Two inarguable facts:
- This team is not doing as well as last year's, and the Big 12 is a better conference overall.
- Every goal for this season is still on the table.
In other words, a) there is still time to make plenty out of this season, and b) they better get to crackin' on that. Mizzou has seven remaining non-conference games -- five cupcakes (and no matter how down you might be on the team right now, you simply cannot think they will lose at home to Fairleigh Dickinson, UA-Pine Bluff, Austin Peay, UMKC, or Savannah State; it's not going to happen), one good opponent (Illinois), and one competent opponent (Georgia). As long as the home magic continues, they will lose only to Illinois, and they will enter conference play at 11-4 (or maybe 10-5) without improving much at all. But if they want to perform well in conference and make the NCAA Tournament, the improvement process has to start now. So at the end of this post, we'll talk about what we need to see from each player between now and the end of the Savannah State game on January 6.
But for now, we must go through last night's wreckage.
Oral Roberts 60, Missouri 59
|Points Per Minute
|Points Per Possession (PPP)
|Points Per Shot (PPS)
|True Shooting %||44.5%||51.5%|
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
|Expected Offensive Rebounds||14||11|
One popular piece of basketball data used throughout the blogosphere at this point is the concept of The Four Factors of Basketball Success: Shooting, Turnovers, Rebounding, and Free Throws. Rarely is this concept more clearly illustrated than in last night's game.
Turnovers aside, Mizzou shot worse, rebounded worse, and both got to the free throw line worse and shot free throws worse. I mean, you almost can't blame Marcus Denmon and Zaire Taylor for missing their free throws at the end -- there was probably rust involved! (Okay, you can still blame them for missing the freebies ... was just trying to emphasize a point.)
In all, the results of two of these four factors are pretty much assured from the start of the game -- turnovers will go in Mizzou's favor and rebounds will go in the opponent's favor. That leaves the game up to shooting and free throws ... and Mizzou is, to say the least, a work in progress in that regard.
Player stats after the jump.
|Marcus Denmon||17.9||0.94||19 Min, 17 Pts (6-for-11 FG, 4-for-6 3PT), 3 Reb, 3 Stl
|Keith Ramsey||12.8||0.44||29 Min, 4 Pts (2-for-5 FG), 9 Reb (6 Off), 3 Stl, 2 Ast
|J.T. Tiller||8.5||0.29||29 MIn, 13 Pts (6-for-14 FG, 1-for-5 3PT), 2 Reb, 2 Ast
|Laurence Bowers||7.8||0.46||17 Min, 6 Pts (3-for-7 FG), 4 Reb (3 Off), 2 Stl, 2 Blk
|Justin Safford||7.3||0.27||27 Min, 10 Pts (5-for-10 FG), 2 Reb
|Kim English||3.0||0.12||25 Min, 7 Pts (3-for-8 FG, 1-for-3 3PT)
|Michael Dixon||2.6||0.24||11 Min, 2 Pts (1-for-4 FG), 3 Reb, 2 Ast
|Steve Moore||0.0||0.00||6 Min, 0 Pts|
|Miguel Paul||-0.1||-0.03||5 Min, 0 Pts (0-for-1 FG)
|Zaire Taylor||-3.0||-0.09||32 Min, 0 Pts (0-for-5 FG), 3 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Blk
* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It does the same thing my previous measure of choice did (it takes points, assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls into account to determine an individual's "score" for a given game), only the formula is more used and accepted. The "adjustment" in Adjusted Game Score is simply matching the total game scores to the total points scored in the game, thereby redistributing the game's points scored to those who had the biggest impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.
- I want to rail on Zaire Taylor here -- he picked a really bad time to have the worst offensive game of his Mizzou career. Even with two blocks, he was worth -3 points last night; if he'd been worth just zero, Mizzou would have won. But he has been Mizzou's leader against "real" opponents this season, so this game was a bit of an aberration. Maybe he just really hates Tulsa or something.
