What If...Mizzou had signed Tyler Hansbrough? (Part One)

It's time.

A few different things were the catalysts for my finally writing this post that you had to know was coming:

First, at the MU-KU game last week, the guy in the section next to us (a "secondary" fan of UNC...just like my late buddy Jeffrey) mentioned it, and my eyes momentarily glazed over (before I shot back with, "Well, for starters...Quin Snyder would probably still be our coach," and ended that conversation). 

Second, my high school best friend and I were talking about how Blake Griffin was becoming a "breakthrough" recruit for Jeff Capel--he was a near-gimme to go to OU, but his success led to OU signing Willie Warren, and OU's current success led (in part) to OU signing guys like Keith Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin in the 2009 class.  Recruiting success tends to breed recruiting success, and somebody like Griffin can be a breakthrough recruit.  And naturally, the closest thing we've had to a "breakthrough recruit" in this state has been Hansbrough.

Finally, and most importantly, Mizzou is actually successful at the moment, making this trip into revisionist history a bit less painful.  It's an exercise in pure curiosity instead of longing and sadness.  Or something like that.

Alright, so let's set the stage.

Background

Depending on which "insiders" you talk to, Tyler Hansbrough, the stud from Poplar Bluff, was a) a shoo-in for Mizzou until MU underachieved in '03-04 and/or got word that probation was coming, b) a shoo-in for Mizzou until even later than that, and his UNC commitment surprised a lot of people, or c) never a shoo-in for Mizzou, and in fact was leaning toward UNC for quite a long time before finally pulling the trigger.

As time goes by, I lean more and more toward (c) just because of the way he seems to have connected with UNC and become an integral part of their history.  That, and the people who were swearing on (a) and (b) haven't really been right about much.  Anyway, for the purposes of this post, let's say his commitment was up for grabs right down to the last second, and on August 23, 2004, he decided to stay home and, starting in 2005-06, save both his home-state university's program, and Quin Snyder's tenure at Missouri.

What that means for the rest of the 2005 recruiting class: The '05 class consisted of Leo Lyons, unheralded Matt Lawrence, and the immortal James Douglas.  Future Purdue Boilermaker Keaton Grant and beefy Chicago PF DeAndre Thomas also signed, but Grant ended up at prep school, Thomas at JUCO.

At first I figured Hansbrough's signing would mean that the eventual soap opera signing of Lyons (then Leo Criswell) never happened, but really Mizzou was aiming for two bigs in that class, so most likely Hansbrough would have replaced Thomas.  I call that a pretty good trade.

Meanwhile, Mizzou was desperate for a JUCO point guard in this class, but they missed out on a series of them--Jamaal Brown, Eddie Smith, possibly Akeem Wright--before settling on Douglas, who didn't take long to prove that he probably didn't deserve a D1 scholarship.  The momentum caused by Hansbrough's signing may have led to Mizzou signing Brown or Smith, but...well, they didn't amount to anything either, so it doesn't really matter.  Just so it leads to me doing less work, we'll stick with Douglas.

The big question for the 2005 class is, would Hansbrough's signing have led Brandon Rush to give his big brother Kareem's school a longer look?  I say it probably would have.  But considering Mizzou didn't even end up in Rush's list of finalists, it's really hard to take the leap that not only would Hansbrough's signing have led Rush to make Mizzou a finalist, but it would have also led to his signing.

So in the end, the 2005 class is pretty easy: replace DeAndre Thomas (who never played for Mizzou anyway) with Tyler Hansbrough, et voila.

2004-05 Season

Just as a refresher, here's how the months following Hansbrough's commitment (to UNC) unfolded.  You may want to just skip to the next section--this isn't a fun trip down memory lane.  On the other hand, it should make you very much appreciate Mizzou's current run of good fortune.

