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Study Hall: Vanderbilt

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Your Trifecta: Denmon-Dixon-Ratliffe.  Your winner: somebody, of course.  As long as we have only three players capable of finishing in the top three, we will continue to have winners.  This time: The Hamburglar, tigr, pinkelposse, and mizzou 123.

(Technically, however, nobody won the Trifecta, as nobody picked Denmon-Dixon-Ratcliff.  It really is amazing that nobody in the ESPNU production truck -- or the play-by-play guy -- filled Hubert Davis in during a commercial break that there is indeed no "C" in Ricardo Ratliffe's last name.  It's one thing to get it wrong once or twice.  He was still getting it wrong at the end of the game.)

Honestly, to the extent that Mizzou has problems (I don't want to overstate things since, you know, they did win last night and are 7-1), I think the Trifecta is dropping hints.  After what seemed like eons of nobody winning the Trifecta, we've had winners for three straight games -- all three either Denmon-Dixon-Ratliffe or Denmon-Ratliffe-Dixon -- and it hasn't really been that close.  That is not how this system is supposed to work.  Mizzou has dodged two bullets in the last seven days, and that's awesome (it's always more fun to talk about problems after wins), but ... there's no questioning that quite a few players are having pretty disappointing seasons so far.  And we're basically a quarter of the way through the season.

Anyway, let's take a look at both the Vandy game and, later, the season as a whole ... see what we can learn.

(Box score here, for anybody who wants to follow along.)

Mizzou 85, Vanderbilt 82

Pace (No. of Possessions)
Points Per Minute
1.89 1.82
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.09 1.05
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.05 1.39
2-PT FG% 39.7% 64.7%
3-PT FG% 34.8% 36.0%
FT% 58.2% 50.0%
True Shooting % 46.9% 59.7%
Mizzou Vandy
Assists 13 15
Steals 8 8
Turnovers 10 17
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
2.10 1.35
Mizzou Vandy
Expected Offensive Rebounds 19 12
Offensive Rebounds 21 8
Difference +2 -4

Everything I Thought I Knew About This Game Was Wrong

Mizzou outrebounded Vanderbilt significantly.  Vandy matched Mizzou in the steals department.  Mizzou (almost) matched Vanderbilt in the 3PT% department.  Mizzou outshot Vandy from the free throw line.

Tell me again why I write these previews (other than to give people a place to enter their suddenly easy Trifecta picks)?

Get 'Em High

There have probably been better Mizzou rebounding games in recent years, some that I'm inevitably forgetting ... but wow, was this one of Mizzou's better rebounding games in a long time.  Festus Ezeli played 33 minutes and grabbed just three offensive rebounds.  The rest of the team: only five.  While Marcus Denmon was struggling to find his mark and Kim English was in foul trouble, Mizzou needed two things: 1) somebody else to do some scoring, and 2) a way to tread water.  Mike Dixon took over in the points department, and Mizzou's rebounding on both sides of the ball prevented Vanderbilt from getting ahead.

Now's a good time to mention just how grateful I am that Ricardo Ratliffe chose Mizzou last spring.  His Defensive Rebound% for the season is 23%; last year's highest: 16% (Laurence Bowers).  His Offensive Rebound% for the season is 13%; last year's highest: 12% (Bowers again).  Bowers is basically doing exactly what he did last season (12% on offense, 15% on defense), but on the glass, Mizzou has basically replaced Keith Ramsey with a souped-up Linas Kleiza.  The last time a major contributor hit even 22% on the defensive glass: Kalen Grimes (24% in 2006-07).  If you don't really consider him a 'major' contributor, then it's Kleiza (26% in limited minutes in 2003-04).  The last time a starter did it: Albert White (22% in 1998-99).  He is a rock on the inside.  Oh yeah, and he's capable of logging major minutes.  He has been simply awesome ... and he's still only beginning to figure things out offensively.

You Don't Have to Be Great, Just Better Than Your Opponent

Free throws during the last four minutes of regulation:

Mizzou: 6-for-9 (66.7%)
Vanderbilt: 0-for-4 (0.0%)

Mizzou Player Stats - Vanderbilt

(Definitions at the bottom of the post.)