- Speaking of Taylor, even though he had a bad game, I think last night further emphasized a point we've been making all season: this team lacks a "natural" scorer. We've got two guys with potential in English and Denmon, but they're still growing into the role. The two most offensively skilled players (to me) are Taylor and Bowers ... and they combined for just 12 shots in 49 combined minutes (0.24 per minute). Kareem Rush types average about 0.50 shots per minute, while the DeMarre Carroll types average around 0.35-0.40.
Here are the Shots Per Minute stats for this team against "real" opponents (described below):
Kim English: 0.49
Michael Dixon: 0.44
Marcus Denmon: 0.38
J.T. Tiller: 0.36
Justin Safford: 0.33
Laurence Bowers: 0.31
Zaire Taylor: 0.22
Keith Ramsey: 0.11
Steve Moore: 0.11
Miguel Paul: 0.09
That distribution is all wrong to me. I don't even blame the guys at the top of the list -- when English is hot, he needs the ball; meanwhile, Dixon is playing the role of "catalyst," and while I would have a problem if his minutes doubled and he still shot that much, I have no problem with his role. Really, this team is leaning too much on J.T. Tiller and Justin Safford offensively, and that has to stop. ORU did a lovely job last night of making those two guys shoot, but better offensive flow will open up more shots for the guys who should be shooting (again, to me that's Taylor and Bowers). Of course, that also requires a change in those two players' mindsets, I think, and I'll get to that below.
- Man oh man, if only Keith Ramsey had more offensive skill. He's solid on defense and good on the offensive glass, but I just get frightened anytime the ball's in his hands. He would be a perfect final piece of a good team, but on a team that needs offense (and more defensive rebounding), his skills are not maximized nearly as much.
Three Keys Revisited
From yesterday's preview. I was excited when I saw this post from Kimmeh on Twitter yesterday afternoon. Made me feel I had nailed the game's "keys" (that, or the team reads Rock M before heading to the gym).
Headed to the Arena Missouri at Oral Roberts. Keys: Tempo, REBOUNDING, Take care of the rock, make free throws and ATTACK the basket
Unfortunately, after seeing the game last night, I feel I nailed them a bit too much. And while I feel good about also suggesting that if ORU beat Mizzou, it would be because of Dominique Morrison, I still preferred to be wrong on that one.
Here is potentially the most disturbing stat from last night's game: the game was played at a tempo of 61 possessions. Oral Roberts came in playing in the upper 60's, and as I've mentioned plenty of times before, Mizzou likes the game in the 70s or higher. With a team filled with mostly underclassmen, ORU was successfully able to turn this into a halfcourt, plodding game, and because of that, they were able to get away with using only seven scholarship players without wearing down. That should never happen. This illustrates very clearly the fact that Mizzou is not nearly as able to force their style upon opponents right now, and that simply has to change. We'll get into how below.
Actually, this wasn't as bad as I thought, not because of ORU's offensive rebounding (too high), but because Mizzou's offensive rebounding (thank you, Ramsey and Bowers) almost balanced it out. In terms of expected rebounds, Mizzou was only -1 for the game, and since ORU has solid size, that's not terrible. Really, this game came down a lot more to shooting and tempo than rebounding, which is different than what my eyes were telling me at times last night.
SHOOT MORE, LAURENCE. But we'll get into that later.
Mizzou vs "Real" Opponents
Yesterday I debated whether or not to call ORU a "real" opponent or not. I was leaning toward counting them simply because it was a road game. And then they beat us ... which means they were real enough, I guess.
I figure these numbers will make the most sense by comparing them to last year's numbers from around the same time of the season. When Mizzou played Illinois last year, it was their fourth game against a "real" opponent. Therefore, we'll compare Mizzou's current stats to how things looked last year after games against Xavier, USC, Cal, and Illinois. The "real" schedule was of higher quality last year than it has been this year (Old Dominion, Xavier, Vandy, Oregon, ORU), so keep that in mind; plus, the small sample sizes here might not paint a truly accurate picture. But still, a comparison might be able to tell us something.