  • March 7, 2004: First things first: Mizzou closes the Hearnes Center in the worst way possible--with a last-second, tourney-hopes-killing loss to Kansas.  It is most certainly not the worst thing to happen over the next 12 months.
  • August 23: Hansbrough commits to UNC.
  • October 23: The Black & Gold Game is the first official sporting event at the embarrassingly-named Paige Sports Arena.  Jason Conley and Jimmy McKinney are the scrimmage's leading scorers, and with a nucleus of Conley, McKinney, Linas Kleiza and Thomas Gardner, Mizzou is expected to at least be somewhat respectable in '04-'05 following the extreme disappointment of '03-'04.
  • November 4: Mizzou is put on three years' probation for, in the end, giving Ricky Clemons some flip flops and having Quin Snyder's wife make Steven Hill a burger.  That's all that was actually proven, but Mizzou gets the book thrown at it nonetheless.  No, I'm not still bitter about this.  Really.
  • November 10-16: Mizzou announces the signings of Grant, Lawrence and Criswell Lyons.
  • November 15: Mizzou officially opens Paige Sports Arena with an 8-point win over Brown in the opening round of the Guardians Classic.
  • November 19-24: Mizzou loses three games in a row, first to Davidson at home, then to Creighton (by 24) and Houston in Kansas City.
  • November 24: After it turns out that Paige Laurie (who was never a Mizzou student to begin with) was hiring others to write her papers at USC, the Laurie's graciously allow Mizzou to rename the new arena.  The name, until Mizzou can find some sort of sponsor: Mizzou Arena.
  • December 7: Mizzou loses to Arkansas at home to fall to 4-4.
  • December 22: A tight loss to Illinois (70-64) is slightly encouraging, but Mizzou still falls to 6-5.
  • December 30: First nice win at Paige Sports Arena Mizzou Arena.  Mizzou knocks off Adam Morrison and a ranked Gonzaga team, 63-61, and the Mizzou students inexplicably and inexcusably rush the court.
  • January 11-February 9, 2005: Mizzou follows a conference-opening win over Iowa State by losing 8 of the following 9 games, six of which are by double digits.  A 74-71 loss to a bad UNLV team brings Mizzou's record to 10-12.
  • February 12-22: Mizzou bounces back!  Four wins in a row, including a nice OT triumph over Oklahoma, at least get the Tigers back into NIT consideration.
  • March 6: Mizzou is 1-0 against KU at Paige Sports Arena Mizzou Arena!
  • March 11: Linas Kleiza is amazing, scoring 33 points and almost single-handedly leading Mizzou to an upset of 1-seed Oklahoma in the Big 12 quarterfinals.  Alas, OU survives, 83-79, but Mizzou's late momentum (and pretty, new arena) gets them an NIT bid at 16-16.
  • March 15: Mizzou's season (and Kleiza's career) end with a thuddish 75-70 home loss to DePaul in the NIT opener.
  • April 23: Linas Kleiza declares for the draft.  Does he stick around if 2005-06 is looking more promising?  Probably not--his draft stock rose quickly, and he was probably out the door no matter what.
  • May 5-20: DeAndre Thomas and James Douglas sign with Mizzou.
  • June 28: Linas Kleiza drafted by Portland with the #27 pick of the first round, then traded to Denver for #22 pick Jarrett Jack.

Ahh, wasn't that fun?  So now that we've taken that pleasant trip down memory lane, let's see what happens starting in August 2005, when the Tyler Hansbrough Era officially begins.

2005-06 Season

I'll say this right up front: I'm not sure you could play the "Drop one player onto a different team" game with any other team and player in the country and make a bigger difference than dropping Tyler Hansbrough onto the 2005-06 Missouri Tigers.  Simply by adding Hansbrough's 30 MPG to the team and taking minutes away from Marshall Brown, Kevin Young, Kalen Grimes and Leo Lyons, you turn that bad Missouri squad into an NCAA Tourney team.  Seriously.

Here are the new Mizzou player stats:

Player Min/Game Stat Line
Thomas Gardner (Jr) 34.2 19.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.6 APG
Jimmy McKinney (Sr) 31.5 12.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.3 APG
Jason Horton (So) 30.9 4.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 4.4 APG
Tyler Hansbrough (Fr) 30.4 18.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.3 APG
Marshall Brown (So) 20.1 7.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.0 APG
Kevin Young (Sr) 15.7 5.0 PPG, 4.2 APG
Marcus Watkins (Jr) 12.9 2.2 PPG, 1.4 RPG
James Douglas (Jr) 9.2 0.9 PPG, 1.2 RPG
Leo Lyons (Fr) 9.1 2.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG
Glen Dandridge (So) 6.3 1.7 PPG, 1.0 RPG
Kalen Grimes (So) 6.2 1.4 PPG, 1.4 RPG
Matt Lawrence (Fr) 4.5 0.9 PPG

Mizzou's guard play is still a bit shaky, as McKinney and Horton still combine for over 60 minutes of court time between the two of them, but Mizzou has a legitimate inside-outside combo in Gardner and Hansbrough, and that would make any offense flow pretty well.

Also...

  • Points Per Possession go from 1.00 to around 1.10.
  • Points Per Shot go from 1.20 to about 1.29.
  • FG% goes from 42.8% to about 45.0%.
  • Offensive rebounds go up, as do assists and steals.  Turnovers stay about the same.
  • Even keeping the same relative tempo that the 2005-06 Tigers played, Mizzou's points per game improve from 66.3 to about 74.5.  A HUGE jump.  Meanwhile, they allow about 1.5 fewer points.
  • In other words, the addition of Hansbrough makes Missouri better by almost 10 points per game.

