Mizzou Versus the Road

So it's time to pick up where I left off earlier today.

There are individual circumstances with each road loss, of course.  Against Colorado, Missouri actually played quite well in the second half, well enough to come back and win if Alec Burks didn't catch fire and make a series of "stuff happens on the road" shots.  Against Texas A&M, Missouri actually played quite well.  Against Texas, Laurence Bowers got knocked out, and ... Texas is the hottest team in the country right now.  Against Oklahoma State, weird travel led to dead legs and a slow start, and an absolutely ridiculous free throw disparity kept Mizzou at bay.  Again, for each individual loss you can justifiably tut-tut any sort of "Mizzou sucks on the road!" meme.  But ... it's officially a "thing" now.  Four losses in a row is a streak by any definition of the word (especially considering it will probably be five after Monday's trip to Lawrence), and until Mizzou knocks off a conference opponent away from Mizzou Arena, they will officially be the team that ... can't win away from Mizzou Arena.

Context aside, there are plenty of areas in which Missouri really has been half the team away from home.  It boils down to two main factors: 1) Their go-to offensive players have been piss poor (Marcus Denmon and Mike Dixon are worse, and Kim English is downright terrible), and 2) after five years, Big 12 officials still have no idea how to officiate Missouri basketball games.

First things first: it's really hard to win on the road.  REALLY hard.  In 32 seasons at Missouri, Norm Stewart had a winning record on the road just 13 times.  Quin Snyder did it once, and Mike Anderson has done it once.  It's happened just three times, with three different coaches, since the 1994-95 season.  In Mizzou's last 12 NCAA Tournament campaigns, they have had a winning road record just six times.

Nearly every Missouri team -- and nearly every college basketball team, period -- has played poorly away from home from time to time.  The question, really, is about the difference between home and road performance.  Is there anything odd about the difference in win percentages Missouri has experienced at home and on the road?

Since the start of the 2008-09 season, when Mike Anderson first had a team of mostly Mike Anderson recruits, Mizzou has become one of the best home teams in the country.  They are 47-2 at home and, counting the NCAA Tournament, they are 14-7 on neutral sites ... but they are 10-14 in another team's home gym, 1-4 this season.

Putting aside neutral site games for now, where does this season's true home-road split (13-0 at home, 1-4 on the road) fit into Missouri's recent basketball history (i.e. the 44 years since the beginning of the Norm Stewart era)?

Rank Season (Coach)
Home Record Road Record Win% Diff.
1 1997-98 (Norm Stewart) 14-1 (0.933) 0-10 (0.000) 0.933
2 2010-11 (Mike Anderson) 13-0 (1.000) 1-4 (0.200) 0.800
3 1969-70 (Norm Stewart) 11-1 (0.917) 2-7 (0.222) 0.694
4 1974-75 (Norm Stewart) 12-0 (1.000) 3-6 (0.333) 0.667
4 1996-97 (Norm Stewart) 10-5 (0.667) 0-9 (0.000) 0.667
4 2004-05 (Quin Snyder) 14-4 (0.778) 1-8 (0.111) 0.667
7 2000-01 (Quin Snyder) 13-1 (0.929) 3-8 (0.273) 0.656
8 1968-69 (Norm Stewart) 10-1 (0.909) 3-8 (0.273) 0.636
9 2002-03 (Quin Snyder) 14-1 (0.933) 3-7 (0.300) 0.633
10 1973-74 (Norm Stewart) 8-5 (0.615) 0-8 (0.000) 0.615
13 2007-08 (Mike Anderson) 13-4 (0.765) 2-9 (0.182) 0.583
20 2009-10 (Mike Anderson) 16-2 (0.889) 4-6 (0.400) 0.489
24 2006-07 (Mike Anderson) 15-4 (0.789) 3-6 (0.333) 0.456
26 2008-09 (Mike Anderson) 18-0 (1.000) 5-4 (0.556) 0.444

So as a whole, all of Anderson's seasons have finished in or near the upper half of the home-road splits, but in only one season -- this current, incomplete one -- have they had a split this poor.  (It's a good thing this isn't a trend, as only two of the top ten teams on this list actually made the NCAA tournament.  It would have been three if today's 68-team field existed in 1974-75.)  This sets up the first question we will ask below: Why is this specific Mike Anderson team so different at home and on the road?

