At first glance Missouri’s SEC schedule looked to be tailor-made for a 3-0 start, with a home game against Georgia followed by road tilts at Auburn and Vanderbilt. But after losing to an emotional group of Bulldogs in the league opener and at Vanderbilt on Thursday night, Frank Haith’s team finds itself sitting at 1-2 in SEC play. The difference in Vanderbilt’s 78-75 win on Thursday night was the three-point line, and that’s not referring solely to the number of shots the shorthanded Commodores made from distance either.
Down to a seven-man rotation thanks to injuries and suspensions, Kevin Stallings’ team isn’t blessed with a high number of scoring options. And given their lack of experience in the post, with both Damian Jones and Luke Kornet being freshmen, Vanderbilt has to do much of its scoring from the perimeter.
That’s exactly what happened against Missouri, with the Commodores shooting 12-for-32 from beyond the arc with 54.2% of their shot attempts being three-pointers. Seniors Rod Odom (24 points) and Kyle Fuller (22) combined for ten of the 12 makes, as Vanderbilt did a good job of working the ball around against the Missouri defense to create those looks. 12-for-32 may not look aesthetically pleasing, but it does when you outscore your opponent by 18 points from beyond the arc as Vanderbilt did on Thursday.
But that margin wasn’t the biggest problem for Missouri. The problem: they attempted 23 three-pointers (making six) on a night that saw them outscore Vanderbilt 36-16 in the paint. Remove Jabari Brown’s 4-for-7 night from deep and the other Tigers shot a combined 2-for-16 from three (Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross shot a combined 0-for-11), so why not continue to attack the basket when Vanderbilt lack both interior brawn and depth? Missouri settling for jump shots at times got them in trouble, digging a hole that proved too deep to climb out of in the end.
The Tigers may have entered the game third in the SEC in three-point percentage, making 36.2% of their attempts, but on this night the best course of action would have been to pass up some of those three-point shots for even more attempts in the paint. Also of note were the 12 layups Missouri missed. Make the majority of those and Missouri likely wins the game.
Vanderbilt deserves credit for this victory, and it’s a big one for the Commodores when considering their lack of numbers. But this was a game Missouri couldn’t afford to drop if they’re to be a credible player in the SEC race. To start SEC play 1-2 is a disappointment, and it makes their game against Alabama on Saturday even more important.
While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.
One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).
They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.
That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.
“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”
As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.
Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.
But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.
With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.
Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.
“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”
Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.
As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.