Illinois 65, Missouri 64: Study Hall

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Well, next Saturday's N.C. State is now pretty damn big...

Your Trifecta: Clarkson-Ross-Brown. Though really, it was Clarkson-Clarkson-Ross.

I've decided that winning rivalry games is a lot more fun than losing them.

Illinois 65, Missouri 64

Mizzou
Illinois
Pace (No. of Possessions) 62.2
Points Per Possession (PPP) 1.03 1.05
Points Per Shot (PPS) 1.31 1.14
2-PT FG% 43.8% 42.9%
3-PT FG% 47.1% 36.4%
FT% 66.7% 61.1%
True Shooting % 56.2% 50.1%
Mizzou Illinois
Assists 13 7
Steals 7 7
Turnovers 14 11
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.43 1.27
Mizzou Illinois
Expected Offensive Rebounds 10.6 13.1
Offensive Rebounds 9 12
Difference -1.6 -1.1

Sometimes stats fit narratives. We tend to think of Teddy Valentine as a stubborn, annoying ref more focused on getting himself on TV than being a good ref. That's almost certainly unfair, of course. But the "stubborn" part seems to have come across a bit this year. Whereas fouls are up, often dramatically this season, and whereas that mostly by design, average fouls in a Valentine game have actually decreased this year. Since 1997, Valentine games averaged 34.6 fouls per game; in 2013-14, it's 33.7.

Valentine obviously wasn't the only ref on the floor, but there were 33 fouls on Saturday afternoon. With multiple charges getting called and a lot of contact near the rim not getting called, it felt like a game straight out of 2012-13 (and most years before that). Aesthetically, I didn't have a lot of complaints about the way the game was called -- there's no fun in 50 fouls -- but even after calls/no-calls that went Missouri's way, all I could think was, "Why are we doing this now?" For all the talk about rules enforcement, are we just going to revert to old enforcement in big-game environments? Is this just a Teddy Valentine thing? And what good does it do for games to be called one way, then suddenly be called another?

I'm not going to complain and say it cost Missouri the game or anything (though I'm pretty sure Mizzou got called for as many charges on Saturday as in the previous 10 games combined), but it certainly left me a little bit worried about this whole "new rules enforcement" idea.

I digress.

  • Speaking of flashbacks to previous seasons ... Mizzou shot better from the floor and from the line and somehow won the ball-handling battle despite 14 turnovers, but the Tigers were outrebounded and, in part, lost the game because of it. Despite Earnest Ross joining Johnathan Williams III on the glass, Mizzou still didn't pull in enough second-chance opportunities. Ross and Williams combined for six offensive rebounds; the rest of the team had three. And another guard, Illinois' Joseph Bertrand, almost matched these two with five of his own, nearly half of Illinois' total. Mizzou actually took better advantage of its opportunities -- second-chance points: MU 13, UI 4 -- but obviously Mizzou still needed more.

  • Beyond that, though, it really is kind of difficult to figure out how the hell Illinois won this game. I mean, I know how the Illini won -- I watched the game, after all -- but it's hard to make statistical sense of it. Mizzou won three of the Four Factors above and barely lost the fourth. And lost.

Mizzou Player Stats

(Definitions at the bottom of the post.)

Player
AdjGS GmSc/Min Line
Jordan Clarkson 31.3 0.89 35 Min, 25 Pts (8-13 FG, 2-3 3PT, 7-9 FT), 6 Reb (1 Off), 8 Ast, 3 TO, 2 PF
Earnest Ross 16.6 0.55 30 Min, 13 Pts (4-9 FG, 1-4 3PT, 4-5 FT), 8 Reb (3 Off), 3 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 TO, 3 PF
Jabari Brown 8.9 0.24 37 Min, 10 Pts (3-11 FG, 3-7 3PT, 1-2 FT), 7 Reb (1 Off), 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 TO, 1 PF
Johnathan Williams III 7.4 0.25 29 Min, 6 Pts (3-7 FG, 0-2 FT), 5 Reb (3 Off), 3 Blk, 2 PF
Ryan Rosburg 1.1 0.05 23 Min, 2 Pts (1-1 FG), 3 Reb (1 Off), 3 PF
Tony Criswell 0.9 0.04 22 Min, 5 Pts (2-3 FG, 1-2 3PT), 2 Reb, 1 Stl, 3 TO, 4 PF
Wes Clark -3.0 -0.12 24 Min, 3 Pts (1-5 FG, 1-1 3PT), 3 TO, 2 PF
Player Usage% Floor% Touches/
Poss.
%Pass %Shoot %Fouled %T/O
Clarkson 32% 54% 6.6 66% 18% 11% 4%
Ross 25% 41% 3.6 53% 27% 13% 6%
Brown 21% 25% 2.3 44% 41% 7% 8%
JW3 15% 33% 1.0 0% 80% 20% 0%
Rosburg 5% 44% 0.3 0% 50% 0% 50%
Criswell 15% 28% 0.9 0% 50% 0% 50%
Clark 19% 10% 1.1 0% 63% 0% 38%
  • Games like this always give us an opportunity to figure out who Frank Haith trusts at this point in the season. This was Missouri's first truly tight, nip-and-tuck-all-the-way, neutral site game of the year, and Haith responded by playing seven guys. Keanau Post, Torren Jones, and Shane Rector didn't see the court despite the fact that Ryan Rosburg, Tony Criswell and Wes Clark were delivering next to nothing. Criswell made a couple of important shots late in the first half, but the three combined for -1.0 Adj. GS points. Yuck. It was almost enough thanks to Clarkson and some timely shots from Ross and Brown, but it indeed wasn't enough.

