NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 19: Jordan Hamilton #3 of the Texas Longhorns shoots around Talib Zanna #42 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the Championship game of the 2k Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 19, 2010 in New York New York. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
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I mentioned a while back that as a basketball season is unfolding, I don't typically think of things in terms of conference titles. Part of that, of course, is that Missouri hasn't exactly been involved in many conference races in my time in Columbia (1999 and 2009, I guess); a bigger part, though, is that I'm always framing things in terms of the NCAA Tournament. Depending on your approach, this game is either a lovely opportunity (a win could boost the NCAA tourney resume significantly; a loss would not do much of anything) or a do-or-die moment (a loss would mean almost no chance at a Big 12 title) in the Big 12's biggest game of the weekend.
(Of course, we are once again relegated to ESPNU, but that's neither here nor there. Texas might be developing their own ESPN network, but that's fine -- Mizzou already owns The U. And hey ... I've got The U in HD now, so why am I complaining??)
|Pace (No. of Possessions)
|Points Per Minute
|Points Per Possession (PPP)
|Points Per Shot (PPS)
|True Shooting %||54.8%
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
|Expected Off. Reb./Gm||13.0
A year ago, Texas Basketball appeared to be at a bit of a precipice. A 17-0 start had yielded a 7-10 finish, and the Longhorns fell from "potential national title" to "nondescript first-round exit" in barely over two months. From a numbers perspective, the 'Horns were just fine last year -- Top 25 in both offense and defense -- but decreasing defensive effectiveness and horrendous free throw shooting (they ranked 326th last year) doomed them.
As we've learned this season, however, turnarounds are pretty easy when you've got unlimited access to blue-chippers. Texas lost two five-star studs -- senior Damion James and freshman Avery Bradley -- and replaced them with two new five-star studs -- Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph -- and, when combined with the continued emergence of the absolutely terrifying Jordan Hamilton ... voila! Texas is good again. They shoot relatively well against you, you shoot terribly against them, and they're good enough at everything else to have once against strung together a really nice start. The difference between this year and last year? Instead of fading in January, they've gotten better.
Ken Pomeroy Stats
|Texas Offense vs MU Defense Ranks
|UT Offense||MU Defense||Advantage|
|Off. Reb. %||38
MU Offense vs Texas Defense Ranks
|MU Offense||UT Defense||Advantage|
|Off. Reb. %||126
Where the 'Horns are weakest
Well, first of all, they're still pretty awful at free throws. They've 'improved,' as it were, to 249th in FT% this season, but that's still obviously not good. It has really only cost them once -- they were 14-for-23 in a one-point loss to UConn -- but it still a potential weakness.
On defense, the 'Horns really only have one weakness: they don't force turnovers. They rank 226th in Def. TO% and 216th in Def. Steal%. Against a ball control team like Missouri, that could be an issue; of course, a bigger issue would be if they commit a lot of turnovers ... and they don't.
Really, the most interesting areas Missouri might be able to exploit don't come on offense or defense -- Texas has a thin bench, and they are rather inexperienced, especially against Mizzou. First, the bench: the 'Horns rank 265th in Bench Minutes. Four players average at least 30 minutes per game, and unlike Iowa State, Texas does not enjoy a high tempo. They aren't Wisconsin by any means -- they do still average in the high-60s in terms of average possessions -- but they will very much need to dictate the tempo to stay in control.
Will they be able to stay composed and dictate the tempo? One way teams are sometimes able to do so is from simple exposure to the Fastest 40 Minutes. Texas has had very little of that. Obviously neither of their stud freshmen, Thompson and Joseph, have been exposed to this system yet, and Jordan Hamilton has played one game versus Missouri (though, granted, he was incredible in Columbia last year). If you don't count Dogus Balbay's two-minute appearance two years ago, only one Longhorn, Gary Johnson, has played more than once against the Tigers -- he has played 63 minutes in three games ... and scored 11 points on 3-for-17 shooting. If Missouri is playing well, Texas won't be able to rely on past experience to survive, and obviously that's a good thing.
Where they are best
Honestly, Texas is either good or very good in virtually every aspect I did not mention above. They are No. 1 in the country in terms of FG% defense, and they rank in the Top 80 in both offensive and defensive rebounding. They get to the free throw line quite a bit, and they almost never send you to the line (ahh, the benefits of length and athleticism). They are good from the 3-point line, they never have shots blocked, and they rarely turn the ball over. Perhaps most interestingly, their defense also ranks No. 1 in terms of Assists per Field Goal Made. What does that mean? It means you really can't pass to an open shooter against them; anything you get, you have to earn on a one-on-one basis.
