If you think watching Archie Goodwin can be frustrating at times, try being a Missouri fan watching Phil Pressey.
The diminutive guard is the only key returning player from a Tigers team that surprised everyone last year during the regular season by earning a #2 seed in the tournament. Unfortunately, they immediately embarrassed themselves in what was a distant second for most hilarious game that day. But Pressey is back, and even earned pre-season SEC Player of the Year honors, because everybody who’d played at Kentucky was too busy shooting shoe commercials and earning Olympic gold medals.
He’s an incredibly inconsistent player, fluctuating between obscene highs (19 ast. against UCLA) and extreme lows (10 TOs, 2 points against Florida), but don’t be fooled: he’s deadly. Pressey is a high risk/reward player that, when on, can end the game before we know what happened. If we can keep him from hitting his zone, though, we’ll be in great shape to continue Missouri’s unbelievably awful road woes.
So what’s the best way to contain Phil Pressey? Sticky defense? Going over screens? Talking about his momma? Actually, the key might be surprising: let him score.
Looking at his stats for the season so far, you can notice something pretty interesting about his numbers in losses, compared to his numbers overall. On the season, Pressey is averaging 11.8 points per game, to go along with a 1.86 assist to turnover ratio. That’s not bad, matching up pretty favorably with Ryan Harrow’s 9.5 ppg, and 1.88 AST/TO mark. In losses, though? Something curious happens. In the Tigers’ losses, Pressey scores above his average by about a point and a half (13.3), but his assist to turnover ratio plummets to 1.14/1.
What’s the moral of this story? It’s okay to let Phil Pressey score. Don’t give him a wide open lane to the basket, but don’t try to murder him on a drive, either. Let Harrow or Archie guard one-on-one as best they can, and make sure everybody else is preventing distribution. His field goal percentage is a discouraging 36.7%, so if he wants to take a contested jumper, by all means let him. Especially if it’s a three-pointer (29.7%). What we really have to do is limit his ability to pass the ball, and distribute to other, more reliable scorers. That’s going to mean watching the passing lanes and not over-helping on a Pressey drive, which would allow a quick dish to whoever the help is coming off of.
It might be fun to throw a 1-3-1 at the Tigers, with Willie up front to frustrate the short point guard (5’11”), but Cal’s disdain for the zone, as well as the already disproportionate rebounding between the two teams (Mizzou is #1 nationally with 42.2/game), mean that Cauley-Stein probably won’t be leaving the middle. So that leaves a man defense that’s gonna have to be able to guard a point who can pass as well as score.
The bottom line is that Pressey is good, and is no doubt the X-Factor for the Tigers in tonight’s game. But you can’t guard him like you guard Marshall Henderson, or Elston Turner. Don’t fall for that trap. You guard Phil Pressey by guarding his teammates, and letting him take a high volume of shots, preferably outside of the paint. I’d even be tempted to let him take an open jumper or two early on, just to get that scorer’s mentality going in his head.
Limit assists, limit Pressey. Limit Pressey, win the game. Win the game, make the tourney. Boiled down, that becomes…
Limit assists, make the tourney. Let’s make it happen.