COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin reiterated some interesting proposals to change the game of college basketball that have been around for a while Tuesday when asked about keeping the entertainment value high.
He joked while some of his older teams might not have been fun to watch, he had enjoyed them for their defense. The ideas he brought up included a shorter shot clock and moving the game to quarters to speed up the game.
"I think the women's game sometimes is ahead of ours in a lot of ways," he said.
But the very first thing he said that would help keep men's college games interesting was to allow players six fouls.
The Tigers (11-4, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) would benefit from those six fouls in a game like tonight's matchup against Georgia (11-3, 2-1 SEC). The Bulldogs get a high percentage of their points every game from the small forward, which means the ball is usually getting to 6-foot-8 forward Yante Maten down low. He's one of the best in college hoops at offensive rebounding, averaging a little more than four per game, and is averaging 20 points and nine rebounds in all games and 19.3 points and 10 rebounds per conference game. As Georgia's second-best 3-point shooter, averaging a made trey every game on 40 percent shooting, he's dangerous from anywhere on the court.
"Beat him early. You can't really let him establish position on the low block or else it's going to be a long night for you," Kevin Puryear said of Maten. "Guarding a player like that is going to take a team effort, and we know that, so we're going to prepare as such."
Maten also draws 6.6 fouls every 40 minutes he's on the floor, according to KenPom, one of the best in the nation at drawing fouls, and Jeremiah Tilmon and Reed Nikko, two of Missouri's main post players, are whistled for 7.5 and 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes, the first- and third-highest rate on the team.
Martin said he didn't see much similarity between Maten and one of Missouri's sweet-shooting big man Jontay Porter.
"No. I'd imagine Jontay would like to get to that level," Martin said. "Jontay is a very talented player, but I've always been a guy who respects guys that put the work in and the time. That's four years of learning experience. Jontay's 6-11, different kind of guy, it's hard to say that. But I like to think Jontay would like to be at that level at some point because that's a talented ballplayer."
The game tips at 8 p.m. (ESPN2).
Three's the key
In so many college games these days, the boring but usually correct answer to the question 'who will win' is 'whoever makes their 3-pointers.'
The Bulldogs have a very good defense that centers not on turning other teams over but closing out shooters and switching effectively. Three of Georgia's projected starters — seniors Maten, Derek Ogbeide and freshman Rayshaun Hammonds — are 6-8, junior E'Torrion Wilridge is 6-6 and junior William Jackson II is 6-4. The Bulldogs use that versatility to challenge shooters all over the court and are 11th-best in the country in defensive effective field goal percentage, which weights threes for their added value, meaning they force opponents into low-percentage 2-point and 3-point attempts.
Missouri has a top-20 effective field goal defense too, but has the ninth-best FG offense in the country. That hinges largely on the Tigers shooting 40 percent from three as a team, best in the SEC, and an astounding 58.3 percent from deep in conference games that is a factor of a two-game sample size. Georgia's SEC opponents are shooting just 23.1 percent from 3-point range through three conference games. Whichever line budges less towards the middle will be a good indicator of result.
The good news for Missouri on this front is twofold: first, the Bulldogs are shooting 32.5 percent from deep so far, and 26 percent in conference games. Offensively, they prefer to get the ball inside as much as possible and grind opponents down for as much of the shot clock as possible, take the best shot available and play for offensive rebounds.
Secondly, the Tigers have three of the best 3-point shooters in the conference on one roster. Kassius Robertson, Jordan Barnett and Jordan Geist are all shooting 42 percent or better from deep on more than 30 attempts this season, and combine for nearly seven made threes per game.
Florida coach Mike White had high praise for Barnett, who leads the team in points per game at 15.9 and in conference games with 23.5 points per game.
"I don't remember a guy making this big a jump in one year," White said after Florida's 77-75 win Saturday. "This guy was a good player last year and he is terrific. He can sprint into threes, he elevates, he's got a high release, he's got a quick release. I mean, he's a 6-7 catch-and-shoot guy. He's a really good cutter, he's an offensive rebounder. You think you're close enough, as we told our guys over the last 48 hours, and you're not. He demands you literally draped all over him, and then we fouled him, as well."
Puryear said Tuesday Barnett's hot streak is no surprise to him. He remembers Barnett going off for 43 points and 20 rebounds in the 2014 Class 5 state title game with C.B.C and said the difference this year is in his assertiveness. This being Barnett's last year of eligibility has helped him become more aggressive, but he's also established his role on the court.
"I couldn't tell you, honestly," Barnett said of the last time he felt this comfortable. "I'm at a place right now where I'm really confident in myself, my shooting ability and I think it's really showing on the court."
Whatever has set him in this groove, Missouri will take it. He's scored in double digits each of the last 10 games and 12 times in Missouri's 14 games this season. Barnett has three double-doubles in that span, and was a rebound away against Florida. He's started every game and has played nearly 35 minutes per game because he's kept himself on the floor with decision-making and talent: he's shooting 92 percent from the foul line, 49 percent from the floor, and has yet to foul or turn the ball over more than three times in a single game this season.