Night Line: Missouri’s Unselfish Offense Leading the Tigers to SuccessPosted by EJacoby on December 7th, 2011
Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanJacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games. [ed. note: Jacoby was in MSG last night, so this necessarily ran a little later.]
After defeating another quality opponent on Tuesday night, undefeated Missouri improved its already-impressive offensive numbers on the season. In the win over Villanova at the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden, the Tigers assisted on 23 of their 28 field goals, a tremendous rate, and also improved their assist average to 17 per game for the season (#13 nationally). Phil Pressey was the catalyst on both ends, recording 12 assists and three steals in just 24 minutes of action. Backup point guard Michael Dixon relieved him to the tune of seven assists and two steals in 25 minutes. While Pressey and Dixon don’t get the national publicity of some of the other big-name lead guards across the country, they are extremely valuable pieces to the nation’s leading offensive attack.
Missouri now ranks first in the nation in offensive efficiency (124.8) and points per possession (1.25), fueled by the unselfish play of their primary ballhandlers. Not only does Mizzou rack up assists at an impressive rate, but it also turnsthe ball over as infrequently as nearly any team in the country. They turn it over just under 10 times per game, good for the sixth fewest miscues in the nation. Add up these two factors, and it’s no surprise that the Tigers lead all of Division I with a 1.79 assist-to-turnover ratio. While it’s hard to envision this team keeping up its scorching shooting for the rest of the year, what won’t change is this team’s style of play. Tremendous ball movement and valuing possessions will put the Tigers in a position to score points against anyone.
Frank Haith’s team defeated Villanova, 81-71, on Tuesday night, which included a 13-point lead at halftime and several big shots to stop VU’s momentum in its push for a comeback in the second half. If there were concerns about the team’s lack of an interior presence, Villanova couldn’t confirm them. The Wildcats play a similar style of basketball and simply couldn’t get anything going in the paint. Mouphtaou Yarou put up a pedestrian stat line of 11 points and eight rebounds, while reserve big man Markus Kennedy didn’t score in eight minutes. At times in the second half, Villanova’s large fan turnout got the building rocking, but the Tigers halted any thoughts of a comeback with numerous big shots by Marcus Denmon, who shot an outstanding 10-16 from the field with six three-point makes. As was pointed in last night’s After the Buzzer piece, Denmon is truly playing like an All-American so far this season. He’s now up to a 21.2 PPG average on the year on 54.7% shooting, as well as averaging 5.6 rebounds, two assists, and 1.5 steals per game.
Denmon described his team’s effective offense on Tuesday, saying that they “kept the ball moving and started making some shots.” Given the tremendous talent on this team, these are the two major factors that will make them tough to stop offensively. While it’s evident that players like Denmon and Kim English (15 points on Tuesday) are great scorers, it’s their unselfish ball movement that really makes this year’s Tigers tick. A fellow four-guard attack could not contain the Missouri perimeter in MSG, and it will be up to their future opponents to think of a more effective game plan. Mizzou’s next big test will come against currently undefeated Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis. As long as Pressey, Dixon, and the Tigers keep up their unselfish attack, it could be Big 12 play before they lose their first game of the season.