bit of sobriety.
The Eastern Illinois Panthers represent the final sub-100 KenPom rated team the Tigers will face over the next three months. The next time Missouri faces a team currently outside the KenPom top 100? March 1. The next time Missouri faces a team currently outside the KenPom top 75? February 8. The number of top 20 KenPom teams Missouri will face in the coming month? Four.
Buckle up, y’all, because it’s going to get messy. But before you do, tag in for one more buy game on Missouri’s schedule. It may be the last win you see for a while.
Note: These starting lineups are projected.
Players to Watch
Marty Simmons is running a pretty deep bench in his first season, but he seems to have settled on a pair of guards to carry the load. Neither junior KeJuan Clements or sophomore Henry Abraham are thriving on the offensive end, but each plays upward of 75 percent of available minutes. Clements is a gifted distributor who also comes with rebounding skills above his position and a wicked penchant for coughing the ball up. Both are practiced shooters, though Abraham is a much more willing and accurate gunner from deep. Freshman Rodolfo Rufino Bolis has the game’s best name and can hit a three here and there. He seems to be more phsyically and defensively inclined, however, and will make defenders work to keep their bodies in front of him on defense. Junior big man Jermaine Hamlin is something of an offensive liability, but he provides the Panthers’ with some rim protection and bigger bodies to stack the paint. These four make up the only players on the Panthers with minutes percentages over 50.
A pair of upperclassmen coming off the bench provide some spark for Marty Simmons, though one contributes notably more. CJ Lane is the team’s usage machine despite not shooting or passing the ball particularly well. Kashawn Charles (pictured above), on the other hand, is almost exclusively a sniper hitting at 40.7 percent on the young season. He’s easily the Panthers’ best and most consistent shooter (but only from three, weirdly enough, as he’s terrible close up.) Sophomore Chris Robinson is an intriguing piece with an assist rate north of 31 percent without huge turnover tendencies like some of EIU’s other guards. Senior Sammy Friday (also a cool name!) is a highly efficient close range shooter who rebounds well and draws a lot of fouls. I have to be honest, I can’t see why he doesn’t get more run, to be honest. Of the many benchwarmers, Paul Bizimania is the one to look out for. Again, his name rules and he’s on something of a hot streak to begin the season. He’s only taken 10 total shots, but has hit on five of them, not including a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line.
When Missouri has the ball…
What to Watch | Just find a spark
I suppose we could get really in depth here and talk about Eastern Illinois’ relatively decent (emphasis on the “relatively”) decent defense and how they prevent high efficiency makes, but that would also be taking away from the fact that their defense, on the whole, ranks 320 in the country in adjusted efficiency. When an opponent is that poor and you’ve got an offense to match, the goal becomes simple: just find something that works.
Missouri has yet to find a consistent answer on offense, with small ball lineups, position changes, starting lineup tweaks, etc., all failing to generate anything resembling a functioning system. At some point you just need to start throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. Against an opponent like Eastern Illinois you may be able to get away with it… and if you lose the bottom will completely fall out anyway. Either way… time to dig in and find some answers!
When Eastern Illinois has the ball…
What to Watch | Erase all hope
The one thing Missouri does have going for it on the young season is that the defense appears to be marginally improving with each outing. The Tigers are creeping back into green KP territory on their profile, now ranking just outside the top 100 in total efficiency (hey, we need to maintain some level of positivity to keep sane.) The defensive rebounding and rim protection are both good, though the team does need to work on actually disrupting shots and forcing lower percentage looks. On Tuesday, they’ll get a Panther offense that ranks sixth lowest in the country. The Panthers struggle to get anything going with the ball, and if Missouri is going to assure themselves a dominant victory, they need to put their throats on EIU early. No clean up buckets, no easy looks, no trips to the free throw line… Missouri has the ability to completely strangle Eastern Illinois early on, and they oughta do it to increase the amount of risks they can take on offense.
Missouri 74, Eastern Illinois 56 | Please don’t, Mizzou. Please don’t. Please.