|Points Per Minute||1.83||1.69||1.91||1.80|
|Points Per Possession (PPP)||1.06||0.98||1.09||1.02|
|Points Per Shot (PPS)||1.22||1.24||1.22||1.36|
|True Shooting %||53.3%||52.3%||N/A||N/A|
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
|Expected Offensive Rebounds||65||61||53||48|
- Taking into account weaker competition, it appears that Mizzou's defense is actually better, and their offense is worse. What I find interesting is the Points Per Possession figure: Mizzou was +0.07 at this point last year and is +0.08 this year. That suggests two things to me:
1) Mizzou isn't as far away from being a good team as we may think. The competition is worse, so you figure a +0.08 this year would have been about a +0.05 or +0.06 with last year's slate, but that's still not too far off. Yes, this is skewed by the Oregon win, but last year's numbers were skewed by the California win, so that more or less balances out. Mizzou isn't as good as last year, but I would suggest they still have time to do so.
2) Tempo is even more important than we might think. At 60 possessions per game, a +0.06 per possession advantage would mean about a 3-4 point victory. At 75 possessions, that's 4-5. We could have used that extra point or two last night. Like a football offense that runs the hurry-up all game to maximize their per-play advantage (think: OU and Mizzou from 2008), Mizzou must do a better job of pushing the tempo. They need all the possessions they can get, and opponents have been far too successful at slowing things down this year...which is odd, considering Mizzou's defense has been at least a hair better.
- This team is much worse at 2-pointers, but better at 3's. Here are the 2-point percentages for Mizzou's forwards, once against against "real" teams only:
Justin Safford: 50.0% (14-for-28)
Keith Ramsey: 56.3% (9-for-16)
Laurence Bowers: 50.0% (15-for-30)
Steve Moore: 0.0% (0-for-2)
50.0% across the board. Now here are the 2-point %'s from last year's forwards (albeit against both "real" and "not real" teams):
DeMarre Carroll: 57.9%
Leo Lyons: 49.9%
Keith Ramsey: 67.5%
Justin Safford: 51.4%
Laurence Bowers: 58.7%
This shows us two things: 1) we miss DeMarre, and 2) we're not creating nearly as many easy opportunities, most likely because we're not pushing the pace as much.
- One underrated explanation for our struggles: we're turning the ball over more. Not a lot more, but the kind of turnovers are more costly. Mizzou is averaging just one more turnover per game against "real" teams, but opponents are creating almost two more steals. Steals are worse than other turnovers because they are infinitely more likely to lead to easy baskets, so Mizzou is giving up basically two more possessions' worth of easy baskets each game; their opponents' FG%'s are still lower than last year, but they might be a lot lower if not for the turnovers.
The biggest increase in turnovers per minute in the backcourt have come from the following players: J.T. Tiller (from 0.08 TOPM last year to 0.10 this year), Miguel Paul (0.08 to 0.12) and Marcus Denmon (0.06 to 0.08). Zaire Taylor has held steady at 0.04 and Mike Dixon has managed a respectable (for a freshman point) 0.06. Laurence Bowers has also gone from 0.05 to 0.08, which hasn't helped matters. Tiller will probably get more under control as the season wears on, but I worry about Paul. He is by far Mizzou's best assists man (0.21 per minute), but if he can't be trusted to handle the ball without turning it over ... well, we don't keep him in there for his jumper.
- Here's the most baffling finding from the above table: Mizzou really isn't much worse in terms of defensive rebounding. Again, we haven't faced as many good offensive teams, so those numbers are certainly worse than last year's, but not that much worse. Now, that doesn't change the fact that Mizzou isn't doing very well on the defensive glass. On a per-minute basis, Marcus Denmon is grabbing as many defensive rebounds per minute as Laurence Bowers (0.11) and almost as many as Keith Ramsey (0.13). Steve Moore leads the team at 0.14, but he has been literally no threat whatsoever on offense (doesn't take any shots, doesn't grab any offensive rebounds), but I guess if he can provide some decent block-outs, he'll still be worth some minutes. But he really needs to start offering something else with his game. Anything at all.
