Study Hall: Kansas

Your Trifecta: Bowers-Denmon-Dixon.  These three players and Flip Pressey were the ONLY TIGERS TO REGISTER A POSITIVE ADJGS SCORE.  Your Winner: stlcardinalsfang.  Quite a few people guessed the right three people (and really, at this point, why would you choose anybody else?), but only fang had them in the right order.

First, a bunch of links you will probably not enjoy.

Quick response to Bryan Burwell: breathe and research for 10 minutes before posting.  Want to say Mizzou's playing terribly right now?  Fine.  Want to say they're a candidate to lose Wednesday, then bow out quickly in the first round of the NCAAs?  Fine.  Want to say they'll go to the NIT if they lose on Wednesday?  Look at the other teams between them and the bubble.  Look at their resumes.  Realize that, whether Mizzou is playing like they deserve it or not, they are still safe.  If there are a ton of weird conference tourney upsets AND the teams between them and the wrong side of the bubble (the Michigan States, Clemsons, Alabamas and Boston Colleges of the world) all win big this weekend, then we'll talk.  But even then Mizzou is probably still safe.  They may be a team with only 3.5 good players right now, but they're still very safely in right now.  Don't ruin an otherwise solid critique by going too far with it.

Kansas 70, Mizzou 66

Mizzou
KU
Pace (No. of Possessions)
74.4
Points Per Minute
1.65 1.75
Points Per Possession (PPP)
0.89 0.94
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.14 1.27
2-PT FG% 40.0% 45.8%
3-PT FG% 13.0% 28.6%
FT% 82.9% 71.4%
True Shooting % 45.0% 52.0%
Mizzou KU
Assists 9 14
Steals 13 5
Turnovers 12 24
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.83 0.79
Mizzou KU
Expected Offensive Rebounds 15 13
Offensive Rebounds 10 16
Difference -5 +3

The Absolute Worst Part About This Game...

...was that Kansas didn't play very well.  When they scored on 19 straight possessions against Mizzou at Allen Fieldhouse, it was easy to accept that it wasn't Mizzou's night.  Same as last year at Mizzou Arena when KU won by 21 -- they were fantastic that day.  This time?  Not really.  The trio of Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Thomas Robinson were as good as we feared they would be (46 points on 17-for-29 shooting, 31 rebounds), but they were also victimized by Mizzou's system (13 turnovers between the three of them), and the rest of the team did very little (24 points on 7-for-26 shooting, 11 more turnovers).

Kansas committed 24 turnovers, and Mizzou's ball handling advantage completely neutralized Kansas' rebounding advantage.  (I'm sorry, but it did.  If the message you take from this game is that Mizzou's frontcourt is the problem, you're not looking hard enough.)  All Mizzou had to do to beat Kansas was shoot poorly.  They didn't have to shoot particularly well, they just had to make the open shots they were accustomed to making while still missing most of the shots Kansas was leveraging them into taking.  Instead ... Justin Safford airballs a 15-footer.  Mike Dixon airmails a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer, as does Marcus DenmonKim English horribly misses three very open 3-pointers.  Laurence Bowers misses a couple of baby hooks.

Mizzou needed just five more points to beat Kansas ... meaning, relatively speaking, 33% shooting (19-for-58) might have done it.  And they could only manage 17-for-58.  Kansas doesn't give you those types of opportunities very often (and yes, part of the reason they were playing poorly was Mizzou's defensive play), and Mizzou refused to take advantage of it on the offensive end.

Wanted: Leadership

Actually, no, that's not quite right.  This team has leadership, very good leadership, from two players...

Wanted: Non-Detrimental Play From Your Other Upperclassmen

In the last five games, Laurence Bowers and Marcus Denmon have been absolutely incredible.

  • Bowers: 16.8 PPG (65.4% TS%), 8.0 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 1.8 BPG, 0.6 TOPG (24.5 AdjGS/game!)
  • Denmon: 19.6 PPG (66.3% TS%), 2.4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.8 TOPG (18.9 AdjGS/game)

From a general stats and AdjGS perspective, Bowers has been a Doug Smith facsimile in the last five games with Denmon doing a nice Kareem Rush impression.  You could not ask for better leadership than that.