Texas' Season to Date
Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
at No. 3 Kansas, 74-63
vs No. 14 Illinois, 90-84 (OT)
vs No. 22 North Carolina, 78-76
at No. 27 Michigan State, 67-55
No. 30 Texas A&M, 81-60
at No. 80 Texas, 61-46
No. 115 Arkansas, 79-46
at No. 139 Texas Tech, 83-52
No. 140 Oklahoma, 66-46
No. 156 Rice, 62-59
No. 196 Sam Houston State, 84-50
No. 223 North Florida, 70-48
No. 233 Lamar, 76-55
No. 250 Louisiana Tech, 89-58
No. 254 Coppin State, 95-75
No. 264 Texas State, 101-65
No. 273 Navy, 83-52
vs No. 5 Pittsburgh, 66-68
No. 13 Connecticut, 81-82 (OT)
at No. 44 USC, 56-73
You want battle tested? I'll show you battle tested. Texas has played seven games against KenPom Top 30 teams (Missouri: four), and they've gone 5-2 (Missouri: 2-2). Despite a solid nonconference schedule (they played Illinois and Pittsburgh in November, North Carolina and Michigan State away from home in mid-December, and UConn in early-January), they have improved recently. Perhaps their two most impressive outcomes -- a blowout of Texas A&M, followed by a staggering 11-point win in Lawrence -- came in the last week and a half, which is scary. Sometimes "battle tested" means "battle weary." Not in this case.
Texas Player Stats
|Jordan Hamilton (6'7, 220, So.)||18.1||0.59||30.8 MPG, 19.5 PPG (50.9% 2PT, 41.7% 3PT, 75.0% FT), 7.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.1 TOPG|
|Tristan Thompson (6'8, 225, Fr.)||15.1||0.50||30.4 MPG, 13.1 PPG (53.3% 2PT, 50.7% FT), 7.6 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.6 TOPG|
|Cory Joseph (6'3, 185, Fr.)||11.2||0.35||32.1 MPG, 11.2 PPG (45.3% 2PT, 43.1% 3PT, 66.7% FT), 4.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.6 TOPG|
|Gary Johnson (6'6, 238, Sr.)||10.7||0.36||30.1 MPG, 11.8 PPG (47.7% 2PT, 71.4% FT), 6.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.5 TOPG|
|J'Covan Brown (6'1, 195, So.)||7.8||0.36||21.6 MPG, 9.8 PPG (46.8% 2PT, 35.5% 3PT, 86.0% FT), 2.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.1 TOPG|
|Dogus Balbay (6'1, 175, Sr.)||5.8||0.35||16.8 MPG, 4.1 PPG (58.2% 2PT, 0.0% 3PT, 53.8% FT), 2.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.1 SPG|
|Matt Hill (6'10, 245, Sr.)||3.0||0.20||15.2 MPG, 1.7 PPG (44.4% 2PT, 64.7% FT), 3.4 RPG|
|Jai Lucas (5'10, 160, Sr.)||2.1||0.15||14.4 MPG, 3.8 PPG (45.7% 2PT, 22.6% 3PT, 66.7% FT), 1.3 APG, 1.1 RPG|
|Alexis Wangmene (6'7, 240, Jr.)||1.7||0.17||10.0 MPG, 2.5 PPG (31.6% 2PT), 2.6 RPG|
* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls. It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.
- Highest Usage%: Hamilton (29%), Brown (24%), Thompson (22%).
- Highest Floor%: Balbay (49%), Hamilton (41%), Thompson (41%), Joseph (41%), Johnson (41%).
- Highest %Pass: Balbay (73%), Joseph (59%), Lucas (57%).
- Highest %Shoot: Hamilton (44%), Johnson (43%), Wangmene (43%).
- Highest %Fouled: Wangmene (31%), Thompson (26%), Johnson (17%).
- Highest %TO: Wangmene (20%), Hill (9%), Brown (8%).
- Though they entered the game having lost five of eight, Texas came within five points of Mizzou at Mizzou Arena last year because of two things: 1) a late charge after the game had been decided, and 2) Jordan Hamilton. He scored 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting (3-for-7 from 3-point range), and if he hadn't gone 1-for-6 from the free throw line, he might have scored 30. Now the go-to guy, Hamilton has continued to develop and thrive. He's not an amazingly efficient player -- his 41% Floor% is below that of Ricardo Ratliffe (48%), Marcus Denmon (45%), Mike Dixon and Laurence Bowers (43%) -- but he is a true go-to scorer. He does not suffer from huge ups and downs, and he brings enough to the table to not be a liability in non-scoring aspects of the box score. If he ever learns to drive and consistently draw contact, he'll suddenly be averaging 21-23 PPG.
Hamilton is especially terrifying for Missouri fans because he is exactly the type of player who experienced success earlier this season -- a tall, athletic wing who can shoot the 3-pointer. I'm very curious how Mizzou chooses to defend him; do you go with a guard, or do you send Laurence Bowers out there against him? And if it's Bowers, how does that impact your interior defense and rebounding?
- You want an intriguing matchup? How about Ricardo Ratliffe versus Tristan Thompson? Their averages are very similar (Ratliffe averages a 12 & 7 in 26 minutes, Thompson 13 & 8 in 30), as are their general tendencies. Thompson appears to be a longer, leaner player, but the winner of this matchup will go a very long way toward determining the winner of the game. Hopefully Ratliffe's strong big-game performances hint at potential success here.
