Study Hall: Mizzou 78, Mississippi State 36

USA TODAY Sports

Your Trifecta: Brown-Bell-Bowers. Your winner: GreenChileMizzou. A lot of people picked these three players, but only one got them in the right order. But the real story here is ... we almost had the greatest, most random trifecta ever. If Corey Haith had banked in two bad 3-pointers instead of just one, he would have ended up in the No. 3 spot. This was an odd, odd box score. Brown and Bell dominated, but nobody else really stood out. Oh yeah, and Missouri won by 42 on the road.

Mizzou 78, Mississippi State 36

Mizzou
MSU
Pace (No. of Possessions) 66.3
Points Per Possession (PPP) 1.18 0.54
Points Per Shot (PPS) 1.34 0.78
2-PT FG% 57.9% 29.6%
3-PT FG% 45.0% 15.8%
FT% 70.0% 50.0%
True Shooting % 62.5% 33.3%
Mizzou MSU
Assists 21 3
Steals 8 4
Turnovers 14 15
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
2.07 0.47
Mizzou MSU
Expected Offensive Rebounds 10 14
Offensive Rebounds 10 6
Difference +0 -8

Offense is a funny thing. When it works, it looks so easy that you expect it to always work. Basketball, football ... the sport doesn't really matter.

My first thought about halfway through Missouri's win last night was, "Our offense really doesn't look very good." Turnovers, missed chipshots, a couple of hilariously awful no-look passes from Flip Pressey, only average offensive rebounding ... it just didn't seem like things were clicking at a very high level. But at the end of the game, Missouri had averaged a perfectly healthy, strong 1.18 points per possession. Even if Mississippi State had played competent offense of its own, Missouri was still going to win easily with that type of efficiency. And my thought was "Our offense really doesn't look very good." The eyeballs are funny sometimes.

In essence, this comes down to two things: 1) Exactly what I said above. You expect it to work all the time, and you remember the failures more than the successes. Again, this goes for any sport. And even when you are dominating on offense, you are failing on about half of your possessions. 2) When Missouri fails, it fails in an ugly way. Silly turnovers, over-reliance on 3-pointers that clearly aren't falling, etc. Missouri never seems to pass well and earn a shot that just doesn't fall. They have to flip a no-look pass to the other team, or stagnate on the perimeter and yank up a contested 20-footer, or miss three putback opportunities. The Tigers are maddening in this regard.

The Tigers are also a really, really good offensive team. Missouri currently ranks 13th in Ken Pomeroy's offensive ratings. That's with the long scoring droughts, and the occasional shooting deficiencies, and the iffy ball-handling, and the inability to consistently draw fouls. The failures mask the extreme efficiency.

Missouri's offense is not going to be the reason this team ultimately falls in the season. It isn't Missouri's fatal flaw. Sure, there might be some late-game failings as there were against UCLA, LSU and Texas A&M; but in each of those three games, better defense in the first 38 minutes would have rendered the final two minutes of offense moot. Mizzou ranks 78th in Pomeroy's defensive ratings, and that's after about a 25-spot jump following last night's game.

All this said ... wow, did the offense (on paper) and the defense (via the eyeballs) look awesome last night. Mississippi State is a terrible shooting team, but they were not earning that many open looks. And despite the fact that a lot of teams have killed MSU this year, Missouri did so in a way that allowed them to jump from 38th to 25th overnight in Pomeroy's rankings.

In all, Mizzou has jumped from 48th to 25th in the last six days. Goodness. In the last 89 minutes of basketball, the Tigers have outscored their opponents 200-129. And for 49 of those minutes, their opponents were actually pretty decent. If this is the Missouri we can expect for much of the rest of the season, March could end up pretty fun. But that's a pretty big if.

Mizzou Player Stats

(Definitions at the bottom of the post.)