Combine that with the fact that their two young point guards -- Mike Dixon and Phil Pressey -- have, while experiencing their own issues, pulled off the job of point guard reasonably well: 7.0 APG, 4.2 SPG, 4.6 TOPG (a not-great-but-solid 2.44 BCI and 13.6 AdjGS/game).  All they need from the rest of the roster is ... something.  Anything positive.  Anything whatsoever.  And they are simply not getting it.

The biggest offenders?  Four of the other five upperclassmen.  Here are some stats from the last three games:

  • Kim English: 27.0 MPG, 3.7 PPG (23.8% TS%), 1.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 2.3 TOPG, 1-for-9 from 3-point range.  -3.0 AdjGS/game.
  • Ricardo Ratliffe: 22.0 MPG, 4.0 PPG (35.3% TS%), 2.7 RPG (!), 1.7 TOPG, ZERO TRIPS TO THE FREE THROW LINE.  0.2 AdjGS/game.
  • Justin Safford: 10.7 MPG, 0.7 PPG (0.0% FG), 1.0 RPG, 3.0 PFPG ... nine fouls, two turnovers, three rebounds (none on offense), two points. -3.1 AdjGS/game.
  • Matt Pressey: 16.0 MPG, 3.7 PPG (37.5% FG), 1.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 2.7 SPG.  2.5 AdjGS/game, easily the best of the four.

That's right, four of Mizzou's upperclassmen have contributed minus-3.4 AdjGS/game in Mizzou's three-game losing streak.  For the season, they have averaged 28.9 AdjGS/game.  Only regressing by fifty percent would have possibly resulted in a 2-1 record in the last three games.  Instead, they have regressed by 112 percent.  There is unacceptable, and there is that.

Mizzou Player Stats

(Definitions at the bottom of the post.)

Player
AdjGS GmSc/Min Line
Laurence Bowers 39.1 1.15 34 Min, 22 Pts (8-13 FG, 6-8 FT), 10 Reb (5 Off), 5 Stl
Marcus Denmon 23.8 0.66 36 Min, 19 Pts (4-12 FG, 2-7 3PT, 9-9 FT), 4 Reb
Mike Dixon 12.8 0.43 30 Min, 10 Pts (1-9 FG, 1-6 3PT, 7-10 FT), 5 Reb, 5 Ast, 2 Stl
Phil Pressey 6.9 0.50 14 Min, 6 Pts (1-4 FG, 0-2 3PT, 4-4 FT), 3 Stl, 2 TO
Steve Moore 1.3 0.09 14 Min, 0 Pts (0-0 FG), 3 Reb
Ricky Kreklow -1.3 -0.21 6 Min, 0 Pts (0-3 3PT)
Justin Safford -2.0 -0.17 12 Min, 2 Pts (0-3 FG, 0-1 3PT, 2-2 FT), 2 Reb
Ricardo Ratliffe -3.3 -0.17 20 Min, 4 Pts (2-7 FG), 3 Reb, 2 TO, 5 PF
Matt Pressey -4.9 -0.44 11 Min, 0 Pts (0-2 FG, 0-1 3PT0, 2 TO
Kim English -7.4 -0.32 3 Pts (1-5 FG, 0-3 3PT, 1-2 FT), 4 TO
  • Denmon, Dixon and Bowers: 75.6 points.
  • The Rest of the Team: minus-10.7 points.
  • If Kreklow, Safford, Ratliffe, M. Pressey and English had only combined for minus-10.0 points instead of minus-18.9, Mizzou would have won by five.
  • Dixon and P. Pressey combined for six assists, five steals and just three turnovers.  That's a very good 3.7 BCI against a good defensive team.  Considering they were probably screwed out of at least a couple more assists by missed open shots, that's very good.
  • Mike Dixon may have shot poorly from the field, but I give him major kudos for figuring out how the game was being called and trying his damnedest to engineer points however possible.  In a game with 51 fouls and 63 free throw attempts, Dixon drew more fouls and attempted more free throws than anybody else, even KU's bigs, while still dishing five assists.  That doesn't completely negate his 1-for-9 performance from the field, but it comes close.
  • 39.1 points for Bowers!!  Last year, Bowers became the master of the stuffed box score.  He averaged perhaps the most valuable 10.2 PPG in the country last season.  But this was his masterpiece.  Yes, Kansas' bigs were amazing, but he single-handedly matched them as long as he possibly could.  His five offensive rebounds (half of Mizzou's total) created five extra possessions for Mizzou, and his five steals (almost half of Mizzou's total) preempted five for Kansas.  He was absolutely incredible, and he deserved better from his teammates.

