Information and analysis on Missouri players includes contributions from college basketball freelance writer and researcher Nathan Giese.
The Vanderbilt Commodores can't do anything about their 0-for-the-road donut until Saturday in Oxford against Ole Miss. Tuesday night against the Missouri Tigers in Memorial Gym, the Bryce Drew Crew will thank its senior class on a night which contains hope more than frustration or sadness.
Vanderbilt stands on the cusp of a better, brighter basketball day. While Drew might have recruited well regardless of other circumstances, the Dores' ability to make the 2017 NCAA Tournament with a surge in the final weeks of the season certainly helped Drew make the case that he had an improving program. Did it seal commitments? That's hard to say. Did it hurt Drew's argument? Not at all.
The players who will say goodbye to Memorial Gym -- as Division I men's basketball players -- have played an important part in bridging the Kevin Stallings era with this one. Vanderbilt is better positioned for the next few years because of this senior class. If VU does great things in the next three to four seasons, the Class of 2018 will be remembered in a glowing way. That is no small thing.
Tuesday is a night for gratitude, knowing that next November, the Dore could be open to a house with a higher ceiling. It is a time for Vanderbilt to fly across the court and offer one more affirmation of how much it loves playing inside its charming, unique gymnasium. It is also a chance for Drew -- who has bested Florida's Mike White on numerous occasions -- to get the upper hand on a coach Vanderbilt knows well.
Cuonzo Martin used to wear the famed orange blazer during his tenure as Tennessee's head coach. Cuonzo's Vols never hit their stride in regular season play when the Purdue alumnus coached in Knoxville, but when adjusting for circumstances, Martin has delivered the best season of his collegiate coaching career in 2018. His return to the SEC could have been accompanied by a run to the Final Four had Michael Porter Jr. been healthy this season, but instead of lamenting his situation, Martin responded to his diminished circumstances and squeezed the most out of his able-bodied players.
Martin did not max out the high-end talent he had at California. He didn't win an NCAA Tournament game in Berkeley despite having Jaylen Brown plus Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird on his roster. It is therefore an immensely satisfying plot twist for Martin to get more out of less with this Missouri roster. With Porter -- a projected top-seven pick by many conservative estimates -- Missouri had the superstar who could lift the Tigers to their first Final Four. Without him, it was easy to think the Tigers would slide to the NIT.
Martin had other ideas. He has always been better as a defensive coach than an offensive coach, and as you'll see in the player notes below, most of Mizzou's starting five is very solid at the defensive end of the floor. Martin's ability to get his players to play hard has enabled the Tigers to win enough road games to stay afloat in a very deep league, overcoming home-court slip-ups to safely make the NCAA Tournament. (Mizzou will be in a 7-10 or 8-9 game, very possibly as the higher seed in either case.)
Cuonzo might have made the Sweet 16 at Tennessee in 2014, but Vanderbilt fans know the Vols were fortunate to merely be selected for the Big Dance that season. The Vols were then blessed by third-seeded Duke losing to 14th-seeded Mercer, the gateway moment which made Tennessee's Sweet 16 possible. Martin has done better in Year 1 in CoMo than in any of his seasons in Knoxville or Berkeley.
Drew -- if he can outflank Martin in this game -- would have the ability to say that he knows how to match wits with two of the SEC East footprint's newer coaches. (I use "SEC East" only as an identifier; I know it doesn't exist in men's basketball.) Heading into a 2018-2019 season in which he will have better talent to work with, Drew can gain even more leverage for himself and his program.
Senior Night is a night to take flight... against a Missouri side whose vaunted defensive capacities have left the building the past week in ugly losses to Ole Miss and Kentucky.
Here are notes on Missouri's prominent players:
A Missouri player Vanderbilt does not have to worry about: No, the Dores won’t get Michael Porter Jr.’s return (assuming he ever does). VU also doesn’t get Terrence Phillip either (having been kicked off the MU team).
Kassius Robertson: Far and away the highest shot total on the Tigers belongs to Robertson with 335 on the season. Of those shots, 214 have come from three-point range. Robertson is hitting at a 43-percent clip beyond the arc. He excelled Saturday night against Kentucky with a stepback three, often from the right corner. His mechanics on his stepback jumper are smooth and unhurried, exactly what a shot doctor would want. He is not one to crash the glass, strictly hunting buckets at the offensive end. Pick and roll, spot-up jumpers and transition are where most of his damage comes from, but he can score in a variety of ways.
Robertson is also a very good defender, holding opponents to 29 percent from the field. He’s very consistent in closing out on shooters and handling himself off screens.
Jordan Barnett: Jump shots, baby. Barnett loves the jump shot. It’s where a huge chunk of his shot attempts have come from and by a wide margin over the second-most used offensive set for him. He is a very good three-point shooter, hitting 40 percent of his attempts. Unlike Robertson, Barnett will clash the glass. He has hit just under 90 percent of his free throw attempts.
Barnett is also a solid defender, allowing just 35 percent shooting to opponents. He’s pretty good in most areas without a glaring weakness.
Jontay Porter: He is an average shooter but leads the team with 6.7 rebounds per game. He will vary the sources of his shots, but there isn’t one area where he is particularly great. Opponents have struggled to score against Porter in the post. He has allowed just 42 points on 64 shot attempts from opponents. Overall, he’s not amazing, but generally solid in most areas. He has 51 blocks on the year.
Kevin Puryear: He is not a huge part of the offense for Missouri but tends to get his shots from all over the court. Much like Porter, there is not a specific area where he flourishes. He is essentially average in just about every facet of offense.
Puryear isn’t a great defender. Opponents are hitting 42 percent of their shots against him. He’s very bad at guarding against jumpers and in isolation situations, so Vanderbilt knows where it can attack Missouri’s normally solid defense.
Jeremiah Tilmon: For a 6-foot-10 post, Tilmon is not good in post-up situations, hitting just under 50 percent of his shot attempts. He gets into foul trouble A LOT, causing his minutes to be all over the map. It’s more surprising when he isn’t strapped to three fouls early in (or midway through) games.
What he lacks offensively, Tilmon compensates for at the other end -- he is a great defender, holding opponents to 33 percent from the field. He’s not much of a shot blocker relative to Porter, but he still averages one block her game and -- it is instructive to note -- alters shots frequently. That doesn’t show up in the box score, but coaches know how much that matters.
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