Player
AdjGS GmSc/Min Line
Jabari Brown 21.3 0.73 29 Min, 20 Pts (7-11 FG, 3-6 3PT, 3-4 FT), 3 Reb, 3 Ast, 3 Stl
Keion Bell 17.3 0.54 32 Min, 24 Pts (10-16 FG, 2-4 3PT, 2-3 FT), 5 Reb, 5 Ast, 2 TO, 4 PF
Laurence Bowers 8.4 0.42 20 Min, 11 Pts (5-9 FG, 1-1 3PT, 0-1 FT), 4 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 TO
Phil Pressey 8.3 0.24 34 Min, 2 Pts (1-1 FG), 8 Ast, 4 Reb, 3 Stl, 4 TO
Corey Haith 5.8 1.17 5 Min, 5 Pts (1-2 3PT, 2-2 FT)
Stefan Jankovic 4.6 0.66 7 Min, 6 Pts (2-3 3PT), 2 Reb, 3 PF
Earnest Ross 4.3 0.27 16 Min, 4 Pts (2-5 FG, 0-2 3PT), 5 Reb, 3 Ast, 2 TO
Alex Oriakhi 4.1 0.19 22 Min, 2 Pts (1-4 FG), 10 Reb, 3 Blk
Tony Criswell 2.3 0.14 16 Min, 2 Pts (1-2 FG), 5 Reb, 2 Ast
Ryan Rosburg 1.2 0.11 11 Min, 2 Pts (1-3 FG), 4 Reb
Danny Feldmann 0.0 0.00 3 Min
Dominique Bull 0.0 0.00 3 Min
Negus Webster-Chan -2.0 -0.17 12 Min, 0 Pts (0-2 3PT)
Player Usage% Floor% Touches/
Poss.
%Pass %Shoot %Fouled %T/O
Brown 26% 55% 3.8 51% 32% 15% 3%
Bell 33% 50% 3.3 35% 48% 12% 6%
Bowers 31% 42% 3.8 49% 27% 5% 8%
Pressey 8% 48% 4.9 90% 2% 0% 8%
Haith 32% 49% 2.9 0% 43% 57% 0%
Jankovic 31% 49% 4.5 60% 30% 0% 10%
Ross 24% 35% 4.9 72% 20% 0% 8%
Oriakhi 12% 16% 0.7 0% 80% 0% 20%
Criswell 10% 43% 2.9 80% 14% 0% 6%
Rosburg 15% 27% 0.9 0% 100% 0% 0%
NWC 9% 0% 0.5 0% 100% 0% 0%
  • Player stagnates, coach sends message, player turns everything around. That's the way it's supposed to go, but the narrative is rarely actually that simple. But ...

    Keion Bell (first 14 games): 20.3 MPG, 8.0 PPG, 6 FGA per game, 1.3 APG), 8.2 AdjGS PPG
    Keion Bell (last 8 games): 29.0 MPG, 16.5 PPG, 10.5 FGA per game, 1.9 APG), 17.7 AdjGS PPG

    Bell played four minutes against Alabama and was benched. In his previous five games, he had zero assists to four turnovers, and had scored more than four points in a game just twice. Missouri was in desperate need of one more scorer and one more ball-handler, and he wasn't really providing either. But whatever message Frank Haith tried to send him against Alabama, it was received.

    It is probably no coincidence that perhaps Missouri's two worst performances of the season -- the narrow win over South Carolina and the loss to LSU -- came with Bell injured and on the bench. (Yes, the Florida and Ole Miss games could also be considered major contenders in the "worst" race.) With the Keion Bell of the past eight games, Missouri probably would have won both of those games comfortably. But wow, has he been tremendous lately. He makes Missouri a completely different team, especially on the offensive end.
  • Last night, I saw the best version of Jabari Brown yet. Yes, the opponent matters, but I'm not talking about the stats (believe it or not). Brown's body language has changed in the last month. He's developing a little bit of swagger, and he has clearly begun to figure out what he can and cannot get away with on the court. It's one thing to let the game come to you; it's another to say "GOTCHA" to the game and milk every possible point out of your opportunities. Brown's doing that now. That's exciting. He still has some developing to do on the defensive end, but the offense is coming naturally now.
  • We'll call that Mostly Good Flip. Phil Pressey was in his "no shooting, only passing" mode last night, and while that resulted in a couple of ridiculous, silly turnovers, it was mostly a good thing. And a good portion of Missouri fans will tell you that's exactly what Flip needs to do at all times. The problem, of course, is that good defense can basically contain him and force him to shoot occasionally. If he attempts the "no shots" routine against a team like Florida or Kentucky (or potentially Arkansas or South Carolina), he'll end up with four assists and eight turnovers. He'll have to shoot against those teams.

