Five thoughts on Mizzou’s season-ending 78-63 loss to Princeton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament …
1. How did Missouri lose to a No. 15 seed? For the same reason why Ohio State lost to a 15-seed in 2021, and Kentucky lost to 15-seed Saint Peters in 2022. Just in this year’s tournament alone, we’ve seen No. 15 seed Princeton knocking off No. 2 Arizona and No. 7 seed Missouri, No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson ruin No. 1 seed Purdue, and No. 13 seed Furman whack No. 4 seed Virginia. The NCAA Tournament is loaded with upsets and close calls. And it doesn’t really matter how the team are seeded; anything can happen. For these underdogs, it’s all about playing the game of their lives – combined with the supposedly superior team having a really bad day.
“I think as the years go by, especially this year and last year, the seeding, the lines, are blurred,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We always say good basketball knows no divisions or limits, it’s just good basketball. When you have veterans and quality coaching and just enough depth that’s what makes the tournament so captivating.”
2. Princeton used an excellent game plan to take down Missouri. Coach Mitch Henderson and his players successfully attacked Missouri’s weaknesses. MU has struggled on defense, rebounding and inside play — and Princeton exploited all of those areas.
Princeton scored on 55 percent of its offensive possessions and averaged 1.3 points per possession. In taking control in the first half, Princeton punished Mizzou inside by making 10 of its 15 of its two-point shots and outscoring MU 18-8 in the paint. Rebounds? 44-30 in favor of Princeton. And Princeton used 16 offensive rebounds to destroy Mizzou 19-2 in second-chance points.
3. Princeton was smarter and more poised than most of Missouri’s opponents were this season. And that was a crucial factor in the game’s outcome. This season MU ranked sixth nationally by turning the opponent over on 24 percent of possessions. In Saturday’s thrashing of Missouri, Princeton turned it over only nine times on 60 possessions – a rate of 15 percent.
When an opponent can skillfully work around or through Missouri’s pressure and traps, it usually has an easy time scoring baskets against a vulnerable defense. And Princeton got it done. Missouri’s ineffective defense can be summarized with this one statistic: starters Nick Honor, Kobe Brown, D’Moi Hodge, DeAndre Gholston and Noah Carter were underwater with a collective defensive rating that sank 30 percent below average in this lost opportunity. The entire MU team was 124% below average defensively for the day.
4. Big problem: Missouri received little offensively from co-stars Brown and Hodge. In Friday’s 76-65 victory over Utah State, Brown and Hodge combined for 42 points and collectively made 15 of 22 shots from the floor (68%.) In the ugly loss to Princeton, Brown and Hodge combined for 14 points and collectively made only 31.5% of their shots.
Simply put, both Brown and Hodge failed to deliver, and that made it ridiculously easy for Princeton to advance to the Sweet 16. Princeton played ruggedly effective defense on Brown, who missed five of his eight shots close to the basket. And it was just an off-form shooting day for Hodge; he missed five of his six shots from the floor. Combined, Hodge and Brown made only two of seven three-pointers.
By contrast, Princeton guards Ryan Langborg and Blake Peters shredded Mizzou’s slow-reacting defense for a combined 39 points and made 45 percent of their shots from deep .
When Missouri had an effective field goal percentage of 50% or higher in a game this season, the Tigers went 23-2. Well, in this dreadful loss to Princeton, Mizzou had an effective FG percentage of 46%.
5. This was a terrible loss. I’m not stunned by Princeton’s win, but I was shocked by Missouri’s no-show at both ends of the floor. Princeton deserves great respect for playing so well and checking nearly every box on the game plan against Missouri. But let’s face it, Missouri played a large role in its own demise Saturday.
Per the KenPom ratings, this season Princeton lost games to Navy (No. 178), Delaware (235), Brown (262) and Dartmouth (286) and blew a 19-point lead at home in falling to No. 85 Yale. Princeton entered Saturday’s game rated No. 94 nationally.
In the short term, Missouri getting owned by Princeton and the failure to reach the Sweet 16 will burn for a while. But in the big picture, the sting of this defeat doesn’t taint Mizzou’s expectedly successful and entertaining first season under coach Dennis Gates.
After averaging a pathetic 13 wins over the past eight years, Mizzou banked 25 victories this season and won its first game in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
After averaging a 6-12 record in the SEC over the previous eight seasons, Mizzou went 11-7 in the SEC this season and advanced to the semifinals in the conference tournament for the first time.
Gates changed the program’s culture, recruited like mad, rebuilt the team and the fan base, and made Missouri basketball exciting again. And Gates got all of this done in ONE SEASON.
None of that is damaged, let alone ruined, by the Princeton flop. Sure, you felt bad after Mizzou went down Saturday. You may have been angry. I understand.
Now, think about this: when was the last time you felt this good about Missouri basketball? When was the last time you felt so much respect and fondness for a Mizzou basketball coach? When was the last time you had so much fun at Mizzou Arena?
After being stuck in an extended period of mediocrity, Missouri opened the Gates this season and returned to prominence. And this was just the beginning.
Thanks for reading…
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz