Study Hall: Mizzou vs Baylor

Losses like these are, in the moment, the hardest to take.  No, this loss doesn't cripple Mizzou by any means, but once it was clear that a blowout wasn't in the works (which was what I feared, especially when it was clear Baylor had come to play), this was a golden opportunity for Mizzou to steal a win and get that much closer to NCAA Lock status.  Obviously it should be noted, though, that Baylor played VERY well today, and they were still one shot/pass/turnover/whatever away from losing to Mizzou.

And once again, we had no winner in the Trifecta battle.  Now you're understanding why it's such a long-shot bet in horse racing too!

Baylor 64, Mizzou 62

Mizzou
BU
Points Per Minute
1.55 1.60
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.08 1.11
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.22 1.33
2-PT FG% 45.9% 51.9%
3-PT FG% 42.9% 28.6%
FT% 76.9% 85.7%
True Shooting % 54.7% 55.9%
Mizzou BU
Assists 15 9
Steals 5 6
Turnovers 10 13
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
2.00 1.15
Mizzou BU
Expected Offensive Rebounds 10 10
Offensive Rebounds 8 13
Difference -2 +3


Tough way to lose.

Baylor's last possession was gut-wrenching in about seven different ways -- 1) Laurence Bowers should have been called for a foul on the Mizzou end of the court but wasn't, and Baylor got a break-out possession because of the no-call; 2) the ensuing blocking call on Kim English was VERY questionable (it almost seemed like a make-up call for the no-call on the other end ... only it hurt Mizzou a lot more); and 3) the three offensive rebounds off of the missed free throw are a terrible way to lose a game.  Mizzou held its own on the glass in terms of expected rebounds (at the time of Baylor's last possession, Mizzou was only -2 on the expected boards for the game), and Justin Safford actually rather effectively blocked out Quincy Acy but was crouched too far down to jump for the board when it rather violently bounced off the back of the rim.  Acy's miss led to two more offensive boards, and eventually one went in.  If ANYTHING different happens in that sequence -- if Bowers' foul gets called, if Dunn makes his second FT, if Dunn's miss hangs closer to the rim, if Acy's miss doesn't hang in the air forever, closer to the rim -- then Mizzou has a better chance at winning the game.  Alas.

Mizzou was entirely content to slow the tempo.

Looking at the stats, it really does seem like the game played out in Mizzou's favor.  They shot over 40% from 3-point range, over 45% on 2-pointers (which isn't great, but against Baylor it isn't terrible), and over 75% on free throws; they dominated the BCI battle; they even held their own on the glass for the most part (until the final possession, anyway) ... but the most interesting part of the entire game was how they completely shut down their own running game.

This game was played at a 57-58 possession rate, which is about 15 possessions slower than what Mizzou prefers. I figure there are three main reasons for this:

  1. Baylor did a wonderful job of handling Mizzou's press for the most part -- they mainly just got the ball to Tweety Carter and pulled everybody back, minimizing Mizzou's attempts at traps; it's a great strategy as long as you have a ball-handler the level of Carter.

  2. BU did a strong job of getting back on defense.

  3. Mizzou kept everyone back to help with rebounding ... and for a majority of the time, it worked out.

My one regret with this strategy was that Mizzou still could have tried to break out and run more after securing the rebound.  On what was almost the game-turning play of the game, Mizzou got a defensive rebound, and J.T. Tiller found Kim English racing down the court for a breakaway.  He got the rare and-one with an intentional foul with 0:45 left (my view of the call: technically it was correct -- officials have been told to call this more liberally, and while LaceDarius Dunn was clearly in the vicinity of the ball, he was just trying to pin the arms down and prevent the lay-up ... that said, that's a REALLY tough call to make as an official ... requires so much subjectivity), and if Mizzou could have scored on the ensuing possession, they'd have likely won the game (or at least gone to OT).

Even though Baylor was doing a good job of getting back on D, I still wish Mizzou would have more continuously tested them.  As long as you're smart about pulling the ball out if you don't have a man advantage, then there's no downside to it, but Mizzou walked the ball up the court most of the time, and Baylor managed to get away with playing just seven players.  That should NEVER happen for a Mizzou opponent.

An oddly small rotation.

The other result of the slow-paced game: only seven Mizzou players played 5 minutes or more, and Mizzou's five primary players (Taylor-Tiller-English-Bowers-Safford) all played at least 29 minutes.  Very non-Mizzou-like.  We can see how it happened, but it still didn't end up doing Mizzou too many favors, especially considering Marcus Denmon only got 17 minutes and four shot attempts.