AdjGS GmSc/Min Line
Marcus Denmon 22.9 0.59 39 Min, 21 Pts (7-19 FG, 2-7 3PT, 5-6 FT), 6 Reb, 4 Ast, 2 Stl
Mike Dixon 18.7 0.50 37 Min, 15 Pts (7-15 FG, 1-3 3PT), 4 Reb, 4 Ast, 3 Stl
Ricardo Ratliffe 17.3 0.45 38 Min, 14 Pts (6-11 FG, 2-4 FT), 9 Reb (4 Off), 2 Stl
Laurence Bowers 9.5 0.37 26 Min, 8 Pts (3-9 FG, 2-2 FT), 7 Reb (5 Off), 3 Blk
Kim English 9.0 0.31 29 Min, 12 Pts (3-10 FG, 3-5 3PT, 3-4 FT), 6 Reb
Justin Safford 4.5 0.25 18 Min, 8 Pts (2-6 FG, 3-4 FT, 3 Reb (3 Off), 3 TO
Steve Moore 2.4 0.30 8 Min, 2 Pts (1-3 FG), 2 Reb (2 Off)
Matt Pressey 0.0 0.00 14 Min, 3 Pts (1-4 FG, 1-3 3PT), 2 TO
Phil Pressey -3.9 -0.25 16 Min, 2 Pts (1-4 FG, 0-2 FT), 2 TO, 4 PF

Bench? What Bench?

Three players with 17 points or more from an AdjGS perspective, only two more with as much as five, and four bench players combining for three.  This is not the 'deep' team we were expecting to see.  It's obviously still early, but we're just far enough along that we can justifiably be a bit worried.

I Don't Even Know What to Say About Marcus

I've been holding off on mentioning Marcus Denmon, simply because ... what can I say that hasn't already been said.  In the midst of some gripping grief, Denmon showed more leadership and heart than he ever has.  He even added extra degree of difficulty by starting out 1-for-8, which means he finished 6-for-11.  I figured he was due a bad game (almost nobody shoots his percentages for an extended period of time ... at least, not unless they wear a Georgetown uniform), and this certainly looked like it would fit the bill.  But when the game was on the line, Denmon did something he really hasn't done this year: he dominated the ball.  Look at the Usage stats below -- aside from Justin Safford, he was the only player with a Usage% over 20%.  Unlike most of the season (his usage rate doesn't even qualify him as a "significant contributor" in Ken Pomeroy's stats), he made himself the focus of the offense, and he made virtually every shot he needed to make.

And that steal at the end.  So, so pretty.

Oh yeah, and in the last four games he has eight assists, eight steals, and just two turnovers.  For those scoring at home, that's a BCI of 8.0.  He has always let the game come to him; that's the primary reason he has disappeared at times over the last couple of years -- sometimes the game simply doesn't come to you.  But as he has become more and more experienced, his understanding of this level of basketball has grown, and the game seems to be "coming to him" at a much higher level.  It's frightening to think how good he can be if he begins to develop a sense for "the moment" like he did last night.

Player Usage% Floor% Touches/
%Pass %Shoot %Fouled %T/O
Marcus Denmon 25% 41% 3.5 50% 40% 10% 0%
Mike Dixon 19% 46% 3.1 60% 38% 0% 2%
Ricardo Ratliffe 16% 46% 1.6 28% 52% 15% 5%
Laurence Bowers 19% 34% 1.9 34% 51% 9% 6%
Kim English 18% 32% 1.3 0% 75% 25% 0%
Justin Safford 27% 29% 2.9 32% 33% 18% 17%
Steve Moore 17% 30% 1.1 0% 100% 0% 0%
Matt Pressey 19% 20% 2.4 49% 34% 0% 17%
Phil Pressey 19% 18% 2.4 43% 30% 12% 15%

Settle Down, Saffy

Justin Safford still brings plenty to the table for Missouri.  He's a good offensive rebounder, and he has upped his game this year on the defensive glass as well.  Plus, he really does have an innate ability to take over for a small handful of possessions at a time when the offense is becoming stagnant.  If there were a way to measure one's ability to score in moments where nobody else is asserting themselves, Safford would be one of the best in the country.

But right now, he's taking just as much off the table, primarily in the form of turnovers.  His %TO in the last two seasons was 7% and 8%.  This year: 12%.  In 18 minutes, he accounted for 30% of Mizzou's turnovers, and it is really hard to stay on the court if you're hemorrhaging possessions.  (Just ask Ricky Kreklow -- his 18% turnover rate has to be the biggest reason why he has only played 57 minutes in eight games.)  Lucky for Safford, Mike Anderson clearly doesn't trust John Underwood to log real minutes yet.  (I wish I knew why; I want to see what he can do in real game situations ... though I assume Anderson knows more than I do about the guy.)  Unlucky for Safford: Tony Mitchell might still show up in a few weeks, and lord knows Ricardo Ratliffe has done very little to earn a reduction in minutes.