To set up the second question, let's look at eras.  Because of his longevity, we'll break Norm Stewart's tenure up into four chunks; it doesn't make a lot of sense to compare his 32 years to Quin's seven and Anderson's five.

Coach (Seasons)
Home Record Road Record Win% Diff. Total Win%*
Norm Stewart I (1967-76) 92-18 (0.836) 34-52 (0.395) 0.441 0.647
Norm Stewart II (1976-83) 89-13 (0.873) 34-31 (0.523) 0.349 0.700
Norm Stewart III (1983-94) 147-22 (0.870) 54-63 (0.462) 0.408 0.689
Norm Stewart IV (1994-99) 61-13 (0.824) 14-35 (0.286) 0.539 0.595
Quin Snyder (1999-06) 85-23 (0.787) 22-47 (0.319) 0.468 0.577
Mike Anderson (2006-11) 75-10 (0.882) 15-29 (0.341) 0.541 0.673

* The Total Win% does not include NCAA Tournament or NIT data, as when I was setting things up initially, I was looking at how teams took shape heading into the postseason.

Two things to take away from the current Mike Anderson era: 1) even counting the first two middling seasons, he has compiled a better overall win percentage than Quin Snyder and two of the four Norm Stewarts, and 2) his home-road split is higher than in any other era.  It is very similar to the last portion of Norm's tenure, though the overall win percentage is better.

Here are a couple of graphs to bang home the point.

Mizzou's Home, Road and Neutral Win% since 1967-68 (with five-year moving averages)

Click for larger version.

In general, Mizzou's home and road performance have worked hand-in-hand, which, of course, makes sense.  Good teams are going to better than bad teams at home and on the road.  (Rocket science!)  You can see, though, that the overall home-road split is rather large now.

Mizzou's Home, Road and Neutral Win% by "Era"

Click for larger version.

So then the question becomes obvious: Why exactly is Missouri better at home and worse on the road under Mike Anderson?

So let's try to find some answers.

Why is this specific Mike Anderson team so different at home and on the road?

For all intents and purposes, the true Mike Anderson Era began in 2008-09.  That's when he began to have his personnel almost completely in place, and ... quite simply, we don't want the program to regress to 18-12 or 16-16 again.  We've seen what a good Mike Anderson team looks like, and we will compare current and future teams to that standard.

Few teams finish with good road records, but Missouri's current 1-4 record is certainly a step backwards from the combined 9-10 record the last two teams compiled.  We should not try to draw too many conclusions from a season that is still underway -- technically, Mizzou could still finish 5-4 on the road this season, though that is quite obviously unlikely -- but again, a four-game losing streak is a four-game losing streak.  This is a team that "can't win on the road" until they do.

What are the differences between this year's team and the two previous squads?  Perusing KenPom's profiles (2011, 2010, 2009), some differences come to the forefront:

Experience

This year's squad ranks 183rd in Pomeroy's Experience measure, averaging 1.72 years of experience across the board.  Now, this isn't much worse than previous squads -- in 2008-09, they were 166th at 1.68 years; in 2009-10, they were 157th at 1.77 years -- but it is still a reminder that this team isn't more experienced.  With the core of Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Laurence Bowers, Steve Moore and Justin Safford, it is easy to think that this team had experience that other teams may have lacked.  They do not.  They have only one senior, Safford.  Of course, this means beautiful things for next year's squad, but ... next year is next year.

