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Study Hall: Mizzou vs Nebraska -- Not a Trap

Image via Lincoln Journal-Star

Your trifecta: Denmon-Taylor-Bowers.  Your winner: nobody.  Skins Game rules carry over once again, and the Colorado game mid-week will be worth SEVEN games.

Great freaking win yesterday.  Obviously if you're a likely NCAA Tourney team, you're supposed to beat the conference's last-place team, but considering Doc Sadler's previous success against Mike Anderson, the fact that NU had taken their game up a notch recently, and the fact that Mizzou was coming off of a big home win, the letdown possibilities were endless.  And then NU went up 11-1.  But after Mike Anderson's 30-second timeout 3:48 into the game, Mizzou outscored the Huskers 73-48.  They were intense and efficient, and Marcus Denmon crushed souls as he tends to do on the road.

(Do be sure to check out the home-road splits at the end of the post ... they are fascinating.)

Mizzou 74, Nebraska 59

Points Per Minute
1.85 1.48
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.15 0.92
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.35 1.28
2-PT FG% 38.9% 46.7%
3-PT FG% 57.9% 37.5%
FT% 61.9% 65.0%
True Shooting % 57.6% 53.8%
Mizzou NU
Assists 15 14
Steals 6 5
Turnovers 13 17
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.62 1.12
Mizzou NU
Expected Offensive Rebounds 12 10
Offensive Rebounds 13 8
Difference +1 -2

Nebraska scored 11 points on their first six possessions...

...and then averaged 0.83 points per possession the rest of the way.  Mizzou committed nine fouls in the game's first eight minutes, then committed only ten the rest of the way.  This game started as poorly as Mizzou could have imagined, but the Tigers got their footing, started executing, and looked just about as good as this team can look -- offensively and defensively -- over the final 30-35 minutes.  Great to see.

Just look at some of Nebraska's individual stats: Jorge Brian Diaz, who grabbed nine boards against Kansas a few games ago, grabbed three.  Point guard Lance Jeter had one assist and five turnovers.  NU guards not named Ryan Anderson shot 4-for-15; meanwhile, Anderson was only 3-for-9 after the 11-1 start.  Oh yeah, and MU outrebounded the Huskers.  Hard to lose when all that is happening and you're going 11-for-19 from 3-point range.

Denmon great + Paul not terrible = win

Remember a couple of weeks ago, when we looked at what (and who) matters most to Mizzou in wins and losses?  Remember how the greatest per-minute differences between wins and losses belonged to Marcus Denmon and Miguel Paul?  Well, Denmon was near-perfect yesterday, while Paul gave 12 solid minutes.  This is over-simplifying things a bit, but ... when that happens, Mizzou wins. Opponents always have to keep track of Kim English, even when he's cold, and when Denmon gets hot, the opponent doesn't have enough guards to compensate for 40 minutes, especially if a) Zaire Taylor is knocking down open 3's (which he did yesterday) and b) Miguel Paul is playing good defense and not making bad decisions on offense.  That's too much to account for unless you are completely decimating Mizzou on the interior ... and Mizzou has held its own inside for a majority of conference play.

Mizzou Player Stats

Player AdjGS* GmSc/Min Line
Marcus Denmon 27.8 1.16 24 Min, 24 Pts (8-for-12 FG, 5-for-7 3PT, 3-for-4 FT), 3 Ast, 2 Reb
Zaire Taylor 18.4 0.63 29 Min, 18 Pts (6-for-13 FG, 4-for-7 3PT, 2-for-4 FT), 8 Reb (4 Off), 2 TO
Laurence Bowers 12.0 0.46 26 Min, 12 Pts (4-for-5 FG, 4-for-6 FT), 1 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 TO
Keith Ramsey 8.6 0.31 28 Min, 4 Pts (2-for-5 FG), 7 Reb (2 Off), 2 Ast, 2 Blk
Miguel Paul 4.3 0.36 12 Min, 3 Pts (1-for-2 FG, 3PT), 2 Ast
J.T. Tiller 2.1 0.15 14 Min, 0 Pts (0-for-0 FG), 3 Reb (2 Off), 3 Ast, 2 TO
Mike Dixon 0.4 0.03 15 Min, 2 Pts (1-for-1 FG), 2 TO
Justin Safford -0.5 -0.04 14 Min, 3 Pts (1-for-5 FG, 1-for-2 FT), 2 Reb
Steve Moore -0.5 -0.07 8 Min, 0 Pts (0-for-0 FG)
Kim English -2.1 -0.07 29 Min, 8 Pts (2-for-11 FG, 1-for-3 3PT, 3-for-5 FT), 3 Reb, 3 TO
John Underwood 0.0 0.00 1 Min
Tyler Stone 0.0 0.00 0+ Min

* 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.

