BenFred’s 5: Is Mizzou a tournament team? Can Lock create Heisman buzz?
Five topics from columnist Ben Frederickson that Mizzou fans will be discussing:
1. STOPPING MATEN NO SMALL TASK
What if I told you back in October, when the SEC announced its preseason co-players of the year, that Georgia’s co-winner would score nine more points and grab two more rebounds than Mizzou’s co-winner when the Bulldogs and Tigers first clashed in Columbia?
You probably would have assumed that Georgia’s star senior forward Yante Maten got the best of Mizzou’s star freshman forward Michael Porter Jr., and that the Tigers lost a home game.
Well, Maten did score nine more points and grab two more rebounds than MPJ on Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena. The difference was MPJ isn’t playing. And the Tigers won convincingly, 68-56, because they were able to put the defensive clamps on Maten like no other opponent has so far this season.
The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Maten entered the evening averaging 20 points and 9.4 rebounds. The double-double machine was expected to be a foul nightmare for Cuonzo Martin’s young, foul-prone frontcourt. Maten can shoot from deep. He knows how to create contact on the block. This game was going to be about limiting the damage from Georgia’s No. 1.
Maten had not scored fewer than 13 points in a game this season. He had scored 20-plus seven times. He had grabbed 12 rebounds against Kentucky, 11 against Alabama.
Nine and two.
Martin started his freshman bigs Jeremiah Tilmon and Jontay Porter together for the first time, and the team’s focus on making a player not named Maten beat Mizzou worked. The Tigers played Maten tough and physical without surrendering easy outs via fouls. Georgia wasn’t ready for the 1-2 punch of Tilmon and Jontay. It showed.
Maten made just two of eight shots from the field. He missed both of his 3-point attempts. Five of his points came from free throws, where he attempted just five shots, two below his average per game.
What happened in CoMo was a clinic on how to stop an SEC force.
“I didn’t like his (Maten’s) response today,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said after the game. “He’s been a great player; he’s been a terrific player. Tonight, he didn’t respond to the challenge, really.”
2. LET IT RAIN
I did not expect to write this at any point this season, but the numbers don’t lie.
The Tigers are one of the most dangerous 3-point shooting teams in the SEC. And if you check the numbers today, they are the most dangerous. Well, tied.
Mizzou (12-4) and Tennessee (11-4) are shooting a league-best 39.5 percent from 3-point range. That ties the Tigers and Vols for 31st in the nation in the category.
Kassius Robertson ranks eighth in the league with a 42.7 percentage from deep. Teammate Jordan Barnett, who is swishing threes at a 42.1 percent clip, checks in at 10th.
Another way to look at it? Last year’s 8-24 Mizzou team made 225 of its 739 attempts in 32 games. This year’s team has made 153 of its 387 attempts in 16 games.
3. IS THIS A TOURNAMENT TEAM?
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi thinks so ... barely. He has the Tigers as a No. 11 seed and one of the last four teams to grab a bye, along with Marquette, Syracuse and Maryland.
And get this: Right now, Lunardi projects eight -- eight! -- SEC teams in the big dance. That doesn’t even include Alabama, which Lunardi lists as one of his last four teams to miss the cut.
I doubt eight SEC teams wind up making it in, but I could see six, or even seven. The league has improved drastically. Hopefully, for the SEC’s sake, the selection committee is paying attention instead of holding on to the past. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: What an outstanding year to have the conference tournament here in St. Louis.
4. CAN LOCK CREATE A HEISMAN BUZZ?
Now that we know Tigers quarterback Drew Lock is returning for his senior season, it’s fair to wonder if the young man who completed more touchdown passes than any other FBS quarterback in the nation last season can create some Heisman Trophy buzz in 2018.
Let’s take an early look at Lock’s most-obvious competition, thanks to an odds list compiled by SportsBettingDime.com. (Lock likely didn’t appear here because he announced his return the same day the odds were published.)
Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia: 10/1
Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State: 14/1
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: 14/1
D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia: 14/1
Bryce Love, RB, Stanford: 15/1
Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan: 16/1
Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn: 20/1
Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona: 20/1
Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama: 22/1
Kelly Bryant, QB, Clemson: 25/1
Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas: 25/1
Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: 30/1
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: 30/1
Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State: 30/1
Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: 35/1
Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: 35/1
Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State: 35/1
Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State: 35/1
Jake Browning, QB, Washington: 35/1
McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF: 35/1
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: 50/1
The way-too-early preview of Heisman hopefuls found at NBCSports.com does include Lock, but he’s mentioned as a “just missed the cut” candidate.
“The Tigers’ offensive coordinator was replaced by Derek Dooley,” writes John Taylor. “Enough said.”
5. MAX REMAINS A MIZZOU MAN
In case you missed it, Washington Nationals ace and proud Mizzou Tiger Max Scherzer was watching Wednesday night’s basketball win against Georgia.
It’s too bad this guy doesn’t pitch for the Cardinals.