Know Your Border Rival: Kansas Jayhawks

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 01: Thomas Robinson #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks grabs a rebound during the game against the Oklahoma Sooners on February 1, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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I feel I should start this post with some personal thoughts about the Kansas rivalry. I really can't think of much that others haven't already said, honestly. I absolutely think moving to the SEC was the right thing to do, but it really, really sucks that the Border War will be, at the very least, a temporary casualty of the move. I honestly won't miss it that much in football, at least not if/until Kansas improves by a decent amount, but there is nothing more enjoyable than Mizzou Arena in the opening moments of a Mizzou-Kansas basketball game. (Actually, there is one thing, but we don't get it every year: the final moments of a Mizzou-Kansas game when Mizzou is lucky enough to be winning.) And a future neutral-site game could be even more intense (or at least tense), albeit in a different way. Hopefully once we've moved past the "Remember, this is all Missouri's fault" stage of the Big 12's re-expansion, we can get this series back on the docket. Regardless, tomorrow night's game is going to be perhaps the most intense home game I've ever attended. Mizzou earned permanent bragging rights in football a couple of months ago, but now's the chance to steal another great moment right before the deadline.

Oh yeah, and it's an enormous game for other obvious reasons. By about 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Mizzou could be not only basking in the light of a fun win (after a pretty fun Gameday day), but also first place in the Big 12.

Kansas Jayhawks (18-4)


KU
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
67.4
Points Per Minute
1.89
1.52
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.12
0.90
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.35
1.11
2-PT FG% 54.9%
39.1%
3-PT FG% 34.4%
34.7%
FT% 69.0%
70.2%
True Shooting % 57.5%
48.1%




KU Opp.
Assists/Gm 16.0
10.5
Steals/Gm 7.7
6.9
Turnovers/Gm 13.6
15.3
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.74
1.14




KU Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 11.3
13.0
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 11.5
10.4
Difference +0.2
-2.6

Every time Kansas experiences a solid amount of turnover, we tend to pile on and assume their Big 12 title run is done. And every time, they win the conference title anyway. Granted, they might be in second place (if we're counting tie-breakers, ahem) by late Saturday night, but at this moment, they are once again alone in first and have once again crafted a sturdy team around both star power (Thomas Robinson) and high-quality defense. As good as Kansas has been offensively through the years, their defense has remained incredibly underrated. Because of Robinson and, in particular, long-armed Jeff Withey, opponents are struggling so much near the basket that their 3-point percentage (35%) is almost as good as their 2-point percentage (39%).

At the same time, the Jayhawks are certainly limited in certain areas. They do allow opponents to make 35% of their 3-pointers, they have a thin bench, they're only good on the glass (and not spectacular, as in some past years), and they can, at times, fall down the turnovers rabbit hole. As you'll see, the matchups are interesting in this one -- both teams seem to hold some significant advantages over the other, and which team most fully exploits their advantages will be the one that takes home the win. (Obviously, with the game being in the most hostile of environments, one would hope that KU's turnover troubles would become exacerbated. We'll see.)

Ken Pomeroy Stats

KU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

KU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 10
51
KU
Effective FG% 24
164
KU Big
Turnover % 121
37
MU
Off. Reb. % 85
122
KU
FTA/FGA 100
13
MU
MU Offense vs KU Defense Ranks

MU Offense KU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 2
3
Push
Effective FG% 3
9
Push
Turnover % 4
89
MU
Off. Reb. % 158
36
KU Big
FTA/FGA 104
144
MU

Where the Beakers are weakest

In the main categories Ken Pomeroy tracks (the "Four Factors" categories above, plus shooting percentages, block percentages and steal percentages), last year's Kansas team ranked 100th or worse in only four: turnover percentage (offense and defense) and free throw percentages (offense and defense). This year, they rank 100th or worse in nine:

  • Offense: 100th in FTA/FGA, 113th in Block%, 121st in Turnover%, 154th in 3PT%, 172nd in FT%, 209th in Steal%.
  • Defense: 144th in FTA/FGA, 192nd in 3PT%, 247th in FT%.