  • This was the perfect Marcus Denmon offensive game.  Not only did he make five of seven 3-pointers, but he also took five 2-pointers (making three) and drew four free throws.  When his 3 is falling, defenders over-compensate, and he was brilliant in executing the pump-fake and drive.  For some reason, he does this much more on the road than at home, but ... well, that almost adds to the soul-crushing aura, doesn't it?  He thrives in hostile surroundings, apparently.
  • Games like this makes me wonder if maybe Zaire Taylor can draw an NBA roster spot for at least a year or two.  I think the odds are obviously small, but if he can play good defense, make open shots, grab the occasional boards, and play smart with the ball (his assist-to-turnover ratio for the season is 2.18-to-1) ... then why not?  Maybe he's not quick enough, I'm not sure.  But you start to wonder ...
  • Laurence Bowers with the Laurence Bowers Special: the quietest of 12 points on five shots.  I would have guessed he had 6-8 points.  Of course, he also grabbed only one board, which is not too Bowers-like.
  • As I mentioned, this wasn't an amazing game by Paul by any means -- certainly not what he did to Nebraska in Columbia a few weeks ago -- but Paul doesn't have to be amazing.  He just has to not be a liability.  When he's decent, Mizzou's guard depth is outstanding.  When he's playing too poorly to see the court, the depth is only solid and much more easy for an opponent to overcome.
  • Zero shots by J.T. Tiller.  Weird.  Really a bit of a nothing game from the Tyrannosaurus, with minimal minutes due to first-half foul trouble.  And yet, nobody was more happy about the win while leaving the court than he was.
  • It was Bad Saffy yesterday.  Patience is a necessity against Nebraska, and he yanked up two long jumpers early in the shot clock in the opening minutes.  He hasn't been dialed in with the long jumper for most of the season, and the misses were almost as instrumental in Nebraska's early lead as Ryan Anderson's makes were.  Safford has shown the ability to be aggressive offensively when others are listless, and while I appreciate that, he still needs to be much smarter with the ball than he was yesterday.
  • Yes, Kimmeh went 2-for-11 yesterday, but I really wasn't too frustrated by either the way his jumper looked or the shots he was taking.  It was just a bad shooting day, nothing more or less.  And it was well-timed -- Denmon was hot enough to make up for it.

Three Keys Revisited

From Friday's preview.

Attack, Attack, Attack

They drew 20 fouls and shot 21 free throws, they took 36 2-pointers (compared to only 19 3-pointers), they grabbed 13 offensive rebounds.  They attacked, attacked, attacked, especially after the game's opening minutes.

Guard the arc

My worst nightmare was occurring at times in the first half. Mizzou likes rotation and doubling the post -- true team defense instead of man-on-man-on-man -- and that reaps major dividends most of the time ... unless an opponent has next to zero offensive skill in the post and a hot 3-point shooter getting open looks when said post player is getting doubled for no reason.  For either three or four of Ryan Anderson's first half 3's, he was open when he caught the ball, and he got the shot off as the rotating defender was coming around.  That was a bit unacceptable.  But Mizzou didn't necessarily adjust to Anderson, doubling him or doing anything too different -- they just played better defense over the game's final 25-30 minutes, and after Anderson's initial three 3's, NU went 3-for-13 from long-range.

No letdown on the glass

After battling Texas to a draw on the glass, Mizzou won the rebounding battle against the Huskers, and as I've mentioned before, it is extremely tough to beat Mizzou when you're getting out-rebounded.

Mizzou in Big 12 Play: Home vs Road

Now for the most fascinating part (to me) of this post.  During the game, when Denmon was getting hot, RPT suggested taking a look at Mizzou's home-road splits for conference play, as it seemed like certain players on this team play much better at home, while others play much better on the road.  Although we're dealing with a small sample size -- small enough that one great or terrible game can skew the numbers -- these numbers still tell a pretty interesting story.

Home Road
Opp Mizzou
Points Per Minute
1.92 1.71 1.80 1.75
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.11 0.99 1.06 1.03
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.31 1.24 1.20 1.26
2-PT FG% 49.5% 48.5% 38.5% 42.9%
3-PT FG% 33.8% 30.4% 39.7% 37.7%
FT% 70.5% 65.8% 77.1% 71.8%
True Shooting % 54.9% 52.0% 51.2% 53.0%
Mizzou Opp Mizzou Opp
Assists 11.5 9.2 13.5 12.8
Steals 9.3 6.2 8.2 6.5
Turnovers 12.7 18.3 12.2 17.2
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.64 0.84 1.78 1.13
Mizzou Opp Mizzou Opp
Expected Offensive Rebounds 12.8 12.5 14.2 13.0
Offensive Rebounds 13.0 14.2 13.3 14.7
Difference +0.2 +1.7 -0.9 +1.7

Not a lot of surprises here.  Mizzou averages slightly more points per possession at home while allowing slightly less.  They force more turnovers, register more steals, and rebound slightly better.  All of this can be chalked up to the typical home-court advantage.  The one oddity, however, is a big one: Mizzou shoots 6% better from 3-point range on the road and 11% better at home on 2-pointers. Maybe that's just a sample size issue, but ... well, it doesn't make a lot of sense.  At least, not until you see the differences in Marcus Denmon's play.

