This is the first of a series of posts looking at teams just outside the main contenders. A few of these teams will certainly be national title threats by seasons end. The early struggles of Michigan State and Kansas State even further shows the importance of the second tier in college basketball this season.
So far this season, Missouri is 4-0 with a weak early schedule. Three out of the four wins have been less than 12 points, with the one exception being a 96-58 victory over North Florida. Statistically, the Tigers have continued the play they are well known for. They are currently 20th in the nation in pace (adj tempo of 71.9 possessions) and 9th in the nation at forcing turnovers. Mike Anderson's press has done its job against inferior teams, holding all four opponents under the national average of 1.01 points per possession.
The press makes Mizzou a very interesting team to watch. Coach Anderson keeps his players fresh and stick to his system. Against North Florida, the Tigers showed why the press works so effectively. Three keys really stood out from watching that game:
1) Trap the corners and use the sideline to create bad decisions leading to turnovers.
2) Make the opposition use up time and prevent them from getting into their offense.
3) Rotate to the open man out of the double team to avoid easy shots.
The first key is what most associate with fullcourt pressure defense. Turnovers not only prevent the other team from getting shots, but also lead to transition baskets. In the clip below, Missouri was able to trap right at the sideline immediately after North Florida crossed half court. The Tigers forced a bad pass out that went out of bounds.
The second key is equally as important for Missouri. Teams have to use a fair amount of time and energy to get by the initial pressure. Once the press is broken, the Tigers don't back off and let North Florida relax. Instead, they keep ball pressure and make it hard for UNF to get anything started. UNF is forced to frantically drive to the hoop with 5 seconds left in the shot clock, resulting in a strip and transition basket.
The final key is crucial for Mizzou when the press doesn't create the initial turnover. Everyone knows the old cliche that there has to be someone open when you double team. This is true, but Missouri does a great job of rotating and switching on defense to prevent the opposition from capitalizing. Without proper rotation on the play below, UNF would easily have gotten an open three or a drive. By rotating to the open man in the left corner, Missouri not only stops an easy bucket but then creates a turnover.
Missouri will be a tough out in the Big 12 again this season. The defense has been solid, but they have gotten off to a slow start shooting the ball. Rebounding has been greatly improved from last year, but we will have to see if they can continue to have success on the boards against the bigger and more physical Big 12 teams. November 30th is a date to mark on the calendar. The Tigers get their first big test from Georgetown in Kansas City.