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Will Mizzou ever have a good basketball team again?

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No Links today, just a discussion.  Will Mizzou ever be good at basketball under Mike Anderson?  Actually, yes...I'm sure they can be...I just wanted to write one of those over-reactionary post titles that always annoy the hell out of me...I'm strange that way.  But I got your attention.

Anyway, I haven't talked a lot about Mizzou basketball yet this year.  A lot of that is due to Mizzou football, but a lot is also because I just haven't had a lot to say about them.  They are what they are.  

Stefhon Hannah is seemingly the only player on the team capable of hitting a big shot, but he's got as bad a good-shot-to-stupid-shot ratio as Clarence Gilbert did (and his onions aren't nearly Clarence-sized...sorry...I've always wanted to make a Raftery-esque onion reference)...

Demarre Carroll will look like an all-conference player against people his size, but as the season wears on he'll be playing against people his size less and less...

Leo Lyons is a brilliant offensive complement, but you can't really run an offense through him, and he'll disappear as soon as you take him for granted...

Keon Lawrence is proving the existence of a sophomore slump...and needs to either put on a bit more weight or develop Allen Iverson's motor...

Jason Horton will likely continue to provide strong leadership and a good mid-range jumper, but his skill set just isn't what it was supposed to be when he came here in 2004...

Matt Lawrence will carry the offense for a few more stretches this year, but if the shot isn't falling, there's nothing else that makes him anything resembling an asset...

Marshall Brown will continue to be a role player and nothing more...

J.T. Tiller can play spot-on defense and drive to the basket pretty well, but he has yet to prove that he's a reliable ball-handler or shooter...and being that we're halfway through the season, it's unlikely he'll do this year either...

Vaidatos Volkus plays well against Kansas (he did last year too, if I remember correctly), and that's about it...

Et cetera, et cetera.

Click 'Full Story' for more.

No matter who's on the court, this Mizzou team has two major problems in my eyes: halfcourt offense and rebounding.  The shooting (FG and FT) comes and goes, the defense is decent sometimes and brilliant others (and it sure wasn't the problem against Kansas), but the players don't have any confidence in their halfcourt sets (you could hear their collective sphincters tightening on the radio during those late-minute possessions last night), and they don't rebound well against bigger teams--and just about every team in the Big 12 is a bigger team.  Eighteen games into the season, how do we improve on these things?  Let's take on rebounding first.

Rebounding

For the season, we've only been outrebounded 681-666, which isn't bad on its face.  However, in 10 games against major-conference teams, we've been outrebounded 7 times, and we average minus-6 (34.0-40.1) per game.  In the Big 12, we outdid ISU (40-39) but got pounded by Texas (34-44) and Kansas (43-52).  Now, Texas and Kansas are two of the bigger teams in the country--they outrebound just about every team they play, I'm sure--but until we have the personnel to truly harass opponents with 40 full minutes of chaos, rebounds will hold us back against good teams because we just aren't going to force enough turnovers to counteract it.
Let's look at Rebounds Per Minute...see what that says about what might be holding us back.

Rebounds Per Minute (Guards)

Keon Lawrence 0.15
Matt Lawrence 0.12
J.T. Tiller 0.11
Stefhon Hannah 0.10
Jason Horton 0.08

Now the guards' numbers don't mean much in regard to rebounding, especially the points', though this does show that, along with his improving defense, Keon still has some pretty solid value to add to the team despite his awful shooting (his 1.03 Points Per Shot are by far the worst among Mizzou regulars and has fallen from an acceptable 1.19 last season).  So he's got that going for him...which is nice.

The key numbers here, obviously, belong to the forwards.

Rebounds Per Minute (Forwards/Centers)

Justin Safford 0.34
Vaidatos Volkus 0.31
DeMarre Carroll 0.29
Leo Lyons 0.23
Marshall Brown 0.17
Darryl Butterfield 0.16

Now, I can guarantee that Safford's and Volkus' numbers would go down if they started seeing more minutes or (in Safford's case especially) played more against opponents' #1 unit, but if nothing else, this does suggest that he should maybe get a few more minutes to see what he can do, especially in place of the main backups--Brown & Butterfield--who apparently fancy themselves as small forwards (in Brown's defense, he is a small forward) instead of dirty-work rebounders.

So what happens if Safford and Volkus become the first big men off the bench instead of Brown and Butterfield?  Well, it would hurt the half-court offense, for one thing.  Two more things I keep track of are Points Per Shot (PPS) and Shots Per Minute (ShPM), and multiplying them together, you can come up with a Points Per Minute measure.

Brown 1.13 PPS * 0.34 ShPM = 0.384 points per minute
Butterfield 1.20 PPS * 0.24 ShPM = 0.288 points per minute
Volkus 1.30 PPS * 0.23 ShPM = 0.299 points per minute
Safford 0.92 PPS * 0.16 ShPM = 0.147 points per minute

First of all, I'd have thought that due to the silly shots he's prone to taking from time to time, Butterfield would take a lot more than 0.24 ShPM (basically a shot every four minutes), so I guess it could be worse with Butters.  But what about other stats?