    How incredible was Bowers?  Before the game, if I'd told you that he, Ratliffe and Safford had combined for 33.8 AdjGS points, you'd have probably been pretty pleased with that.  That's over 11 points per player!  And that's with Ratliffe and Safford combining for minus-5.3 points.
Player Usage% Floor% Touches/
Poss.
%Pass %Shoot %Fouled %T/O
Bowers 23% 55% 2.0 24% 52% 24% 0%
Denmon 21% 41% 1.8 24% 49% 27% 0%
Dixon 22% 33% 4.2 63% 19% 16% 2%
P. Pressey 26% 33% 2.9 40% 27% 20% 13%
Moore 0% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Kreklow 23% 0% 1.4 0% 100% 0% 0%
Safford 19% 17% 1.2 0% 55% 27% 18%
Ratliffe 21% 22% 2.0 40% 47% 0% 13%
M. Pressey 17% 0% 1.0 0% 50% 0% 50%
English 20% 13% 1.2 0% 48% 14% 38%
  • Flip Pressey was a little overwhelmed and tight early in the game, but he settled down later on.  His game management abilities have been rather solid lately; his problem, of course, is that he has completely lost his jumper.  In the first 11 conference games, he scored 95 points (8.6 PPG) on 31-for-67 shooting (46.3%), 19-for-37 from 3-point range (51.4%).  In his last five: 22 points (4.4 PPG) on 6-for-26 shooting (23.1%), 4-for-18 from 3-point range (22.2%).  He probably isn't as good a shooter as his first 11 games suggested, but regression to the mean has wrecked Flip.  (It hasn't done Mizzou's offense any favors either.)
  • Eventually the shots have to go in, Ricky.

Three Keys Revisited

From Friday's Preview.

Find Your Little/Releford

In the last five games, Matt Pressey, Steve Moore, Ricky Kreklow and Justin Safford have combined for just 48 points on 19-for-44 shooting (3-for-13 on 3-pointers), 22 rebounds (Moore: six in 34 minutes), 19 turnovers and 27 fouls.  And these numbers include a pretty decent three-game stretch from Safford (Tech, ISU, Baylor).  Whatever they have brought to the table, they've taken twice as much off of it, and that's not going to cut it against Kansas.  Somebody from this group has to step up ... who is it going to be?

Matt Pressey, Steve Moore, Ricky Kreklow and Justin Safford: minus-6.9 combined AdjGS points.

I was wrong.  Mizzou didn't need their role players to come up big.  They just needed them to come up with zero contributions instead of seven points' worth of negative contributions.

Keep Up With the Big Boys

KU has the rare frontcourt combination of size, strength and serious versatility.  All eyes on Laurence Bowers, Ricardo Ratliffe, Justin Safford and Steve Moore.  They handled Baylor's size very well ... but so did Kansas.  Hopefully Ratliffe, Safford and Moore left all their terrible play and bad body language in the locker room at the Devaney Center on Tuesday.

