When Cuonzo Martin came to Missouri, along with considerable excitement and talented recruits, his reputation in college basketball was fairly established. Really good person, pretty good coach, and fielding teams that play with toughness and defense and effort but often struggled to score.
Missouri experienced both sides of the Cuonzo Ball coin last week, grinding out an impressive 59-55 home win over Tennessee, with lots of grit if not a lot of scoring, and then losing 60-49 at Texas A&M on Saturday in a generally disastrous offensive performance.
Of course, Missouri (13-6, 3-3 in SEC play through Sunday) has some offensive firepower, so not every game is a low-scoring, grinding battle of wills and rebounds. Jordan Barnett and Kassius Robertson can score in bunches and pour in three-pointers when they’re on. Freshman Jeremiah Tilmon gives the Tigers a scoring presence in the post, and freshman big man Jontay Porter can score inside and outside and set up other players with his passing.
But Saturday was certainly a poor showing. Barnett couldn’t get much going and committed four turnovers, perhaps bothered by the length of Texas A&M (13-6, 2-5 in SEC through Sunday). Robertson made just 1 of 11 shots. When those two are both off, Missouri’s offense can look ugly.
As for a bright spot, the Tigers battled back from a nine-point halftime deficit to take a brief lead in the second half, showing that toughness that Martin wants out of his teams. Also, point guard Jordan Geist played 25 minutes without committing a turnover.
Getting good guard play will be crucial for Missouri as the season wears on and the NCAA Tournament push continues. The Tigers will have some chances to build that resume coming up. After a home game with a better-than-expected Auburn team on Wednesday (8 p.m. on SEC Network), the Tigers travel to Starkville, Miss., for a Saturday night game with Mississippi State (7:30 p.m. on SEC Network).
Auburn (17-2, 5-1 in SEC play) has been the surprise of the SEC so far, with a good offense and charismatic coach Bruce Pearl. Taking care of home games will be key for Missouri as SEC play wears on.
On the flip side, all road wins are precious. Missouri has ended its long road losing streak and SEC road losing streak, but they still don’t have a lot of recent success in road games yet. This is a winnable road game, but it probably won’t be easy.
Mississippi State (14-5, 2-4 in SEC play) played a pretty manageable nonconference schedule and then didn’t get off to a great start in conference play. Junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon leads the Bulldogs in scoring, and junior forward Aric Holman is a good scorer and rebound who also has good shooting touch from outside.
Road conference games are usually tough, but it would be a big step for the Tigers to cap their week with another road win.