The Missouri Tigers are looking to get back on track Tuesday night as they host the No. 5-ranked Florida Gators (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). This will be easier said than done, as the Gators dominated their first meeting from the very beginning. Mizzou's live-ball turnovers allowed Florida to get out in transition, and the Tigers had no answer for the Gators' ball-screen offense.
But beyond the obvious benefits a win over Florida would give Missouri in terms of its conference standing and tournament résumé, it's important for the Tigers because they need to begin making the improvements needed to fulfill their considerable potential. There is a large gap between how Missouri has played so far this season and what this team is capable of.
A big reason is that the Tigers are still developing their team chemistry. They rely significantly on four transfers, including Jabari Brown, who did not join the team until the second semester. Laurence Bowers was injured at the start of league play and missed four games. The Tigers have struggled on the road, although they have been excellent at home, which is the sign of a talented team that lacks the intangibles needed to play through adversity.
I believe Missouri is a team that can make a run in the NCAA tournament if it can get healthy and develop team trust on both ends of the floor. Here are the five ways in which the Tigers must improve between now and season's end to reach their potential.
1. Get Phil Pressey to trust his teammates more
Pressey is a dynamic playmaker who sees plays early and is a willing passer. But the Tigers need him to do a better job of making the simple play and better decisions. He needs to understand that the pass that leads to the pass is as important as an assist, and to have more trust in his teammates to make plays without taking on too much of a burden for himself.
In the Tigers' losses, Pressey is averaging six turnovers a game and shooting only 37 percent from the field. Most of his live-ball turnovers are because of his trying to make the hard pass as opposed to the pass that leads to the pass. By limiting his turnovers, he also will help the Tigers' defense.
2. Get Bowers back to full health
Before being injured, Bowers was playing at an elite level. He was running the floor, staying active on the glass, and scoring on the block and from the perimeter (he was averaging nearly 17 points and seven rebounds per game and shooting 58 percent).
Since returning, he's averaging less than seven points and four boards per game and shooting just 40 percent. If Bowers can regain his early-season form, the Tigers will have a reliable and versatile 4 with the ability to take over a contest. Missouri needs Bowers on the court for his talent and his leadership. He is invested in playing to win and sets the tone for Missouri.
3. Develop a defensive identity
Missouri is an explosive offensive team but needs to be more committed on the defensive end. The Tigers can't always rely on their ability to outscore their opponent. They need to defend the ball better and do a better job in ball-screen defense. In their losses, the Tigers are allowing nearly 78 points per game -- 16 more than they've allowed in wins -- and their opponents are shooting 49 percent. The key to Missouri having success in the postseason lies on the defensive side of the ball.
4. Exercise better shot selection
At times, the Tigers settle for quick shots or take contested shots. A bad shot is like a live-ball turnover and most times results in a transition opportunity for the opponent. This is a common problem for teams that are trying to integrate so many new players. They're not sure where their shots are coming from and have not developed the trust in their teammates needed to let the game come to them.
I feel the Missouri half-court offense is well-designed and puts players in position to play to their strengths. The Tigers have two legitimate low-post scorers in Bowers and Alex Oriakhi, an elite point guard in Pressey, and two solid, physical wing scorers in Earnest Ross and Keion Bell. When the Tigers make good decisions in advantage/disadvantage situations, then trust their half-court offense, they are difficult to defend. They have the weapons to be very good offensively but must be more disciplined in their shot selection.
5. Get Oriakhi more involved
Oriakhi must demand the ball. He has NCAA championship experience and is a capable low-post scorer. He is an excellent low-post defender and defensive rebounder. He must work every possession to establish low-post position, present himself and demand the ball. If the Tigers establish him down low, the game will be easier for the perimeter players.