This, of course, brings to the forefront a topic that stats cannot really measure: senior leadership.  The 2008-09 squad had DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence.  The 2009-10 squad had Zaire Taylor, J.T. Tiller and Keith Ramsey.  The 2010-11 squad has ... Safford.  Nothing against Saffy -- I've stuck up for him many of times this year because he is trying to provide leadership when this team's focus wanes -- but a) he is one person, and b) he is not nearly as much of a contributor as the seniors from the past two seasons.  If senior leadership truly does matter, this team's road performance is pretty good evidence.

The Bench

Missouri currently ranks a decent 58th in Pomeroy's Bench Minutes measure, with 36.7% of their minutes coming from non-starters.  Again, this is solid.  But it is no better than what existed in 2008-09 (46th, 36.8%) and it is a hair worse than 2009-10 (35th, 38.1%).  And with no cupcakes remaining on the schedule, the number will likely continue to drift downward over the next month.

And this is says nothing of the quality of bench play.  The 2008-09 team had Laurence Bowers (0.51 AdjGS/min), Keith Ramsey (0.34), Justin Safford (0.34), Marcus Denmon (0.32) and Kim English (0.31) coming off of the bench.  The 2009-10 squad had Denmon (0.45), Mike Dixon (0.40), Safford (0.37) and Miguel Paul (0.28).  This team has Matt Pressey (0.33), Phil Pressey (0.32), Safford (0.29 -- yes, he has started recently, but Bowers gets the "starter" minutes), Steve Moore (0.25) and Ricky Kreklow (0.18).

Or to put it another way ...

Bench Players Averaging 0.30 AdjGS/Min or better:
2008-09: 5
2009-10: 3
2010-11: 2

Phil Pressey is coming on strong, while Matt Pressey and Steve Moore were great in Stillwater, but this team might not match previous years' success if the four bench players not named Flip cannot figure out a way to contribute at a higher level.

Defense

This team just doesn't have the same defensive chops as its recent predecessors.

Category 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11
Overall Def. Efficiency Rk. 13 13 39
Effective FG% Rk. 53 50 94
Turnover % Rk. 10 3 20
Off. Reb. % Rk. 248 329 247
FTA/FGA Rk. 253 206 248

So this team is similar, but not quite as good, in terms of forcing turnovers.  They rebound and foul like the 2008-09 team (for rebounding, that's improvement; for fouls, that's regression).  But their Effective FG% allowed is, well, less effective.  They are still a Top 40 defense, but this regression could be costing Mizzou on the road.  Offense comes and goes, especially on the road, but defense is typically seen as a more consistent entity.

Offense

Of course, this does not acquit the offense.  Missouri does rank 31st in overall KenPom offense, up from last year's 43rd. But they ranked eighth in 2008-09.  They shoot at a similar level as the 2008-09 squad (believe it or not), but they turn the ball over a hair more, they don't grab quite as many offensive rebounds, and they draw FAR fewer fouls.  The 2008-09 squad ranked 172nd in FTA/FGA -- not a great ranking, but not terrible -- and the current squad ranks 285th.

Honestly, the culprit in the fouls department could be an unexpected one.  Mizzou actually attempts fewer 3-pointers in 2010-11 than they did in 2008-09 (30.9% to 31.3%), so that isn't the culprit.

FTA/FGA for Mizzou's Forwards

  • 2008-09: Leo Lyons 0.69, DeMarre Carroll 0.43, Keith Ramsey 0.41, Justin Safford 0.39, Laurence Bowers 0.19
  • 2010-11: Laurence Bowers 0.42, Steve Moore 0.36, Justin Safford 0.32, Ricardo Ratliffe 0.25

As a whole, this year's Bowers, Moore and Safford draw fouls at least a bit similarly to 2008-09's Carroll, Ramsey and Safford.  But whereas Leo Lyons averaged 6.7 free throw attempts per game, Ricardo Ratliffe averages 2.2.  That is 4.5 lost free throw attempts per game, which probably averages out to about three points.  Mizzou lost to Texas A&M by two in overtime, and they lost to Oklahoma State by six last night.  Those three points would have come in handy.