The Jayhawks' strengths are still quite strong -- they do, after all, rank third in Ken Pomeroy's ratings, top ten in both offense and defense -- but they have a few more holes, as one would expect after experiencing so much turnover from last year.

(They're also 312th in Bench Minutes. They are thin, and while that isn't something Mizzou can't take advantage of, it does signify a Mizzou weakness they probably won't be able to exploit.)

Where they are best

Like I said, their strengths are still quite strong. They rank seventh in Off. 2PT%, which makes sense considering how much of the offense Thomas Robinson tends to occupy. They also rank fourth in Def. 2PT%, 13th in Def. Block%, and 11th in Average Height. Their offense can come and go, but they are going to swat away a ton of shots near the basket, just like Oklahoma State did. And because of the quality of their defense, they can usually buy enough time until an offensive hot streak.

KU's Season to Date

  • Wins Versus Top 200 Teams (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    No. 1 Ohio State, 78-67
    No. 9 Baylor, 92-74
    vs No. 16 Georgetown, 67-63
    at No. 20 Texas, 69-66
    No. 23 Kansas State, 67-49
    No. 35 Iowa State, 82-73
    No. 40 Long Beach State, 88-80
    vs No. 48 UCLA, 72-56
    at No. 79 Oklahoma, 72-61
    No. 79 Oklahoma, 84-62
    No. 97 South Florida, 90-42
    No. 108 Texas A&M, 64-54
    No. 158 Florida Atlantic, 77-54
    at No. 188 USC, 63-47
  • Losses
    vs No. 2 Kentucky, 65-75
    vs No. 12 Duke, 61-68
    at No. 35 Iowa State, 64-72
    vs No. 76 Davidson, 74-80

Kansas' strength of schedule ranks second overall, according to Pomeroy. They have already played 14 games versus Top 80 teams (Mizzou: 10), but if there is a silver lining here, it's that, in those 14 games, Kansas is 6-0 at home and just 4-4 away from home. They have certainly headed in the right direction -- they have won 15 of 17 overall -- but they did lose by eight points in Ames last Saturday, a place where Mizzou won by seven. (Hooray, transitive property!) At some point, the strength of your schedule (when comparing to a conference foe) stops mattering, and we've just about reached that point here. Regardless, this reaffirms both that a) Kansas is a damn good team, and b) Kansas is certainly a bit more vulnerable than normal away from Allen Field House.

KU Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Thomas Robinson (6'10, 237, Jr.)
18.5
0.60
31.0 MPG, 17.6 PPG (55% 2PT, 67% FT), 12.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 2.4 TOPG
Tyshawn Taylor (6'3, 185, Sr.)
13.8
0.43
32.1 MPG, 16.7 PPG (50% 2PT, 44% 3PT, 68% FT), 5.3 APG, 1.7 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 3.6 TOPG
Jeff Withey (7'0, 235, Jr.)
11.1
0.48
23.0 MPG, 8.5 PPG (54% 2PT, 87% FT), 5.9 RPG, 3.1 BPG, 1.3 TOPG
Travis Releford (6'6, 207, Jr.)
10.5
0.34
31.5 MPG, 9.8 PPG (63% 2PT, 36% 3PT, 65% FT), 4.3 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.2 TOPG
Elijah Johnson (6'4, 195, Jr.)
8.1
0.26
31.1 MPG, 9.1 PPG (62% 2PT, 30% 3PT, 70% FT), 3.6 APG, 2.8 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 2.0 TOPG
Conner Teahan (6'6, 212, Sr.)
5.2
0.25
20.8 MPG, 6.6 PPG (50% 2PT, 35% 3PT, 81% FT), 2.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 TOPG
Kevin Young (6'8, 185, Jr.)
4.4
0.44
10.1 MPG, 3.7 PPG (63% 2PT, 66% FT), 2.8 APG
Justin Wesley (6'9, 220, So.)
1.3
0.11
11.3 MPG, 1.6 PPG (52% 2PT, 50% FT), 2.0 RPG
Naadir Tharpe (5'11, 170, Fr.)
0.4
0.06
6.3 MPG, 1.2 PPG (46% 2PT, 24% 3PT)

