What is Mizzou's "formula" for success?

Jamie Squire

Happy New Year, fellow RMNers!

Last season, Bill had "The Checklist" — what each player needed to contribute to a signature Mizzou victory. When the Tigers were 5 for 7 or better, it generally meant good things. We knew them well because they had all played together before and we knew their strengths and weaknesses as individual players. Prior to that, Mizzou’s identity was the Fastest 40; it was marvelous when it worked and hideous when it did not. If the Tigers dominated the BCI battle in a game where some contact was allowed, they were likely to impose their will on the opponent. Conversely, if the opponent was able to control tempo, limit turnovers, and beat the pants off the Tigers on the boards (well, most teams did that), it was going to be a bad night.

As expected, this season has flipped the script on what we thought constitutes "Mizzou Basketball"—the new script is that our identity is likely to change from year to year (at least, until Coach Haith has his first four-year class come through the program). We have already seen that this group is a unique ensemble with VERY high potential—but do they have a team "formula" for success? And what have Louisville and UCLA done to flip the script on us?

How This Analysis Is Constructed

I have grouped the Tigers’ 12 results on the season into four categories—mostly because I said so:

  • Good wins against good opponents: Stanford, VCU, and Illinois
  • Good wins against lesser opponents: Alcorn St., Nicholls State, Appalachian State, Tennessee State, South Carolina State (I defined these as games where Mizzou either dictated the entire game or wound up with a convincing victory in the end; Nicholls State is definitely on the fringe, but I put it here)
  • Struggles against lesser opponents: SIU-Edwardsville and SEMO
  • Losses: Louisville and UCLA

I gathered the following team stats (source: ESPN box scores) from each game to date:

  • Field goal percentage
  • 3-point field goal percentage
  • Free throw attempts per field goal attempts
  • Offensive rebounds to offensive rebound attempts (i.e., missed shots)
  • Assists per field goal made
  • Turnovers per possession (did not adjust the number of possessions for offensive rebounds, so it’s not technically correct…sorry, Bill and stat perfectionists among us)
  • Assist to turnover ratio

The stats for both offense and defense have been included. Finally, I put each result into each category to come up with a cumulative total for what Mizzou has "done" in quality wins, mostly dominant wins versus weak opponents, less than dominant wins versus weak opponents, and in their two losses.

Some of the formatting is non-standard—a guy with more time on his hands would have made the Assist/Turnover a ratio instead of a percentage—but in the interest of my time and Excel skills, I kept the formatting of the percentage. As mentioned, realize that my TO/POSS numbers aren’t correct because I did not adjust the number of possessions to account for offensive rebounds, but there is still a measure of usefulness to them (and they ARE important, as we will get to).

OFFENSE
Category Good Wins
Good Wins,
Lesser Comp.
Struggle
Wins
Losses
FGM/FGA (%) 41.3%
(83/201)
46.9%
(142/303)
45.3%
(62/137)
46.9%
(61/130)
3PM/3PA (%) 29.8%
(17/57)
32.3%
(32/99)
37.9%
(11/29)
39.5%
(17/43)
FTA/FGA (%) 27.4%
(55/201)
41.3%
(125/303)
29.2%
(40/137)
22.3%
(29/130)
OR/ORA (%) 41.5%
(49/118)
47.8%
(77/161)
40.0%
(30/75)
39.1%
(27/69)
A/FGM (%) 49.4%
(41/83)
51.4%
(73/142)
53.2%
(33/62)
55.7%
(34/61)
TO/POSS (%) 14.8%
(35/236)
18.3%
(64/349)
11.0%
(17/154)
22.6%
(38/168)
A/TO 1.17
(41/35)
1.14
(73/64)
1.94
(33/17)
0.89
(34/38)
DEFENSE
Category Good Wins
Good Wins,
Lesser Comp.
Struggle
Wins
Losses
FGM/FGA (%) 37.4%
(73/195)
31.1%
(94/302)
36.7%
(47/128)
50.0%
(71/142)
3PM/3PA (%) 26.2%
(22/84)
28.6%
(26/91)
38.5%
(20/52)
37.1%
(13/35)
FTA/FGA (%) 26.2%
(51/195)
20.5%
(62/302)
22.7%
(29/128)
25.4%
(36/142)
OR/ORA (%) 21.3%
(26/122)
25.5%
(53/208)
17.3%
(14/81)
23.9%
(17/71)
A/FGM (%) 39.7%
(29/73)
48.9%
(46/94)
48.9%
(23/47)
52.1%
(37/71)
TO/POSS (%) 14.5%
(33/228)
18.6%
(69/371)
11.7%
(17/145)
10.1%
(16/158)
A/TO 0.88
(29/33)
0.67
(46/69)
1.35
(23/17)
2.31
(37/16)

Some General Observations and Notes

1. Weirdly enough, in each "signature win" thus far, the Tigers attempted 19 three pointers. I sincerely hope that Coach Haith and staff ensure that the Tigers do not attempt less than 18 or more than 20 of them for every game for the rest of the season.