The Players Themselves

Of course, I shouldn't bag on Ratliffe too much when it comes to road play.  He has actually been better on the road than at home in conference season.  It is everybody else who has regressed.

Home (Big 12)
Road (Big 12)
Player AdjGS/
Game
AdjGS/
Minute
Floor% Eff.
FG%
AdjGS/
Game
AdjGS/
Minute
Floor% Eff.
FG%
Diff. in
AdjGS/Gm
Diff. in
Floor%
Marcus Denmon 19.3 0.66 47% 63.2% 12.6 0.38 40% 49.0% -6.7 -7%
Ricardo Ratliffe 13.6 0.55 47% 56.0% 16.4 0.59 60% 64.9% +2.8 +13%
Mike Dixon 9.9 0.48 39% 51.9% 6.3 0.34 34% 40.7% -3.6 -5%
Kim English 8.3 0.36 35% 45.2% 3.9 0.14 25% 36.5% -4.4 -10%
Laurence Bowers 7.5 0.31 35% 43.5% 11.3 0.58 43% 56.0% +3.8 +8%
Phil Pressey 7.0 0.34 39% 44.1% 9.3 0.40 39% 51.9% +2.3 +0%
Justin Safford 5.2 0.29 36% 53.1% 1.6 0.09 24% 26.2% -3.6 -12%
Matt Pressey 2.4 0.16 32% 44.1% 7.3 0.34 41% 48.0% +4.9 +9%
Steve Moore 2.0 0.16 49% 66.7% 3.5 0.29 53% 66.7% +1.5 +4%
Ricky Kreklow 0.2 0.02 7% 0.0% -0.9 -0.17 19% 0.0% -1.1 +12%

As a whole, Missouri's offensive numbers have been quite similar at home and on the road.  They average 1.08 points per possession at home, 1.05 on the road.  Their Effective FG% is 50.0% at home, 47.1% on the road.  But their offense comes from fewer sources on the road, and that appears to lead to more droughts.

At home this season, Kim English is Jimmy McKinney; on the road, Johnnie Parker.

At home, Mike Dixon is Mark Atkins (minus about 75 pounds); on the road, Corey Tate.

At home, Marcus Denmon is Melvin Booker; on the road, Julian Winfield.

Ratliffe, Bowers, and the Presseys step up on the road, but Mizzou's three primary scoring guards regress considerably.  They are the leaders of this team, and while it's hard to come down too hard on Denmon (he's still Mizzou's second-best player on the road), it is absolutely time for Mike Dixon and, even moreso, Kim English, to raise their games away from home.  Mizzou will be extremely limited until they do.

(At the same time, I should also assert that, despite the current road record this year, we shouldn't overly glorify last year's team.  Yes, they had defensive stalwarts like Taylor, Tiller and Ramsey, but they did still manage to lose at Oral Roberts and Oklahoma. They didn't exactly have the best road track record, and this year's Missouri team will almost certainly end up with a better NCAA Tournament seed.)

So then there's the second question.

Why exactly is Missouri better at home and worse on the road under Mike Anderson?

Honestly?  I maintain what I said earlier today: five years into the Mike Anderson era, Big 12 referees still have no idea how to officiate Missouri games.

Along with fellow RMN'ers Wooderson and The Tailgate Queen, I was an intramural official in college.  I did flag football, soccer (gag), volleyball and basically every individual sport.  The one thing I refused to do was officiate basketball games.  Like holding in football, you can call a foul virtually anytime you want in basketball; plus, fans are more obnoxious in basketball because they know, or think they know, the rules and can always find calls you should have made but didn't (or shouldn't have but did).  Basketball is custom-made for pissed off fans.  I get it, I really do.