    (I admit it, though: I did chuckle quite a bit when he got yanked for his no-look, fast-break pass to the Mississippi State defender. Not only did he get pulled from the game for doing something stupid, but when TV did a close-up of him afterward, he attempted to slap five to another player subbing into the game. That player either didn't see him or ignored him; either way, he came across looking like Buck Showalter, and that will make me giggle every time.
  • Nobody packs 15 minutes of stats into seven minutes, for better or worse, like Stefan Jankovic.

Three Keys Revisited

From yesterday's preview.

Show Up

I hate to be mean, but if Missouri brings its B-game to Starkville, the Tigers win relatively comfortably. They could probably win with their C-game. But they do have to bring at least that. We've seen some stinkers in our time, and if Mizzou isn't playing with the appropriate level of aggression or competence, this could certainly end up a loss.

The offense was indeed a bit hit-or-miss at first, scoring just 14 points in the first 10 minutes or so, but it's safe to say Mizzou showed up, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers dominated the glass, contested passes and shots, and eventually got enough offense to coast.

Make Shots

In Mizzou wins versus "real" teams, the Tigers shoot 49% on 2-pointers and 38% on 3-pointers. In Mizzou losses, its' 48% and 30%. In the end, this isn't the whole story in Mizzou losses -- it alone doesn't account for the disparity in Mizzou's points per possession in wins (1.19) and losses (0.95) -- but ... well ... we've seen Missouri do some serious brick-laying at times. Make your open shots (and you'll get some), and you'll probably win, even if you're turning the ball over a bit too much for my liking.

The first-half shooting percentages weren't very good -- 47 percent on 2-pointers, 33 percent on 3-pointers.

The second-half percentages, meanwhile, were incredible -- 62 percent on 2-pointers, 50 percent on 3-pointers.

Oriakhi vs. Ware

In terms of individual matchups, I guess the most important would probably be Phil Pressey vs. MSU point guards Trivante Bloodman and Tyson Cunningham. Opposing PGs tend to have great games versus Missouri on the road. But the most interesting matchup has to be Alex Oriakhi vs. Gavin Ware, one of the best big men in the SEC versus one of the future best big men in the SEC. If Oriakhi can avoid foul trouble, he should have a decent advantage over the young Ware, but Ware draws fouls quite well, and if AO is on the bench, Ware has a significant size advantage over replacements like Tony Criswell and Laurence Bowers and might be a little too much for Ryan Rosburg at this point. If Oriakhi is forced to live on the bench for a while, MSU has a clearly-defined matchup advantage it can milk (if the MSU guards can avoid turnovers in getting him the ball).

Yeah, this matchup was a bit of a dud.

Oriakhi: 22 minutes, 2 points on 1-for-4 shooting, 10 rebounds (one on offense)
Ware: 28 minutes, 7 points on 3-for-7 shooting, five rebounds (two on offense)

Thanks to defense and the Bell-Brown combination, Mizzou didn't need Oriakhi, which was good -- Oriakhi really only showed up on defense. But that was enough ... this time.

Summary

Again, Missouri has probably played its best 90 minutes of the year in the last 90 minutes on the court. You want to be peaking heading into the most important stretch of your season, and that appears to be what's happening. That said...

...Mizzou could still really easily lose the next three games with anything less than this level of play. Keep bringing it, guys.

---

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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