2. The Tigers just … do … not turn their opponent over on defense. It’s safe to say that expecting them to do so at this point is a bit of a reach. By every other measure of defense that Pomeroy tracks, Mizzou is either stellar (field goal percentage and FTA/FGA) or quite good (defensive rebounding); it almost seems as if the coaching staff and players have dedicated all of their efforts on challenging shots on the ball and hitting the boards off the ball. And we’ve seen the team win without turning over the opponent, so I don’t think one can say that creating turnovers is the key to a Mizzou victory.

…However, if they could somehow create more turnovers while remaining solid in the areas they are already good in, that would be nice, mmmkay, guys?

3. The Tigers have been stunningly consistent in the area of offensive rebounding. Their lowest single-game percentage on the season was 37.8 against Stanford, and they have been just over the 38 percent mark three other times (SIUE, UCLA, and Tennessee State). That percentage would be the 37th best in the nation this season. Similar to the defensive turnover issues being a given, I think it’s fair to say that the offensive rebounding is a pleasant given at this point. It has become a part of this team’s identity, so it kind of goes without saying that they have to keep it up to remain good.

4. One of two comments on the numbers I have compiled: I have noticed much more usefulness in the five results against good teams. The Tigers’ performances were pretty varied against the seven low-rated opponents and much less can be gleaned from those numbers. So, for most of the observations, I will zero in on stats from the good wins and the losses.

5. There are some sample size issues—thankfully, there are only two losses to look at—but what’s the point of scrapping a mid-season analysis for sample size issues? So I kept going. You’re welcome, or something.

Okay, Some REAL Observations Based on the Numbers

1. The real keys to this team do NOT reside on the offensive side of the ball. Look at the shooting percentages of the four categories: Mizzou shoots 5.6 percent better when it has lost to two darn good teams in comparison to its three solid victories. It is even more ridiculous from the 3-point line: a cumulative 29.8 percentage vs. Stanford, VCU, and Illinois and 39.5 percent in its two losses. It’s quite odd to me that they have shot that much better in losses.

2. THAT BEING SAID, there are two offensive keys…preventing turnovers and getting to the line. The Tigers have averaged 11.7 turnovers in its signature victories, 11.6 against bad opponents…and 19 in losses. Take care of the ball, guys. Regarding FTA/FGA, the team has averaged nearly 30 percent or better against bad opponents with lesser physical gifts to play defense, 27.4 percent in good victories, and 22.3 percent in losses. More free throw attempts, more victories. Get to the line, guys.

On to the main keys…the defense.

3. Look at the differences in opponents’ shooting percentage in good wins and bad losses. The Tigers held Stanford, VCU, and the Illini to 37.4 percent shooting and a 26.2 percent success rate from 3 (on a ridiculous 28 3-point attempts per game by those three teams—the Illini alone took 32 of them). Louisville and UCLA combined to shoot 50 percent against us and 37.1 percent from 3 (on only 17.5 attempts per game). To me, this makes the Tigers’ defense inside the arc a HUGE key to any game; no team has "beat" the Tigers from three this year. Two have, definitely, beat them inside the arc.

Side note: If limiting 3-point attempts is the key to solid 3-point defense, as Pomeroy says, this is something that could really bite the Tigers in the arse when regression to the mean strikes. However, it sure seemed that in Tiger victories they were limiting the opponents to challenged attempts, and more importantly, forcing them to take challenged attempts from 3 because the interior defense was so good.

4. Besides interior shooting, the one thing that has proven to beat the Tigers is a good passing team. More team play and more assists by the opponent have proven to be a poison pill for the squad. Stanford, VCU, and Illinois averaged 9.7 assists against the Tigers—Louisville and UCLA got us for 18.5 per. In losses, the opponents’ A/TO ratio is 2.31, and against SIUE and SEMO (our "struggle" wins), that ratio is 1.35. Ouch.

Conclusions

So what makes up a quintessential Tiger victory, and what could be the Tigers’ team checklist for the season?

1. An offensive rebounding percentage at 40 percent or better (could have gone with 37.5, but 40 is a nice, round number).

2. Fewer than 10 turnovers is optimal—and has been the average in good victories thus far—but more than 15 is quite likely to spell a Tiger loss.

3. Have an offensive FTA/FGA ratio of 25 percent or better.

4. Hold the opponent below 40 percent shooting overall.

5. Hold the opponent below 30 percent from 3-point land.

6. Hope that the opponent plays individual basketball and gets less than 15 assists per game. (This is largely a function of the opponents’ identity and there isn’t much, in my opinion, that a defense can do to influence their opponent: either they pass well or they don’t. If they pass poorly, they turn the ball over more; however, the Tigers aren’t playing the passing lanes and overplaying the ball any more, so a patient team that has the ability to make the extra pass will beat this team. Looking at Pomeroy numbers, the best team in the SEC at assist rate is Georgia—and they are at 60 percent and 62nd in the country. After that come LSU and Auburn at 97th and 98th and TAMU at 142nd. Fortunately for us, the SEC is NOT a good passing league. Well, it’s not really good at basketball at all this year, but I digress.)

So there it is. If the Tigers do all six of those things for the rest of the season without fail, they can beat any team that they play.

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