Tigers Fall Flat Against Louisville

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I wrote yesterday that it was a rare and exciting opportunity to see the Missouri Tigers matched up against an elite opponent this early in the season, and it would give us a great idea of just where the program is right now. I also said I thought the Tigers had a pretty decent shot at upsetting the Louisville Cardinals, based on how poorly Rick Pitino's team shot the ball in their previous game, and the fact I thought Mizzou was due for a bounceback from their own cold shooting night against Stanford on Thursday. 

Well, part of that turned out to be right. The Tigers did, in fact, shoot the ball much better against the Cardinals than they did the Cardinal, hitting 46% from the field Friday night. The problem? Louisville shot even better, and Mizzou was entirely too eager to give the Cardinals extra chances to do so. The end result was an 84-61 drubbing by Louisville that made them look every inch the number two team in the land. It wasn't at all the game I expected, unfortunately, and probably not the game Frank Haith's Tigers were hoping for, either. 

The problem for the Tigers last night was zen simple, and can be summed up in one word: turnovers. Not the delicious apple kind you make on a Sunday morning as thanks for your romantic partner finally letting you do that thing the night before, you know, that thing they said they would never, ever do? Not those kind. The crappy kind, the kind where a basketball team with one of the most talented, dynamic point guards in the nation gets careless with the ball and gives their opponent almost two dozen extra opportunities. 

Mizzou shot well, but the Louisville zone put them off their game all night, creating pressure and taking the ball away again and again. You just aren't going to win when you turn the ball over 23 times, period. You can't beat St. Agatha's School for the Blind playing that sloppily, and you certainly aren't going to have a shot against a team like Louisville. 

Phil Pressey was the biggest offender, which probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering his position. The point guard handles the ball the most of anyone; he simply has far more opportunities to turn the ball over. Even so, Flip just flat-out struggled last night, making poor decisions and playing loose and careless way too often in the face of the Cardinals' defense. 

As talented as Pressey is, there are times he is susceptible to overdoing things, playing too aggressively and trying to create something that isn't there. Last night was a perfect example of that. Pressey wasn't alone, either; too many times to count last night a Missouri player, when given the ball and an opportunity, went for the big play, trying to make something out of nothing, rather than simply continuing the move the ball and take whatever was there. That Mizzou still managed to shoot as well as it did is somewhat remarkable, considering how many low-percentage shots they took. 

Pressey himself may be far enough in to his college career for us to stop talking about learning experiences; as a junior with plenty of experience on huge stages he probably isn't starry-eyed in big games anymore, and his game is, largely, what it's going to be by now. For this team as a whole, though, last night should still serve as a lesson. A teaching point for Haith moving forward. The Tigers ran up against a remarkably tough and talented opponent last night, one who pressed them and put them off their game, and the Tiger players were all too eager to help Louisville in that endeavor. They played outside themselves, and consequently didn't execute their own game. There are going to be plenty of other very tough and very talented (not to mention well-coached), opponents this season. Hopefully next time Mizzou rolls up against one they'll remember this game and just play Missouri basketball, rather than trying to come up with a miraculous five-point shot because the opponent is making it tough to get down the floor. 

For now, the Tigers move on to play Virginia Commonwealth tonight, while Louisville will meet no. 5 Duke. I said yesterday we would know more about the Missouri Tigers today after seeing them matched up against a big-time opponent with as tough a gameplan as you're going to see. Unfortunately, we do know more about the Tigers today. And what we know, well, it isn't great. 

What we know is this Tiger team still has a ways to go before they're ready to make national noise. 

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