(One other area for improvement: last year, Matt Lawrence averaged 0.08 defensive rebounds per minute. This year, Kim English is averaging only 0.05. Hit the boards, Kimmeh.)
Where Mizzou has fallen off most, strangely enough, is on the offensive side of the ball, where even though Keith Ramsey and Laurence Bowers have done well on the offensive glass (0.10 and 0.16 offensive rebounds per minute, respectively), Mizzou has fallen off. The main culprit: Justin Safford (0.05). And, of course, Steve Moore (0.00).
And by the way, this whole rebound conversation once again points out how weird/unique Laurence Bowers is as a player. He's averaging almost 50% more offensive rebounds per minute (0.16) than defensive (0.11). You figure it out, because I can't.
|Zaire Taylor||12.1||0.39||31.2 MPG, 9.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.2 APG, 2.8 SPG|
|Laurence Bowers||11.2||0.56||20.0 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 1.2 APG, 1.0 SPG|
|Marcus Denmon||9.2||0.49||18.6 MPG, 10.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG|
|Kim English||9.2||0.38||24.0 MPG, 13.2 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG|
|Keith Ramsey||9.2||0.32||28.6 MPG, 4.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 1.2 APG|
|J.T. Tiller||8.7||0.33||26.4 MPG, 11.2 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.2 RPG, 2.6 TOPG|
|Justin Safford||6.8||0.33||20.8 MPG, 8.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG|
|Michael Dixon||4.9||0.34||14.4 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 1.4 APG|
|Tyler Stone||1.6||1.06||1.5 MPG, 1 PPG|
|Miguel Paul||-0.1||-0.02||8.5 MPG, 0.5 PPG, 1.8 APG|
||-0.3||-0.04||7.4 MPG, 0.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG|
|John Underwood||1 gm||2 Pts|
|Jarrett Sutton||1 gm||3 Pts|
Plenty of blame to go around from last night, but I do think the ORU game pointed out one thing in particular: this team desperately needs Taylor and Bowers to step up. Every night. They both played well below their averages yesterday, and without them Mizzou couldn't even survive against a young, thin team.
Time for a Challenge
So I mentioned at the start of this long post (and seriously, this is much more than I thought I would have to write in discussing a game against Oral Roberts) that this team's goals are still all within reach. And we see from the "last year vs this year" table that the team really might not be far away from being decent. Last year's team was not much better at this point last season (remember, we didn't actually know this team was really good until late-January), and that's an encouraging sign, but if Mizzou really is going to take a step forward like they did last year, I have a challenge for every single player on the team, and I'm going to need to see signs of these things during the cupcake games to know that things might still be alright.
Zaire Taylor: Be. Aggressive. Be, be, aggressive.
For this team to improve, two players need to put the offense on their backs, and Taylor is one of them. This team has quite a few known quantities at this point -- J.T. Tiller is never going to be much of a perimeter threat, and teams know it; ORU intentionally left him open on the perimeter as much as possible, and it paid off. Kim English is a Clarence Gilbert-esque streak shooter who will carry the offense at times, but not nearly all the time. Keith Ramsey is a glue guy, a "putbacks and screens" guy who will never carry an offense. But Zaire Taylor still remains a mystery. He's shooting 50% from 3-point land (again, against "real" teams only), and he's a good penetrator, averaging more free throws per field goal attempt than anybody on the team. That's a good combination. But he's a point guard.
Right now, Tiller is too turnover prone to man the point, which means that Taylor is kind of in a catch-22 situation. If he shoots more, he might kill the offensive flow. However ... when there is no offensive flow, and when the other team has seemingly succeeded at making sure that a majority of the shots are coming from Tiller or Safford, that's when Taylor needs to pretend that there are five seconds left against Kansas and take over. One of the bigger differences between this year and last year is that it seems that mini-slumps last 50% longer because there is too much indecision on offense. Taylor is the key to fixing that, and he must step it up. Stat to watch: shots per minute.
J.T. Tiller: Keep at it.