So here's how the new 2005-06 shakes down.  Results that flipped from L to W are bolded.

11/14 Sam Houston W 85 78 1-0
11/16 Drexel* W 2-0
11/20 Northwestern State W 89 70 3-0
11/23 vs Duke* L 3-1
11/25 vs UCLA* W 4-1
11/29 UMKC W 68 40 5-1
12/2 at Arkansas W 70 65 6-1
12/7 at Davidson W 81 80 7-1
12/10 Texas A&M-CC W 90 79 8-1
12/18 Furman W 80 61 9-1
12/21 vs Illinois** L 58 81 9-2
12/28 Eastern Illinois W 75 54 10-2
12/30 Oakland W 82 56 11-2
1/2 UL-Monroe W 81 42 12-2
1/7 Oklahoma State W 77 59 13-2 1-0
1/10 at Oklahoma W 79 68 14-2 2-0
1/14 Colorado W 78 72 15-2 3-0
1/16 Kansas W 82 71 16-2 4-0
1/21 at Kansas State L 72 78 16-3 4-1
1/25 Iowa State L 66 80 16-4 4-2
1/28 at Nebraska*** W 65 64 17-4 5-2
2/1 Texas*** W 65 64 18-4 6-2
2/4 at Texas Tech L 63 72 18-5 6-3
2/7 at Baylor L 72 89 18-6 6-4
2/12 Kansas State W 82 69 19-6 7-4
2/18 at Kansas L 54 78 19-7 7-5
2/21 Texas A&M W 58 52 20-7 8-5
2/25 at Colorado L 68 77 20-8 8-6
2/28 at Iowa State W 86 84 21-8 9-6
3/5 Nebraska W 72 61 22-8 10-6

* Because Mizzou doesn't lose to Sam Houston, they actually get to move on in the Preseason NIT, beating (I assume) Drexel and facing Duke and UCLA in The Gahhhden.  And because UCLA barely beat Drexel, I say Mizzou knocks them off.

** And I assume that, even though Mizzou still gets murdered by Illinois, there is no Popcorn Incident.

*** And with an all-conference talent and much more momentum, I did take creative liberties with two games.  Mizzou lost 10 of 11 following the KU win in real-life, but without the downward spiral that was Quin's dismissal and all the fallout, I say the slump isn't quite that bad.  I added five extra points to two of the games (@ NU, UT) so that a 1-10 streak is actually only about a 5-6 streak.  Not great, but not nearly as terrible.

--

So thanks to Tyler Hansbrough and his 18 PPG and 8 RPG, Mizzou heads to the Big 12 Tournament at 22-8 with a first-round bye and an RPI in the high-30s/low-40s.  They are a lock for the NCAAs.  One guy makes that much of a difference to a team with pretty putrid post options.

Big 12 Tournament

So despite Mizzou's overall success, their mediocre slide to end the season continues with an unceremonious 78-63 loss to 5-seed Texas A&M in the Big 12 quarterfinals.  Mizzou is 22-9 headed to Selection Sunday.

NCAA Tournament

With Missouri in, we replace the lowest-seeded at-large team (presumably the "last team in") with Mizzou.  This means that Air Force, 13-seed in the Washington DC Regional, is out, Mizzou in.  Here's the new Washington DC Regional.

1 UConn vs 16 Albany
8 Missouri vs 9 Kentucky
5 Michigan State vs 12 Utah State
4 Washington vs 13 Air Force
6 North Carolina vs 11 George Mason
3 Illinois vs 14 Murray State
7 Wichita State vs 10 UAB
2 Tennessee vs 15 Winthrop

(Notice I also bumped Hansbrough-less UNC team from a 3-seed to a 6.)

Without going into too much detail, we'll say that a) Mizzou beats Kentucky, b) Mizzou gets dumped by UConn, and c) George Mason still goes to the Final Four.

2005-06 Season

So Mizzou goes 23-10 with an NCAA Second Round appearance in Tyler Hansbrough's freshman year, just slightly better than the real-life 12-16. Like a lot of Quin Snyder teams, this one showed early flashes that built expectations beyond where they had started...and then failed to meet those new expectations.  In this case, they went 6-6 after a big win over KU put them at 16-2 overall, their best start under Quin Snyder.

But most notably...after a return trip to the NCAA tourney, Quin Snyder does not get fired.  As we progress through the rest of Hansbrough's "career" in Columbia, we will have to beg the question of whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

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