Mizzou Player Stats

Player AdjGS* GmSc/Min Line
Laurence Bowers 13.8 0.46 30 Min, 10 Pts (5-for-7 FG), 5 Reb (2 Off), 4 Ast, 2 TO
Zaire Taylor 13.4 0.39 34 Min, 15 Pts (6-for-13 FG, 3-for-5 3PT), 2 Reb, 2 Ast
Justin Safford 12.7 0.40 32 Min, 13 Pts (4-for-11 FG, 5-for-6 FT), 6 Reb (2 Off), 2 Stl, 2 TO
Kim English 8.3 0.27 31 Min, 13 Pts (4-for-12 FG, 1-for-6 3PT, 4-for-6 FT), 3 Ast, 2 Reb
Marcus Denmon 8.0 0.47 17 Min, 5 Pts (2-for-4 FG, 1-for-2 3PT), 2 Reb
J.T. Tiller 5.5 0.19 29 Min, 6 Pts (2-for-3 FG), 3 Reb, 3 Ast, 4 TO
Miguel Paul 0.0 0.00 4 Min, 0 Pts (0-for-0 FG)
Mike Dixon -0.1 -0.04 4 Min, 0 Pts (0-for-0 FG)
Steve Moore -0.6 -0.14 4 Min, 0 Pts (0-for-0 FG)
Keith Ramsey -1.4 -0.09 15 Min, 0 Pts (0-for-1 FG), 3 Reb


* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds.  It takes points, assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls into account to determine an individual's "score" for a given game.  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.

  • Laurence Bowers is the master of the quiet contribution.  I wasn't sure where he would finish in the trifecta, but I was pretty confident it wouldn't be first place.  Instead, his efficient shooting (he had a dunk blocked and short-armed a jumper over Udoh, and that was it) and team-leading four assists got him the top spot.  Mizzou's interior passing in the second half was instrumental in keeping things close while Baylor's offense clicked, and it gives you confidence that zone defenses won't be nearly as effective in the future as they have at times in the past.
  • In the end, 15 points on 13 shots isn't that great, but it was still a lovely bounce-back game for Zaire Taylor, who was aggressive on the offensive end and actually showed some legs that he hadn't shown for the last three games while suffering through a stomach bug.  He was 2-for-16 in those three games, so 6-for-13 is obviously a huge step in the right direction.  With Mizzou getting a combined 8-for-23 performance from Safford and English, they needed everything Taylor gave them.
  • Another confusing game from Justin Safford.  Most of his 11 shots were extremely makeable, and for a "guard in a big man's body," he should have done much better than 4-for-11.  Three early Saffy misses helped Baylor build an early cushion that they milked all the way to the end (First 10 minutes: BU 22, MU 14; Last 30 minutes: MU 48, BU 42) ... but his foul-drawing and FT-making ability were huge later in the game, and his six boards led the team.  I get very frustrated that Safford is shooting only 40.7% in Big 12 play -- he's got such a pretty jumper, and he's shown in the past that he can shoot better than he has this year -- but he's certainly showing signs of a better all-around game than I would have guessed he'd have 12 months ago.  He's learning how to be more physical, but he's still a work in progress.
  • Kim English had a shooting game a lot like what Marcus Denmon had against Iowa State -- most of his 12 shots were solid looks, and yet he only made four of them.  I noted once or twice when he wasn't going straight up, but regardless, his good-looking jumpers didn't go in either.  He showed much more aggression in terms of driving to the basket and drawing fouls, but his jumper just wasn't there ... and considering how things played out, that's a damn shame.
  • So ... where was Marcus Denmon?  He made two of four shots, grabbed two boards and had a steal and assist in 17 minutes ... but only played 17 minutes.  I guess he was the primary victim of the game's shrunken number of possessions, but it's a damn shame that things played out this way considering how poorly English shot for a majority of the game.
  • If Denmon was victimized by the shrunken rotation, Mike Dixon was assassinated by it.  He ran the offense pretty well while he was out there, but two quick fouls took him out in the first half, and I don't believe he ever saw the court in the second.  With the way Zaire Taylor was playing on offense and J.T. Tiller on defense, it's hard to complain too much about this, but it's a shame we couldn't have at least gotten him a heat-check jumper somewhere in there.
  • Get well soon, Keith Ramsey.  You clearly didn't really have it today, still likely hobbled after the ankle injury against Iowa State, and we could have used the hyper-aggressive Ramsey today.

Three Keys Revisited

From Friday's preview.

Make Your Jumpers

Mizzou not only shot a decent percentage, but they were much more aggressive around the hoop than I expected them to be.  I had no problem with a majority of the game's ball movement, and most of the time, English will make the open jumpers he missed today.

Get Some Second Chances

Mizzou almost broke even on the offensive glass.  They grabbed 8 offensive boards, compared to the 'expected' 10, and ... well, 1-2 more would have probably made the difference in the game.

Double Them Up on BCI

Speaking of 1-2 making a difference ... one more steal would have given Mizzou almost an exact doubling of Baylor in the BCI battle, and it would have likely made the difference in the game as well.  It was nice to see Mizzou doing the things they did today, especially considering how well Baylor was playing, but as I've said before, 2-point losses sting a lot worse than 15-pointers, and while Mizzou almost did everything they needed to do in terms of the keys to the game -- they were basically one jumper, one second chance, or one steal away from victory -- it didn't happen, and it stings.