It goes without saying that a deep foot bruise is about the worst thing possible for a defensive specialist to come back from, and as Dominique Morrison showed yesterday, JT's got a ways to go to get back to becoming the best defensive player in the Big 12. But we know he can do it, and honestly, if he just rounds into shape, then Mizzou a) forces more turnovers and b) gets more easy transition baskets. Stat to watch: steals per minute.
Kim English: Crash the boards.
At this point, Kimmeh is what he is on offense -- a streak shooter and our best long-distance threat. When he's hot, he will carry this team, but when he's not, he really needs to provide more value. That starts on the glass. This team needs some help -- two of its four main "big men" (Safford, Moore) are averaging fewer than 0.15 rebounds per minute, which is simply awful, and Mizzou needs #24 to get involved. It's obviously going to take a team effort to help on the glass, but at any given moment, Kimmeh is the third-tallest Mizzou player on the court, and he needs to help more than he has to date. Stat to watch: defensive rebounds per minute.
Justin Safford: Block out.
We know that Saffy has been a bit hobbled this year, and we know that he is a guard in a forward's body (remember, he's the one who had the extremely late growth spurt, taking him from 6'3 guard to 6'8 power forward), meaning he feels as or more comfortable on the perimeter as in the paint. And that's fine. But this team desperately needs more interior presence, and considering he's playing power forward for 21 minutes a night, then it's gotta be Safford. His game would work great if Mizzou had a big-time interior presence, but ... well, we don't have one. So Saffy's gotta adjust his game. Stat to watch: rebounds per minute, of any kind.
Keith Ramsey: Go up strong.
This could go for any of Mizzou's bigs, really, but I'm choosing Ramsey because he has the most potential. I've mentioned many times how scared I get when he has the ball in his hands. I want him to either shoot it (if he's within five feet of the basket) or pass it, and immediately. The "pass it immediately" bit won't really show up in the box score, but when he goes up to shoot (which is rarely), he has to get mean about it. No fadeaways. Search for contact. He is averaging 0.38 free throw attempts per field goal attempt, which is respectable (Bowers and Safford are averaging 0.19 and 0.15, respectively). But DeMarre Carroll averaged 0.43, and Leo Lyons averaged a whopping (and quite underrated) 0.69. Mizzou is one of the worst teams in the country at drawing fouls, and while that has something to do with how many 3-pointers we take, it also has something to do with bigs drawing fouls. I don't want to say Bowers and Safford are lost causes, but let's just say that I have a lot more hope for Ramsey getting to the line at this stage than them. Stat to watch: free throws per field goal attempt.
Laurence Bowers: More Leo.
I've compared Bowers' game to Leo Lyons' many times, but it's not a perfect comparison. Bowers is better and more active defensively (his blocked 3-pointer yesterday was one of the more sickeningly athletic plays you'll ever see -- not only because he blocked it, but because he came from about ten feet away and blocked it while it was basically still in the guy's hand ... dude's got quite a bit of Hakim Warrick in him), he's a better passer, and I think his jumper has a foot or two more range. And he's already twice the offensive rebounder that Leo was. But Lyons was also infinitely more offensive-minded and better at creating shots, and this team desperately needs that. Both Leo and DeMarre averaged 0.41 shots per minute, and while they were both bigger and more physical than Bowers, Laurence is simply too good a shooter to be averaging fewer shots per minute (0.31) than, among others, Justin Safford. I realize his percentages will likely fall with more shot attempts, but I'll be perfectly blunt: Laurence Bowers' ceiling and this team's ceiling are probably more directly correlated than any other player on this team. We have to figure out how good #21 is, and he has to become more aggressive offensively. Stat to watch: shots per minute.
Marcus Denmon: Become J.T. Tiller.