(Then again, if I were a betting man, I'd be wagering that the clearinghouse will rule on Mitchell some time in the 2014-15 academic year. Sheesh.)

Three Keys Revisited

From Tuesday's preview.


Considering how turnover-prone Vanderbilt was heading into this game, it was a bit surprising to see Mizzou only forcing 17 turnovers, though that is still a solid total.  Still, thanks to Mizzou's decent ball control (it may have seemed like Mizzou had committed 25 turnovers due to Vandy's eight steals, but they only committed two non-steal turnovers, which was nice), they won the BCI battle handily.  Not as handily as I expected, but handily.

Guard the Perimeter

Vanderbilt: 9-for-25 from 3-point range. One thing's for certain: we can't complain that Vanderbilt was simply getting lucky.  They made a few well-contested 3-pointers in the game's first 23 minutes, but they balanced that out by missing quite a few open ones later in the game.  They started 6-for-13 from long range, then finished 3-for-12.  In the end, I guess you could say that Mizzou indeed played 36% 3PT% defense, but at best the luck balanced out.  At worst, Mizzou was lucky, and this is still a huge concern.

Kim English

Kim English: 29 minutes, 12 points (3-for-10 FG, 3-5 3PT, 3-4 FT), 6 defensive rebounds.  When it comes to Kimmeh's shot selection, I've made up my mind on it before I see whether it's gone in or not (though with Kimmeh, you can usually tell whether it's going in by how he jumps when he takes the shot).  Of his ten shots, I would put two in the "NOOOOOOOO!" department, two more in the "GO STRAIGHT UP!!!!" department, and about six in the "I'm fine with that" department.  For Lord Baltimore, that's not bad.

As far as his overall game goes ... I came to a realization last night: Kim English 2010-11 is Brad Smith 2004.  Kim has always said and done the right things in the offseason; this past summer, all we saw on Twitter was how he was working with Derrick Chievous, developing a mid-range game, learning how to draw contact, etc.  Perfect.  That's exactly what we wanted.  But in the process, he seems to have completely lost his instincts.  This new offensive mindset that he has tried to develop is anything but reflexive so far.  It's like Brad Smith trying to become more of a pocket passer. He learned what you're supposed to do, but his instincts were just not meshing. He froze up a lot, and it's what we see a bit from English.  He's not as certain what he wants to do with the ball, and it is has very clearly impacted his game.

Now, two disclaimers:

1) His overall game has indeed improved.  His rebounding percentages are right where they were a year ago, but his assists-per-minute have risen, and he is indeed drawing more fouls.  His six defensive rebounds last night (double his average) were huge and helped keep Vandy from dominating the offensive glass like they have other opponents this year.

2) We really don't have any idea how much his apparent hand injury is bothering him.  For all we know, that alone is affecting his level of confidence/certainty on offense, and everything I said above about Brad Smith 2004 is completely off-base.  We also probably won't know how much his injury is impacting him until after the season, unfortunately.  For now, we just have to live with this new version of Kim English until his game officially becomes whatever it is in the process of becoming.


Chalk one up for pure guts.  Vanderbilt's offense was running more smoothly at the end of the game, their offensive rebounding picked up, and for most of the last five minutes of regulation and overtime, it felt like they had a two-possession lead.  They were in control of the flow of the game.  And Mizzou won anyway.  The defense stiffened (and got lucky), Vanderbilt blinked at the free throw line, and Marcus Denmon unleashed a T.J. Moe level of heroics. 

Sometime soon (probably tomorrow), I'm going to take a look at Mizzou's individual and team stats for the season as a whole, comparing them to where we were at this point last year and looking at which players are over- and underachieving compared to what we projected.  But first, I'm officially moving on from this game.  Mizzou got the bounces at the end and Marcus Denmon became a leader, and now Mizzou is 7-1, and the non-conference home winning streak is intact.  Three more tuneups (including a revenge game against Oral Roberts), and it's time for Braggin' Rights against a very good Illinois team.



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.  As you would expect, someone like Kim English has a high Usage%, while Steve Moore has an extremely low one.

Floor%: Via 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 Steve Moore, 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.