Unless you are one of the small handful of schools that sign almost nothing but four- and five-star blue chippers, chances are you are sacrificing something in recruiting.  Mike Anderson's strategy is clear: he obviously wants size in a perfect world (they went hard after DeMarcus Cousins, they offered KSU's Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and Michigan State's Derrick Nix, they signed Keith Dewitt and it didn't work out, they were going hard after Zach Peters until his early commitment to Kansas), but if they fail to bring in a player with both great size and great agility, and they have to choose one or the other, they're going with Mr. Agility.  They're going after Laurence Bowers and Keith Ramsey instead of Jarryd Cole.  And the strategy has proven, at times, that it can succeed.

Exhibit A: the entire 2008-09 season.

Exhibit B: Laurence Bowers' efforts yesterday.

With his efficient shooting, offensive rebounds and steals, Bowers showed how Missouri can beat teams with talented bigs: with effort and efficiency.  Make the shots you can make, grab the rebounds you can grab, and hustle your asses off.  Bowers was wonderful, pulling down 10 rebounds in 34 minutes despite a clear size disadvantage.  The other three Mizzou bigs?  Eight rebounds in 46 minutes ... with six points on ten shots.  There's almost no way to determine effort level on the glass -- I know a few times when Justin Safford was trying to box out correctly and just got outmuscled -- but Mizzou's bigs still have to make the shots they can make and pull off some hustle plays along the way.  They're not.  I have no complaints with the way Steve Moore played yesterday (hopefully he's alright), but he's not a difference maker.  Bowers needs Ratliffe and Safford to do something, and in the last three games they haven't.  Not even close.

Battle of Baltimore

Josh Selby has not been very good as of late, but it hasn't mattered.  With the experience Kansas brought to the table this season, Selby has been a total luxury.  That said, Selby might serve an interesting purpose in this game: bringing Kim English to life.

The only thing Josh Selby did with Kim English was combine to permanently damage Baltimore basketball's reputation.

Summary

In the first 29 games, Missouri averaged fewer than 0.97 points per possession just once.  They've done so in each of the last two games.  In a game where Mizzou's defense was stellar, Kansas' performance was iffy at best, and Laurence Bowers and Marcus Denmon could have barely played any better, the Tigers lost by four because a majority of the players on the roster couldn't be counted on to provide even a neutral contribution.

As I said after the Nebraska game, this team could still put together a solid postseason run.  But they're most likely going to have to do so from the 8-9 spot in the NCAA Tournament.  And if this is the contribution they can count on from a majority of their upperclassmen -- Safford, English, Ratliffe, M. Pressey -- then this team's ceiling isn't nearly as high as I thought it was not even two weeks ago.  Losing by four points to Kansas is really nothing to be ashamed of, but this game did nothing to restore my faith in this team.

Again, I'm easy.  My faith can come back, full force, with the smallest reason.  Win me back, guys.  Please.

 

 

---

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.

Usage%: This "estimates the % of team possessions a player consumes while on the floor" (via).  The usage of those possessions is determined via a formula using field goal and free throw attempts, offensive rebounds, assists and turnovers.  The higher the number, the more prevalent a player is (good or bad) in a team's offensive outcome.  As you would expect, someone like Kim English has a high Usage%, while Steve Moore has an extremely low one.

Floor%: Via Basketball-Reference.com: Floor % answers the question, "when Player X uses a possession, what is the probability that his team scores at least 1 point?".  The higher the Floor%, the more frequently the team probably scores when the given player is involved.

Touches/Possession: Using field goal attempts, free throw attempts, assists and turnovers, Touches attempt to estimate "the number of times a player touched the ball in an attacking position on the floor."  Take the estimated touches and divide it by the estimated number of possessions for which a player was on the court, and you get a rough idea of how many times a player touched the ball in a given possession.  For point guards, you'll see the number in the 3-4 range.  For shooting guards and wings, 2-3.  For Steve Moore, 1.30.  You get the idea.

Anyway, using the Touches figure, we can estimate the percentage of time a player "in an attacking position" passes, shoots, turns the ball over, or gets fouled.

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