It's funny -- no matter how dismayed I get talking about this current team, I am not even 1% less optimistic about the program's future. And Denmon is a major reason why. He is almost as good a defender as J.T. Tiller was a sophomore, and he manages to defend well without fouling once a minute. He has the potential to be a big-time stopper one day, maybe as soon as next season. And his offensive game is already more advanced than Tiller's. He's a better shooter, at least, and I think he's got potential as a passer. And he's tough as nails, just like J.T. But I think what we're missing most from Denmon is penetration. Sure, he had a killer missed free throw yesterday, but he's still one of the better FT shooters on the team, and he simply doesn't get to the line as much as he could. Nobody on this team does, but like Taylor and Tiller, Denmon is decent with the ball in his hands and big enough to draw contact without breaking into two pieces. As I mentioned above with Ramsey, this team is terrible at getting to the line, and I think Denmon's tough enough to do something about it. Lower your head, risk a charge a couple times a game, dish out some punishment, and get to the freaking line. As opponents start to fear his three-pointer more and more (he's now making 43% of 3's on the season), he'll have an even better opportunity to pump-fake and drive. Do it. Stat to watch: free throws per field goal attempt.
Mike Dixon: Keep learning.
Needless to say, I have a lot more hope in Mike Dixon's ceiling than I do in Miguel Paul's, and while he's already stolen quite a few of Paul's minutes (in "real" games, he's played 72 minutes to Paul's 34), his goal needs to be to just keep improving and potentially stealing more of those minutes. Shoot better, drive better, pass better, etc. The future for Mizzou is extremely bright with Dixon potentially starting in the backcourt with Denmon next year, and the faster Dixon learns this year, the better this team becomes. Stat to watch: Adjusted Game Score per minute.
Miguel Paul: You know what? Move faster.
Paul has not controlled the ball well enough this year, but the more I think about it, the less I care. I see Paul's role on this team as simply the late-first-half punisher. Remember how Mike Anderson would send in the scrubs to run the opponent ragged over the last five minutes of the first half? Remember how good Paul sometimes was in that situation? His role will be to run the point in that period of time and simply go as fast as he can, as much as he can. Even if the other team is more successful this year at slowing the tempo down, it will still be hard to maintain that after 15-16 minutes of pressure, and I officially consider it Paul's job to speed up the tempo at the end of the first half. Right now, Mizzou is only averaging 69 possessions per game against "real" opponents. Last year, it was 72. Miguel Paul, your goal is to single-handedly bring that to at least 70. Stat to watch: team possessions per game.
Steve Moore: Dunk. Once a game.
I mentioned in my last Study Hall that I'm not sure Steve Moore brings anything to the table other than simply being big. As mentioned above, he's one of the better defensive rebounders on the team, and clearly Mizzou needs that. But he is a black hole on offense, and while I think he's overall pretty limited, I've decided that his goal should be one dunk attempt per game. Even if he misses it horribly, or even if he absolutely bowls over an entire team, committing three charges at once, I want this guy flying at the rim on offense at least once a game. He's our only true "big guy," and if he can't soften up the opponent for even a minute or two at a time, he doesn't need to be on the court. Stat to watch: shots per minute (since I don't have a "dunk attempts per minute" stat).
Tyler Stone and John Underwood: Impress in practice. And quickly.
Guys, there is playing time to be had if you get up to speed. Even if it is just 4-5 minutes per game on Miguel Paul's "end of first half run-and-gun" team, there are minutes to be earned if you continue to improve. I still have high hopes for Stone, but I think Underwood in particular could be useful as soon as conference play. He already looks like he has gained a bit of weight (at least a couple of pounds, right? I'm not making this up, right?), and even if he hasn't, if he can block out better than Safford or Bowers (or Moore), then there is a place for him on the court. This team has decent depth, but it could be great depth if one of these guys improves enough to find his way on the court in something other than a mop-up role. Do what you've got to do to get the coach's attention, guys, and do it as quickly as possible. We need help down low. Stat to watch: uhh, minutes per game?
Jarrett Sutton: Play more.
For some reason, Mizzou almost always wins when you play...haven't quite figured that out. (Okay, yes I have.) Stat to watch: wins? Whatever.
In all, this team still has plenty to believe in, and if they make a similar December-to-January leap as they did last year, look out. But right now their weaknesses are very obvious (and improvable). Let's see what they do for the rest of non-conference play, not only against Illinois and Georgia, but against the cupcakes too. We know better play is possible, but they need to start improving right this instant.