- Texas has a bit of a rotating cast of characters at point guard, but Cory Joseph is pretty much the picture-perfect shooting guard. He makes over 40% of his 3's, pulls down some boards, passes pretty well, and doesn't turn the ball over much. He's a good all-around player, though we'll see how he handles Mizzou's pressure for the first time.
- Hamilton is legitimately scary, but just as important to Texas' success will be the trifecta of potential Longhorn point guards. J'Covan Brown is a shooting guard in a point guard's body (he's a total wildcard who could go for 20 points or zero), and he was quite nondescript in Columbia last year. Dogus Balbay is all-pass, all the time, and Jai Lucas is a skinny speedster who has not developed into the four-star player he was expected to become. If Good Phil Pressey shows up, he and Dixon should be able to take this battle. If Good Pressey shows up and Marcus Denmon wins the battle with Cory Joseph, then that puts a lot of pressure on Hamilton and Thompson to dominate.
- I enjoy Alexis Wangmene's stats. He has shot horribly this season ... but in his ten minutes per game, he dominates the ball -- chances are, he's either shooting, getting fouled or committing a turnover.
How Has Mizzou Owned Texas?
Texas is playing as well as anybody in the country right now, but we know Missouri has a chance, simply because, like Doc Sadler and Mark Turgeon have dominated Mike Anderson, Mike Anderson has dominated Rick Barnes. Mizzou has beaten Texas three times in a row (2008 box score, 2009, 2010), though obviously that might not matter since Hamilton, Thompson and Joseph (a.k.a. Texas' three best players) have combined to play in just one of those games.
So how has Missouri dominated the recent series versus Texas? And is it applicable to this game at all? The answer is ... mixed. There has been no distinct path to victory for Mizzou, at least not in a way that differentiates their wins over Texas from their wins over everybody else.
- 2PT%: Mizzou 53%, Texas 47%
- 3PT%: Texas 36%, Mizzou 35%
- FT%: Mizzou 71%, Texas 54%
- Offensive Rebounding: Texas 54 (on 110 missed field goals), Mizzou 37 (on 106)
- Assists: Mizzou 38, Texas 38
- Steals: Mizzou 23, Texas 12
- Turnovers: Texas 44, Mizzou 28
- BCI: Mizzou 2.18, Texas 1.14
So basically, Missouri has shot pretty well (but not great), Texas has struggled from the free throw line, Texas has held the rebounding edge, and Mizzou has dominated in BCI. That is generally the structure of a whole lot of Mizzou wins over the years, against Texas and otherwise. If Mizzou plays its game better than Texas, they'll have a very good chance. A monumental statement, I know.
Keys to the Game
Dominate the Point. By now, we probably all know and fear Jordan Hamilton. He is a matchup nightmare for Mizzou (and pretty much every other team as well). If Mizzou is going to win, they are going to have to do quite a bit of the damage before the ball gets to Hamilton. Mizzou can win the point guard battle, especially if Phil Pressey plays more like he did against Texas A&M than against Iowa State. If Dixon and Pressey can do a number on Brown, Balbay and Lucas, Mizzou could control the tempo and take advantage of their side of this game's stylistic differences. But if Dixon is missing jumpers and Pressey is turning the ball over and/or losing focus on defense, then Texas controls the tempo, and it is very difficult to envision a scenario in which Missouri wins.
Ratliffe vs Thompson. While everybody is focusing on Hamilton vs Denmon (or some variation thereof), the other major matchup will take place on the blocks. As mentioned above, Ratliffe and Thompson play similar games. Neither dominates the ball, but Thompson has somewhat disappeared in Texas' three losses; he has averaged 36.0 minutes per game but has taken fewer shots in averaging just 10 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. If Ratliffe can hold him to similar numbers while posting the 13 & 7 that he has averaged against "real" teams this year, it could mean good things for the Tigers.
Play. Your. Game. This almost coincides with Key #1 above. When Missouri has beaten "real" teams this year, they have done so in typical Missouri ways. They play great ball control defense (opponents' BCI in Mizzou wins: 0.96; in Mizzou losses: 1.97) and solid FG% defense (opponents' True Shooting % in wins: 50.6%; in Mizzou losses: 62.8%), and they match wits on the glass (Exp. Rebound Margin in Mizzou wins: +1.1/game; in Mizzou losses: -4.3/game). Offensive proficiency is almost secondary -- Mizzou actually shoots better and finishes with a better BCI in losses. Mizzou wins when they play good defense and rebound, and if they do so against Texas, or anybody else remaining on the schedule, they'll have a very good chance of coming away with a victory.
I'm torn here. On the one hand, Texas is smoking hot and playing at home -- according to Pomeroy, Mizzou has a 17% chance tomorrow night. On the other hand, I don't bet against a streak, and Mizzou's three-game win streak against the 'Horns just barely qualifies as such. In the end, I'm taking Texas. I think Mizzou sucks them into just enough up-tempo opportunities that it is a game late, but unlike two years ago, I think the 'Horns make the clutch plays. We'll say it's another one of those "encouraging" losses: Texas 74, Missouri 70. If Mizzou wins, however? The conference race has been flipped on its ear.