But I also like to think that if I had decades of basketball officiating experience -- and let's face it, it seems like most of these Big 12 refs have been around forever and a day -- I would have a reasonably consistent definition of what constitutes a foul, and I would not be influenced by crowds.  If it's a foul with 18:00 left in the first half, it's a foul with 18:00 left in the second half, and it's a foul with 0:18 left.  And if it's not a foul at Mizzou Arena, it's not a foul at, say, Allen Fieldhouse, Gallagher-Iba Arena, or The Octagon.  Corby Jones screaming at me from the sideline at Stankowski Field ("YOU'RE GOING TO KICK ME OFF OF STANKOWSKI FIELD??  I BUILT STANKOWSKI FIELD!!!" True story.) did not make me change the way I called a flag football game, and I would like to think, at least, that having a bunch of fans in the stands pissed at me -- very unlikely to try to rush onto the court and attack me -- wouldn't make me change the way I called a basketball game.

I understand missed calls.  I understand that the bush-league plays that Keiton Page was making last night (grabbing Marcus Denmon's arm while pretending to try to get away from him to draw a cheap, tacky, Jerod Haase-like foul) will always be considered "smart plays" because the refs are never going to catch him doing it.  I hate it, but I understand that I'm fighting a losing battle hoping that doesn't happen.  I also understand that a team like Missouri, which will always try to test the boundaries of what is and isn't a foul, is tougher to officiate than other teams.  But the home-road splits are still ridiculous, and in the end it has hurt Mizzou.  There is no question that Missouri gets calls at Mizzou Arena -- my point in bringing up officiating here is not an attempt to prove that all refs hate Missouri or something -- and it makes them a better home team.  But in terms of what does or doesn't constitute a foul, the goalposts move consistently, both within a given game, and within a given arena, and that makes Missouri a bit of a worse road team as well.  In the end, considering how the NCAA Tournament committee grades teams, in part, based on road wins, this is a net loss for Missouri.  Trading one great home win for one great road win would quite possibly help Mizzou's seed in a given year.

I know I'm on a rant here, but I hope my overall point isn't lost.  I want this to have more a matter-of-fact tone than a whiny one, and for one simple reason: it isn't going to change.  The same refs are going to continue calling Big 12 games, and they are going to continue calling things for Missouri at home and against them on the road.  It is what it is.  Big 12 officiating is no worse now than it was when Norm Stewart was on the sideline.  Plus, let's face it, no fans like refs of any conference.  The 2008-09 squad proved that Missouri teams that are good enough, deep enough, and have a wide enough variety of playmakers, will still win games -- at home and on the road -- and come up with a good NCAA seed.  (Then again, they should have been a 2-seed, not a 3-seed playing the best 2-seed in the Sweet Sixteen, but I digress.)

If the 2010-11 team wants to succeed at that level, they will need to suck it up and play better.  They have used up their quota of "excusable in context" road losses, and if they want a solid NCAA seed, they will have to figure out how to beat tricky-but-less-talented teams on the road in February -- Iowa State in Ames, Kansas State in Manhattan, Nebraska in Lincoln.  The Big 12 conference is good enough this season that even a 9-7 conference record, while disappointing, will still be viewed semi-favorably by the NCAA committee.  But you know what would be better?  10-6.  Or, hell, 11-5.  Aside from a conference title, every goal is still on the table for this team, but we need Jimmy McKinney instead of Johnnie Parker, Mark Atkins instead of Corey Tate, and Melvin Booker instead of Julian Winfield.  We need Missouri to attack the glass like they do at home.  We need a much more positive, consistent contribution from the bench.  We need the offense to run consistently enough that the defense can press and, indeed, pressure can become cumulative.

We will continue to complain about the officiating because, well, it is going to continue being ridiculous.  But in the end, the team still has to figure out a way to win, both despite it (on the road) and because of it (at home).  Can they?

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