Florida State is tenacious on defense and seeking answers on offense. Will the Tigers be able to score enough to make things interesting?
Did you know that Leonard Hamilton only took Florida State to one NCAA Tournament in his first six years? It’s one of my favorite little factoids in college basketball.
Hamilton, who is coaching his 20th season in Tallahassee, has turned the Seminoles into a well-oiled machine, making five of the past six tournaments and regularly turning out NBA prospects. His teams have a set identity — athletic, touch on defense with the occasional offensive flourish from their stars — and he’s one of the most respected coaches in the country.
It’s a path that I’m sure Cuonzo Martin would love to walk at Missouri… or really anywhere.
For the second time in Martin’s tenure as Missouri’s head coach, the Tigers will meet the Seminoles in a basketball tournament, albeit the first meeting had far more stakes than this one. The last time these two teams crossed paths, Missouri was desperately trying to work Michael Porter, Jr. back into the rotation to cover for Jordan Barnett’s DUI-related absence. Florida State, on the other hand, was just starting a run to the Elite Eight to mark the first year of Hamilton’s latest run of highly successful seasons.
This time, things are a bit more nebulous for Missouri. Just a little over a week after losing to Kansas City in embarrassing fashion, the Tigers battled back from a double digit deficit in the second half and bested a likely NCAA bubble team on a neutral court. It was the sort of win that first made you squirm but then made you shout as the Tigers finally found their offensive rhythm behind Kobe Brown and Ronnie DeGray III. The Tigers are still on the wrong side of the KenPom top 100 with much of the brutal non-conference schedule left, but things seem to be trending positively after a disappointing start to the season.
Monday’s Jacksonville Classic championship against Florida State marks the beginning of a difficult run for the Tigers, one that should test them immensely as they head into the rest of the season. We’ll see what Missouri is truly made out of in these next few weeks, but it all starts against the Seminoles, who offer the Tigers their first real shot at a big-time upset in 2021.
Note: These starting lineups are projected.
Leonard Hamilton clearly has a set five that he likes to run with for much of the game, but he does run a fairly deep bench, including four players with minute shares over 33 percent. It all starts down low with senior Malik Osborne, who has been nearly unstoppable in every facet of the game so far. He’s rebounding and shooting better than ever before, he’s cut down on fouls almost completely, and has been a force at the rim drawing fouls. Read below for more details on him.
Osborne isn’t the only senior Hamilton brings with him this season. Anthony Polite is the Seminoles’ wing extraordinaire, though he produces more like a combo forward with his rebounding and defending abilities. RayQuan Evans also gets most of the run at combo guard, where he’s a force on defense and a better than average shooter (though he’s prone to turnovers.) And fifth-year senior Wyatt Wilkes provides Hamilton some extra rim protection off the bench when needed. Freshman Matthew Cleveland rounds out the five main contributors, and while he’s yet to find his jumper, he’s been a steady piece for Hamilton early on. He doesn’t foul a ton, doesn’t give the ball up and crashes the defensive glass well. Even though he’s a foul waiting to happen, Tanner Ngom will scare most people not named Jordan Wilmore with his 7’2” stature.
Oh, I’m sorry, did you get hung up on Ngom’s size? Well perhaps you should also meet junior Naheem McLeod and freshman John Butler who reach 7’4” and 7’1”, respectively. The three-headed seven foot hydra makes Florida State the nation’s tallest team by average. Both get a little more run than Ngom, though as luck would have it, neither is a particularly gifted rebounder. McLeod doesn’t kill his team with fouls and can pass it out of the post a little, but Butler is the real story, as he’s posted a 14.8 block percentage and a true shooting percentage north of 82 on the young season.
Caleb Mills serves as the team’s primary usage guy early on, and he’s still got a ways to go before he figures it out. Mills is a terror on defense for his smaller stature (small for a Florida State team, anyway), and he’s a more-than-willing shooter who has Hamilton’s trust. It’s likely only a matter of time before he starts seeing shots fall .
Also clocking steady minutes off the bench is a name that may sound familiar to you. After nearly committing to Missouri out of high school, Cam’Ron Fletcher has found a landing spot in Tallahassee after last year’s dramatic exit from Kentucky. Fletcher is playing a reserve role this season, and he’s done fairly well, mostly reserving his energy for the offensive glass and close-range shots. He’s yet to find his footing on a consistent basis and still struggles with fouls. Freshman Jalen Warley rounds out the secondary contributing group, though he’s yet to make much of an impact at this point. But he’s another warm body over 6’6” and will be useful to Hamilton as he continues to run out giants.
When Missouri has the ball…
What to Watch | Clean up on second chances and missed looks
It should be pretty obvious by now that Missouri isn’t the greatest team offensively. They lack a primary distributor or any true knock down shooters. There are certainly guys that can score, but they all depend on hot streaks more than anything. All of that against a Leonard Hamilton defense spells trouble.
However, for all the excellent things Florida State does defensively, they’ve not been particularly strong on the defensive glass thus far, ranking 264th in the country. Mizzou hasn’t been spectacular on the offensive glass, but they’re just now coming off a game in which put backs and clean ups were integral to a comeback victory. If the Tigers want any chance of putting up the points needed for a major upset, they’ll need to do some serious work on the glass. Moving to Kobe Brown and Ronnie DeGray III — two of the team’s best rebounders — as a de facto small ball front court may help.
When Florida State has the ball…
What to Watch | Who’s guarding Malik Osborne?
The Seminoles grade out well by KenPom’s efficiency marker — 45th in the country — but that flat number is a bit misleading. Aside from offensive rebounding, where they rank 23rd, Florida State only ranks in the top 100 in one other category: assists per made field goal (86th). If the Tigers can muck things up, they could be able to keep themselves close in the midst of a rock fight.
That is, of course, assuming they can find someone to take on Malik Osborne. The senior has been electric in four games so far, dominating both ends of the glass, drawing fouls at one of the best rates in the country and posting a 75.5 true shooting percentage (including a scorching 70 percent from deep.) He’ll be one hell of a task for Kobe Brown, especially with his recent foul issues. But if Missouri wants to slow things down (which won’t be easy), they’ll need to slow Osborne down first and make someone else beat them.
Florida State 73, Missouri 64 | KenPom has Mizzou’s win expectancy at 20 percent here, which feels generous considering that nasty little Kansas City loss we had to witness little more than a week ago. However, Missouri seems to have turned at least something of a corner, refocusing itself on defense and finding enough offense to get by in games like the one we saw last night. Florida State is quite a task, but it’s also Missouri’s first real chance to prove itself against a top-flight team in 2021. How they fare here should give us more of an inclination how the rest of the year may look.