Frank Haith and the Missouri Tigers escaped Tuesday night with a victory over Southeast Missouri State University after trailing by 10 points at half time.
The Tigers were atrocious in the first half against the Ohio Valley Conference foe. The offense was stagnant. The defense was lackluster. Basically, Haith's Tigers were awful.
In the second half though, several things were different as Mizzou outscored SEMO 46-20 and ended up rolling to a 81-65 win.
The offense moved the ball more. The Tigers suddenly started to run the floor and get out on the fast break. Mizzou picked up the intensity defensively and forced some turnovers.
Oh, and the lineup was different as well.
Senior starting center Alex Oriakhi did not start the second half and played sparingly during the extended period when the Tigers picked up their level of play.
Is Mizzou better with Oriakhi on the bench? Or was it just a coincidence that Oriakhi was on the bench went Mizzou started to play better?
In my opinion, the Tigers are better with Tony Criswell on the floor and with the high-profile Oriakhi taking a seat.
Oriakhi has put together some solid numbers this season. The UConn transfer has averaged 10.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while starting each of Mizzou's eight games.
While the numbers are good, the story is a bit different. If you looked closely on Tuesday night, it was clear that the Tigers were a different team without Oriakhi clogging up the lane.
Oriakhi is a limited offensive player. He does not have great hands, so it is difficult for point guard Phil Pressey to make dynamic passes to him. Oriakhi also does not have a great touch around the basket. With most of his attempts coming within five feet of the basket, Oriakhi is shooting just 45.8 percent from the field on the season.
Oriakhi is not only limited offensively, but he has also been a liability at times on the defensive end as well.
Whenever Missouri's opposition uses the guy Oriakhi is defending as a screener in a pick-and-roll, the big man is slow on his feet. This causes the rest of the defense to scramble, which allows for wide open shots from the perimeter. This is exactly how SEMO was able to build a ten point, first half lead.
Criswell, on the other hand, is athletic enough to play the type of pressure and help defense that Haith's style requires. Criswell is able to guard multiple positions on the floor without sacrificing any size. The junior college transfer stands 6'9'', just like Oriakhi.
Criswell can also get out on the fast break. He can fill lanes and finish around the basket, giving Pressey a reliable weapon to run with. Pressey and the Tigers are at their best when able to push the ball and Criswell fits that mold.
Finally, Criswell displayed an ability to knock down 15 to 18 foot jumpers on Tuesday night, which opens up the lane for drives by Pressey, Keion Bell, and Negus Webster-Chan.
It also gives senior forward and leading scorer Laurence Bowers more room to operate from the block and high post, which really makes the Mizzou half-court offense more effective.
Oriakhi is a nice piece to the Mizzou puzzle, but Haith should no longer rely on him as a center-piece.
Instead, Oriakhi needs to see less time on the floor and more time on the bench in order for Mizzou to truly take advantage of the speed and athleticism they have up and down the roster.
Less minutes may not make Oriakhi happy, but college basketball is not about being happy. It is about winning basketball games.
Mizzou's best chance to win is with Criswell on the floor and with Oriakhi serving as a role player off the bench.
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