It's not overstating to say that Missouri men's basketball has never had a game like Saturday's 91-75 win against Florida this season.
After several ugly offensive performances throughout the year, it was almost as if a brand new team strolled into Mizzou Arena. The Tigers kicked the Gators' tail and ran roughshod with rapid scoring, an Xavier Pinson poster dunk that made ESPN Sportscenter's top 10 plays Sunday and a season-best game from 3-point range (63.2%).
The 91 points scored tied a season-high; Missouri also posted that mark in a 91-33 rout of Chicago State on Dec. 30. But it's one thing to do it against a Cougars' team ranked dead last (No. 353) in KenPom rankings, it's another to do it against a Gators' team previously-ranked in the AP Top 25 and with NCAA Tournament aspirations.
"We've spent a lot of time on driving the ball, but you just have to make a conscious effort and a commitment to doing it," Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said after the Florida game. "If we're not scoring, at least we're getting the shots we're trying to get. If shots go down, you're a different team."
With Southeastern Conference play now in full swing, the question is if Missouri can make games like Florida's a permanent staple of its offense.
First and foremost, Missouri will not shoot as well as it did on Saturday every single game. Per College Basketball Reference, the Tigers' 63.2% (12 for 19) performance shooting from deep was worse than just 12 other teams' single games nationally this year when shooting 19 or more 3-pointers. In short, the way the Tigers shot the ball Saturday is an anomaly.
But as shooting can be an up-and-down statistic, Martin has preached to his squad before that defense and effort can be constants. Defense isn't an issue: Missouri's 58.9 points per game allowed are eighth-best nationally, while guard Dru Smith individually leads the SEC in steals per game (2.3).
Effort is harder to measure, but Martin did say that he thought his players showed their best effort of the season against Florida. And based on the eye test alone, there was a clear difference between Missouri's liveliness on Saturday and in games such as its embarrassing 68-60 loss to Charleston Southern on Dec. 3.
"I just think it's definitely us being more aggressive," Tigers' guard Mark Smith said postgame after the Florida win. "We had a good couple days in practice recently. We came out and executed and did what coach had planned for us, and you saw it tonight."
Missouri's on the road for its two SEC games this week against Mississippi State and Alabama, both of which provide their own separate tests against the Tigers' wish to sustain their new offensive firepower.
The Bulldogs have arguably the league's best big man in sophomore Reggie Perry, who's averaging a double-double with 15.5 points and 10 rebounds. Not only will Missouri need to contain him on offense — an issue against big men, as it allowed Kentucky's Nick Richards and Florida's Kerry Blackshear to each score over 20 points — but Perry will likely vacuum up most second-chance points opportunities as the SEC's leading defensive rebounder.
Then against the Crimson Tide, Missouri will almost need to get into a shootout to win. Alabama's 83.2 points per game are seventh-best nationally and its adjusted tempo one of the country's fastest according to KenPom.
So, has Missouri indeed "found" its offense? It's hard to tell after one game and one team's set of strategies. Possibly after this week of SEC play, or after the Tigers travel to No. 17 West Virginia on Jan. 25, there will be more reliable information to dissect.
"We have to continue to improve our ability to finish at the rim, we're working on a variety of finishes," Martin said. "You make your shots, you're making plays, you're aggressive, you're having fun. (But) what do you do when your shot isn't falling? You still have to be the same aggressive, tough-minded player."