Late-season skid puts bitter end to historic season for women’s basketball
Missouri’s season ended after a 80-70 loss to Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Mar. 20, 2018
Head coach Robin Pingeton stood on the sideline with her hands on her hips as she watched the last seconds of her team’s season tick away.
After the final buzzer sounded, Missouri had been stunned by 12-seed Florida Gulf Coast, as an 80-70 loss ended the season of Pingeton’s most talented team at Missouri.
Missouri had one of its most successful seasons in recent memory, but the success of the regular season could be overshadowed with a late-season skid that left a bitter taste in the mouths of Tiger fans.
Missouri’s loss in the first found of the NCAA Tournament was the Tigers’ third loss in their last four games and ended a season of firsts for the Tigers.
Missouri was ranked as high as 11th in the country, the program’s highest ranking since 1984, and had the most wins since the 1983-84 season.
After a strong start to the season and a dominant run in Southeastern Conference play, Missouri’s season took a turn for the worse after the Tigers went to College Station and were blown out 82-63 in their regular season finale against Texas A&M.
Missouri then went to Nashville, Tennessee, for the SEC Tournament. There, Missouri’s offensive dominance in the regular season vanished. Missouri escaped the first round with a 59-50 win against league-worst Ole Miss, and its offense was suffocated in a 55-41 loss to Georgia in the second round.
The Tigers then traveled to Palo Alto, California, where any Tiger not named Sophie Cunningham was devoid of effort. Missouri’s shooting hurt it as well as the two problems that plagued the Tigers all season: turnovers and ball pressure.
Missouri struggled to force turnovers all year. The Tigers were 334th in the country in steals and were 344th of 349 teams in NCAA Division I with 10.5 turnovers forced per game.
The lack of ball pressure from Missouri and an offense that turned the ball over 475 times this season led to the team losing the turnover battle in 28 of its 32 games this season, forcing the Tigers to outscore their opponents with fewer possessions in nearly every contest.
Losing possessions from turnovers put a lot of pressure on Missouri’s shooting. Because Missouri would almost always have fewer quality possessions than the other team, the only way for the team to win would be by outshooting its opponent.
The strategy worked well for most of the season as Missouri shot 45.8 percent from the field, the 19th-best mark in the country, and used its efficiency on offense to mask the problem of the team’s lack of ball control.
But once the Tigers lost their shooting touch late in the season, they couldn’t overcome their issues with turnovers and on-ball defense.
Now, Missouri will look toward next year and will need to find a way to create more turnovers to be able to take the next step in becoming one of the top programs in the country.
Missouri will also have to look at improving its defense despite losing redshirt senior Jordan Frericks, the team leader in steals and the team’s second-best player behind Cunningham.
The Tigers have two options to replace Frericks. First, they can replace her with redshirt sophomore Hannah Schuchts and have junior Cierra Porter switch to a more post-oriented role on offense.
Schuchts is a player who specializes in shot blocking and spacing the floor on offense. She was fourth on the team with 17 blocks, despite only averaging 7.8 minutes of play per game this year.
Schuchts was also fifth on the team in 3s with 15 and fourth on the team in 3-point percentage, shooting 37.5 percent from behind the arc.
The switch to the post could be good for Porter, who struggled shooting outside jumpers this season. Porter shot 25 percent from behind the arc but was much more efficient inside, shooting 50 percent on shots inside the arc.
Inserting Schuchts into the lineup would allow Missouri to add more rim protection to help the defense when it is exposed on direct drives to the basket, like in the loss to Florida Gulf Coast. Also, Schuchts would space the floor on offense and allow Porter to shift to a position where she can be more efficient and also use her size to grab more offensive rebounds.
The second option would be to replace Frericks with a more traditional wing player. Missouri will add two wings next year when it brings in Grace Berg and freshman Haley Troup.
Berg, a senior at Indianola High School in Iowa, is ranked as the 37th best player in the class of 2018 by ESPN.com. She is a wing player with a skill set similar to sophomore Amber Smith and Cunningham.
Troup transferred from South Carolina in the summer and will join the team after redshirting her freshman season. Troup is a 5-foot-10 player who had over 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds at Gadsden City High School in Alabama.
Adding Troup or Berg as fourth wing players would give Missouri more quickness for defense on the perimeter. With more long wing players, the Tigers would be able to pressure the ball and create more turnovers and deflections.
Also, Smith has shown herself to be capable of playing as a smaller power forward. She filled in for part of the 2016-17 season as a power forward once Frericks missed the season with a knee injury. Smith is also a good rebounder. She was third on the team with 5.3 rebounds per game playing from the wing.
Adding Troup or Berg and switching Smith to a small-ball power forward would make the Tigers more athletic on both sides of the floor, allowing Missouri to apply more pressure on defense and to better defend one-on-one against drives to the basket.
The added athleticism would also add more players who can drive to the basket and space the floor with better shooting from outside, as Troup and Berg are both better shooters than Frericks.
No matter what changes Pingeton makes for next year’s team, fixing the issues that plagued the Tigers in the postseason will determine whether they can make the next step and become a team that can advance out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Edited by Joe Noser | firstname.lastname@example.org