And since I don't really have anywhere else to put this, here's a quick digression: when LaceDarius Dunn grabs Zaire Taylor's arm while driving, then jumps into him, it simply cannot be called a defensive foul.  I realize this goes into the books as a 'crafty' play because it worked (and it will more often than not), but ... ugh.  Anyway ...

Mizzou Stats - Conference Play

Mizzou
Opp.
Points Per Minute
1.84 1.74
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.07 1.01
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.24 1.25
2-PT FG% 43.1% 45.3%
3-PT FG% 35.9% 33.7%
FT% 73.6% 70.3%
True Shooting % 52.7% 52.4%
Mizzou Opp.
Assists/Gm 12.9 10.7
Steals/Gm 8.9 6.7
Turnovers/Gm 12.5 17.8
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.74 0.98
Mizzou Opp.
Expected Offensive Rebounds/Gm 13.6 12.9
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 12.8 14.6
Difference -0.8 +1.7


After ten conference games last year, Mizzou's per-possession averages were 1.11 points on offense, 0.96 on defense.  That's basically 2-3 points per game worse on offense, 2-3 on defense.  They are shooting 8% lower on 2-pointers and 4% lower on 3-pointers.  They are averaging five fewer assists and one fewer steal per game, but they are giving up two fewer assists per game.  In all, their BCI advantage was 1.22 last year (2.25 to 1.03), and it is just 0.76 this year.  They have just about broken even on the glass, though they are still a little worse -- they are actually 1.8 offensive rebounds per game better, but they are 2.4 defensive rebounds per game worse.

Overall, Mizzou is just a hair worse in most categories, and considering the fact that three of their four losses were one-possession games in the final minute, you can see how just a slight statistical regression can bump you from 8-2 in conference a year ago to 6-4 this year.

The good news, of course, is that things are improving for the most part.  Bowers' rebound rate has improved in recent games, and ... well, Zaire Taylor is not likely to shoot 12.5% from the field over another 3-game span in his career.  But in the end, our fears for this team -- that they would be worse from the field and worse on the glass despite staying about the same in terms of defense -- have been dead-on accurate.

Player AdjGS* GmSc/Min Line
Laurence Bowers 13.4 0.59 22.6 MPG, 10.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.3 BPG, 1.2 TOPG
Marcus Denmon 10.6 0.45 23.4 MPG, 10.5 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.4 APG
Justin Safford 10.5 0.43 24.4 MPG, 11.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.4 TOPG
Zaire Taylor 10.4 0.34 30.1 MPG, 8.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.5 SPG
Kim English 9.9 0.40 24.8 MPG, 13.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.7 TOPG
J.T. Tiller 5.8 0.23 24.7 MPG, 7.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 2.4 TOPG
Keith Ramsey 5.5 0.23 23.9 MPG, 4.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 2.3 TOPG
Mike Dixon 4.0 0.29 13.8 MPG, 5.3 PPG
Steve Moore 1.2 0.16 7.4 MPG, 1.1 PPG, 1.5 RPG
Miguel Paul 0.6 0.07 8.2 MPG, 1.9 PPG


In a small sample size last year, Laurence Bowers was averaging 0.56 AdjGS/minute last year, and he's not only maintained that but improved this year.  As a sophomore, he is ahead of where Leo Lyons was as a senior, and that makes me incredibly optimistic for the future.  But this year, our leading 'scorer' only posts 13.4 per game -- last year, we were getting 19.0 per game from DeMarre Carroll.  Guard play has actually improved -- Mizzou's top two guards (Denmon, Taylor) are averaging 21.0 AdjGS/game, while their top two (Tiller, Taylor) averaged only 18.5 last year.  But last year's top two bigs (Carroll, Lyons) were posting an incredible 31.5 per game last year, while this year's (Bowers, Safford) have managed only 23.9.

Summary

This was a nice effort against a really good Baylor team (mid-game, I got a text from a friend, saying "How the f*** have they lost four in conference??"), but knowing you were one play away from a win burns.  As it is, Mizzou needs to go 3-3 in their final six conference games to reach the 9-7 necessary for a likely NCAA tourney bid.

I will say, however, that Mizzou was only a 10-seed in this week's NCAA committee mock bracket, meaning they may not be held in as high esteem by the committee as most bracketologists hold them (in all, the Big 12 is being QUITE disrespected -- Baylor was only a 7-seed in the mock bracket as well, which is ridiculous).  If Mizzou goes 9-7 by beating only ISU, NU and CU down the stretch, then loses in the first round of the conference tourney against CU, OU, or whoever, then they might be on the outside looking in.  I'm maintaining the "Three more wins and in" meme here, but it would really help if one of those wins came against Texas, Kansas State or Kansas, even if it means a loss at ISU or NU.  Otherwise, they'll at the very least need to win Wednesday night in the conference tourney to feel safe.

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