FG%: Volkus 44%, Butters 43%
FT's per minute (i.e. aggressiveness): Volkus 0.11, Butters 0.10
Off Reb Per Minute: Volkus 0.12, Butters 0.04
Def Reb Per Minute: Volkus 0.19, Butters 0.12
Assists Per Minute: Butters 0.05, Volkus 0.02
Turnovers Per Minute: both at 0.07
Steals Per Minute: Butters 0.06, Volkus 0.01
Blocks Per Minute: Volkus 0.03, Butters none
Fouls Per Minute: Volkus 0.20, Butters 0.12

So Volkus' fouls would prevent him from ever playing too much, and Butterfield's defense is probably a bit better (he's better at getting steals anyway), but if our biggest problems are rebounding and halfcourt offense (and I say they are), then Volkus' presence on the boards (he's got the best offensive rebound numbers on the team) might be vital.

(Notice I'm not saying anything about Volkus' offensive presence?  It was great that he had some buckets last night, but let's not pretend like that would happen very often.)

This season, Volkus has had way more to offer in Mizzou's problem areas than Butterfield.  DB is much better in the full-court press, but...well, we're in conference play now, and the guards are better than we saw against Coppin State or UMKC, so our press is going to become less and less of a weapon anyway.

Right now, Brown is averaging 13.4 minutes a game (17.3 in conference play), and sadly, we need his offense, so let's say he continues to get that much.  And though Lyons' rebounding numbers are low for his size as well (if the other team got an offensive rebound, chances are it came from the guy Lyons should have blocked out), we really need his offense.  Butterfield, however, averages 15.2 minutes, Volkus 5.6 (his 101 minutes have come in 16 games, not 18, but I'm dividing by 18 since it was coach's decision not to play him in the other two), and Safford 4.3 (same calculation as Volkus).  I say bump Volkus to about 10-11 and Safford a bit to 5-6, and bring Butters down to 8-10.  It's not going to do much, but it might snag us a couple more boards a game.  Plus it might help us play a little smarter on offense, as Butters has to be second-worst to Hannah in the good-shot-stupid-shot category.

Half-court offense

Okay, there really aren't any specific stats we can look at for this one.  But we'll do our best.  This is going to center on guards, as we don't have a real low-post presence on the roster.  The offense will continue to run through the guards.

Assists Per Minute

Stefhon Hannah 0.20
Jason Horton 0.15
Keon Lawrence 0.10
J.T. Tiller 0.09
Matt Lawrence 0.03

Anything stand out there?

Assists to Turnovers Ratio

Horton 2.1 to 1
Hannah 2.0 to 1
Tiller 1.8 to 1
Keon Lawrence 1.4 to 1
Matt Lawrence 1.0 to 1

Okay...how about Points Per Shot?

Horton 1.59
Hannah 1.32
Tiller 1.16
Matt Lawrence 1.12
Keon Lawrence 1.06

Minutes Per Game

Hannah 27.9
Keon Lawrence 26.9
Matt Lawrence 24.2
Horton 20.8
Tiller 15.9

In four years, I've never typed these words, but...we really need to get Jason Horton more playing time.  As he proved in a couple late possessions (and disproved in a couple others, I guess), he's just about the only guard on the roster who can a) create his own shot (that little mid-range runner), b) create for others, and c) not take stupid shots or make stupid turnovers.  He's extremely flawed by all means, but he's the best halfcourt option we've got.

Meanwhile, Matt Lawrence might be the best long-range threat we have, but as many of his 3's come in transition as in the half-court set, and if that's all you have to offer, and you can't actually create for yourself, you probably don't need to play more than about 15 minutes a game.  He's a long-range specialist...and that's it.  So subtract about 9 minutes a game from Matt Law, give 6-7 to Horton and 2-3 to Tiller, who really doesn't have a ton to offer but can at least penetrate and create once or twice a game (plus he's a solid rebounding guard)...but can't play too much more because of his 0.14 fouls per minute (second-highest to Volkus).

So to summarize...

Matt Lawrence: subtract 9 min/game
Darryl Butterfield: subtract 5-7 min/game
Jason Horton: add 6 min/game
Vaidatos Volkus: add 5 min/game
J.T. Tiller: add 3 min/game
Justin Safford: add 1-2 min/game

(Obviously you can't just say "I'm going to give so-and-so 3 more minutes" and make it so...I realize that.)

Oh, and make sure that Horton = point and Hannah = shooting guard when they're both in the game.  I'd wager that most of Hannah's turnovers come when he's been dribbling too damn much, and Horton sure isn't a spot-up threat.  They seem to split the point when they're both in, but Horton needs to be the #1 ball-handler even if Hannah's per-minute assists are a bit better.

As I said earlier, we are who we are at this point (though at some point I'll have to write a "What we need to see, and what we can expect" post in regard to the 2008-09 squad), but I think the adjustments above are the only way we can address the things that have killed our team in close games...and in case you haven't heard (I'm sure you have), we pretty much suck in close games.