As the calendar crossed into 2019, things appeared to be looking up for Missouri basketball. The Tigers were riding a six-game winning streak and seemed to have found a way to win despite losing star player Jontay Porter before the season.
What a difference two games make.
The Tigers head into Wednesday’s game against Alabama looking to grasp momentum as the team’s two-game slide has put all talk of a potential postseason tournament berth on hold. Missouri tips off against the Crimson Tide at 8 p.m. in Mizzou Arena and the game will air on the SEC Network.
Here are the biggest issues hurting Missouri during SEC play:
Tilmon’s last three games have been dreadful. He’s played a combined 34 minutes with just 11 points, three rebounds, nine turnovers and 15 fouls. Missouri isn’t going to win as long as that trend continues. Nationally, Tilmon is tied for eighth in personal fouls per game with 3.71, which is slightly up from his average as a freshman. You can make the case his foul problems have become worse. Not all of this is Tilmon’s fault. Missouri wasn’t expecting him to be the focal point of the offense and once Porter went down, it left MU without much depth. Tilmon is Missouri’s best post defender and can be a huge part of its rebounding. Cuonzo Martin has to figure out a way to keep him on the floor.
Maybe the most synonymous word when talking about Missouri’s losses in the Martin era, the Tigers have had 35 in the past two games. Usually when Missouri stays under 15 turnovers for a game, the Tigers are able to keep it close and win. But once the number starts heading toward 20, MU is in trouble. Martin said on Monday’s SEC teleconference that some of the ways MU turns the ball over has shocked him because he has dedicated a lot of practice time to turnovers since November. Martin has said part of the issue is all the newcomers Missouri is working into its lineup and the growing pains of a young team, but this isn’t exactly a new issue.
In almost all of Missouri’s games against high-major competition, the Tigers haven’t gone into halftime without a three- to four-minute scoring drought in the final 10 minutes. According to KenPom.com, Missouri is averaging just 15.1 points in the final 10 minutes of the first half in games against high-major competition. That’s not going to get in done in the SEC. In Missouri’s overtime win against Central Florida, the Tigers scored just six points in the final 10 minutes of the first half. Last Tuesday against Tennessee, MU scored just 12.
This is another issue that Porter’s absence presents. The Tigers have no go-to scorer. It was the same issue Missouri had last season without Michael Porter Jr., where the Tigers had to rely on Jordan Barnett or Kassius Robertson to bail them out. Jordan Geist and Mark Smith have been pleasant surprises, but they’ve struggled during those scoring droughts and Tilmon hasn’t been on the floor for a lot of them because of his foul issues. Of Missouri’s problems, this appears to be the hardest to address.