* 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%: Robinson (29%), Taylor (28%), Withey (18%), Johnson (17%)
  • Highest Floor%: Releford (45%), Withey (44%), Young (44%), Robinson (43%)
  • Highest %Pass: Johnson (65%), Taylor (60%), Releford (52%), Teahan (46%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Wesley (49%), Robinson (42%), Teahan (41%), Withey (37%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Wesley (25%), Withey (18%), Robinson (17%), Young (17%)
  • Highest %T/O: Wesley (16%), Withey (9%), Robinson (8%), Young (8%)
  • What a pessimist sees from these figures:

    1. Thomas Robinson is incredible.
    2. Jeff Withey is making more of a contribution than we may have expected.
    3. These two players have combined to take a full third of KU's shots, plus they combine to average five offensive rebounds per game. (That will probably be closer to 8-9 tomorrow night.)
  • What an optimist sees:

    1. Taylor and Johnson combine for 5.6 turnovers per game.
    2. The team only has two reliable, consistent scorers.
    3. Of the four players who combine to take most of KU's free throws (Robinson, Taylor, Withey, Releford), only one is any good at them: Withey, the only one to shoot better than 68%.

Keys to the Game

  1. Extreme Matchups. Pretend you are Frank Haith for a moment. What is your chosen strategy? single-cover Thomas Robinson (perhaps with Ricardo Ratliffe) and throw most of your might at harassing the perimeter in the hopes of bringing out Bad Tyshawn and giving Mizzou a significant advantage in the backcourt (while leaving yourself vulnerable to a career day from Jeff Withey and, perhaps, Robinson himself)? Or do you focus most of your energy on negating Kansas' own advantages, double Robinson, and hope that Taylor, Johnson, Releford, etc., don't catch fire? Mizzou has some pretty substantial advantages they could choose to maximize, but it might come at the cost of maximizing Kansas' advantages as well. Strategies, tactics and straight-up coaching will play a major role in this one. (Yes, it always does, but you see my point.)

  2. The Long Ball. Kansas has only one player who makes more than 36 percent of his 3-pointers (Taylor) and only two more who are above 33 percent (Releford, Teahan). Meanwhile, Mizzou has one over 40 percent (Kim English) and two more over 33 percent (Marcus Denmon, Matt Pressey). As we know, however, that doesn't tell a good portion of the story. In the last six games, Denmon and English have made just 27 percent of their 3's (17-for-62; Denmon himself is just 9-for-40); meanwhile, Taylor is 13-for-27 in his last five games after shooting just 5-for-20 in the five before that. Both teams are incredibly streaky from downtown, and while both have proven themselves capable of winning games without relying on the 3-pointer (a huge step forward for Mizzou in particular), if one team catches fire, they will derive a significant advantage.

  3. The Supporting Cast. Thomas Robinson is going to have a good evening. He just is. But Mizzou can overcome that if they mostly negate the impact of role players like Withey, Travis Releford, and perhaps Connor Teahan. Mizzou has just been killed by Kansas' role players in years past, whether it is Tyrel Reed making a key 3-pointer at Mizzou Arena last year (after killing them the year before, too), or Releford and Mario Little coming out of nowhere to combine for 27 points on 11-for-14 shooting in Lawrence. Limit the hit-or-miss supporting cast, and you are putting a lot of pressure on Robinson and Taylor to not only score, but score 30 or more.

Prediction

I can never quite explain why I feel good or bad about certain games. I felt pretty bad about the Texas game this week (whoops), just like I felt bad about the Kansas State and Notre Dame games earlier this season. (And I'll admit it: I already don't feel very good about Monday's trip to Norman.) But I'll admit it: I feel pretty defiantly good about this one. It would be just like Kansas to steal this game, the last (for a while) at Mizzou Arena, just like they stole the last game at Hearnes. But I don't think they do it. These matchups spell doom for Mizzou at Allen, but I think they force turnovers like crazy, enough to encounter a couple of offensive slumps. Ken Pomeroy projects it Mizzou 75, Kansas 74, but I'll go with something more like Mizzou 70, Kansas 64. Frank Haith has an opportunity to put another incredibly large feather in his cap, doesn't he?

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