Three Keys Revisited

From Friday's preview:

1. Win the Point

There are obviously a lot of interesting one-on-one matchups here. Bertrand ... Ekey ... Brown ... Ross ... Rice ... any of them could go crazy from the wing. But the biggest individual advantage Missouri has is at the point, where Jordan Clarkson has been a revelation and Tracy Abrams is still a bit hit-or-miss. If Clarkson is hitting jumpers and getting to the line, he can get to 25 points really easily, and it's hard to imagine Abrams keeping up from a points-and-passing standpoint. But if Clarkson is getting frustrated and getting a little out of control, like he did on Sunday against WMU, Mizzou's biggest opportunity for an advantage is probably squandered. And against a defense good at not fouling and preventing too many assists, this could go either way.

Clarkson was damn strong, and Mizzou was lost when he wasn't on the court. But while Clarkson did Clarkson things, Abrams did quite a bit to match him.

Clarkson: 35 minutes, 25 points (8-13 FG), 8 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers
Abrams: 36 minutes, 22 points (7-16 FG), 1 assist, 0 steals, 1 turnover

Clarkson had more assists (eight) than the entire Illinois team (seven), but Abrams' scoring allowed Illinois to stay close enough to win with key contributions from players like Jon Ekey. And obviously Abrams' final two points were pretty key.

2. Hit the glass

It's Mizzou's other potentially big advantage. Missouri is a good offensive rebounding team (primarily because of JW3) and an absolutely outstanding defensive rebounding team. If Illinois is able to break even on the glass, it becomes a shooting competition. Hey, speaking of which...

Expected Offensive Rebounds: Illinois -1.1, Mizzou -1.6

Key.

3. SOMEBODY PLEASE GUARD JOE BERTRAND

Missouri is a much better defensive team on the perimeter this year. The Tigers are very tall, Clarkson is a solid defender, and Jabari Brown has improved dramatically in this regard. (Seriously, I can't say enough about how impressed I am with Brown's offseason improvement. He has closed a lot of the holes in his game.) Still, Bertrand has been ... well, not a Tiger killer because Missouri's won each of the games against him ... but he's been a Tiger wounder, I guess. He almost single-handedly brought Illinois back in the second half two years ago, he scored 10 points in the second half last year, and in two games against Mizzou, he's scored 32 points on 14-for-20 shooting. That's not a huge sample, but ... somebody please guard Joe Bertrand. Thanks.

In the end, Bertrand didn't kill Missouri from the floor (9 points on 4-for-8 shooting), but his five offensive rebounds were vital, as were his two steals. Mizzou's defense as a whole was pretty damn awesome, but Illinois ended up doing the Little Things™ better than the Tigers.

Summary

Losing isn't fun, but I found it difficult to be too terribly discouraged by this one. Mizzou was projected to win by one and lost by one. Those things happen.

If Missouri gets anything from its bench, anything at all, the Tigers win. That they almost did regardless is a silver lining, I guess, but this game further proved what we already knew about the team's strengths and weaknesses. It has a hell of a Big Three -- despite Jabari Brown's struggles from the field, the three still scored 48 points on 15-for-33 shooting, and Brown still made what was almost the game-winning 3-pointer in the final 15 seconds -- and Johnathan Williams is good at hitting the glass and blocking shots despite next to no touch around the rim. But if Missouri gets nothing from anybody else, it's going to be difficult to win.

This, of course, makes the N.C. State game next Saturday an enormous one. Pomeroy has the Wolfpack projected to win by two; it's another virtual tossup. Figure out how to take that one, and you're almost certainly 12-1 heading into conference play. Lose, and you're still 11-2 and easily looking at 22-23 wins overall, but the "no quality non-conference wins away from home" thing will hurt Mizzou, either in terms of NCAA Tournament seeding, or in tourney inclusion at all. Losing in Raleigh wouldn't be a death knell, but it would be a black mark on the resume. So yeah, let's try winning it.

---

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.

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 an offensively limited center, 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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