("TS" below is True Shooting %, defined above.)

Player AdjGS* GmSc/Min Line
Laurence Bowers (Home) 12.6 0.55 22.8 MPG, 11.0 PPG (59.3% TS), 7.2 RPG, 1.0 APG
Laurence Bowers (Road) 12.8 0.56 22.7 MPG, 10.2 PPG (60.8% TS), 4.8 RPG, 1.5 APG
-- Diff -0.2 -0.01
Marcus Denmon (Home) 6.3 0.29 21.7 MPG, 8.3 PPG (52.5% TS), 1.5 RPG, 1.3 APG
Marcus Denmon (Road) 16.0 0.66 24.3 MPG, 13.5 PPG (75.3% TS), 3.3 RPG, 1.5 APG
-- Diff -9.7 -0.37
Zaire Taylor (Home) 10.5 0.36 29.5 MPG, 9.5 PPG (59.1% TS), 3.2 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.5 SPG
Zaire Taylor (Road) 11.3 0.37 30.5 MPG, 9.8 PPG (48.6% TS), 4.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.5 SPG
-- Diff -0.8 -0.01
Kim English (Home) 11.3 0.50 22.5 MPG, 12.7 PPG (53.3% TS), 4.0 RPG, 1.3 APG
Kim English (Road) 8.1 0.29 27.5 MPG, 13.3 PPG (44.7% TS), 4.2 RPG, 1.2 APG
-- Diff +3.2 +0.21
Justin Safford (Home) 9.9 0.41 24.2 MPG, 9.5 PPG (50.1% TS), 4.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.2 SPG
Justin Safford (Road) 8.6 0.40 21.7 MPG, 10.7 PPG (47.8% TS), 4.7 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.5 SPG
-- Diff +1.3 +0.01
Keith Ramsey (Home) 6.4 0.25 26.0 MPG, 5.0 PPG (65.3% TS), 3.5 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.8 APG
Keith Ramsey (Road) 7.4 0.30 24.7 MPG, 5.5 PPG (57.0% TS), 5.8 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.2 APG
-- Diff -1.0 -0.05
J.T. Tiller (Home) 6.3 0.26 23.7 MPG, 9.2 PPG (43.3% TS), 3.0 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 SPG
J.T. Tiller (Road) 4.5 0.20 22.5 MPG, 5.0 PPG (42.4% TS), 3.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.5 SPG
-- Diff +1.8 +0.06
Mike Dixon (Home) 7.8 0.51 15.3 MPG, 7.5 PPG (72.7% TS), 1.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG
Mike Dixon (Road) 1.4 0.10 13.8 MPG, 3.8 PPG (37.8% TS), 0.5 RPG, 0.7 SPG
-- Diff +6.4 +0.41
Miguel Paul (Home) 2.7 0.29 9.3 MPG, 3.2 PPG (56.7% TS)
Miguel Paul (Road) -0.9 -0.11 8.4 MPG, 0.6 PPG (25.0% TS)
-- Diff +3.6 +0.40
Steve Moore (Home) 0.4 0.07 5.0 MPG, 0.8 PPG, 1.0 RPG
Steve Moore (Home) 1.1 0.11 9.3 MPG, 1.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG
-- Diff -0.7 -0.04

This, to me, is both oddly fascinating and completely impossible to explain.  For the most part, Mizzou players are in three camps here:

  • Much Better at Home: English, Dixon, Paul, Tiller (to a lesser extent)
  • Basically the Same Anywhere: Bowers, Taylor (he's a completely different player on the road, but the production evens out), Safford, Ramsey, Moore
  • Much Better on the Road: Denmon

Though some of the statistical differences are tough to explain, you still would expect most players to split between the first two categories.  There are oddities in the mix, but they mostly fall into the "better at home" category -- Taylor and Ramsey are much better shooters at home, a much better rebounds-and-assists guys on the road; Tiller takes many more shots at home while producing the same everywhere else; Dixon apparently feeds off of the home crowd, going from an atrocious road shooter to an amazingly good shooter at home.

And then there's Marcus Denmon.

First of all, here's the oddest part: Denmon actually shoots less on the road.  He averages 0.35 shots per minutes at home and only 0.31 on the road.  He also shoots a lower percentage of 3's on the road -- 73% of his home shots are 3's, while only 62% are 2's.  But while he's only 12-for-33 (36.4%) from 3-point range at home, he's 16-for-28 (57.1%) on the road. And when the 3's are falling, everything else falls into place as well.  Marcus draws 0.14 free throws per minute on the road, as compared to only 0.05 at home (he also shoots FTs better on the road -- 75.0% versus 66.7%); plus, he even shoots 2's better (52.9% versus 41.7%).

Oh yeah, and he grabs rebound at double the rate (0.04 offensive rebounds per minute versus 0.02, 0.10 defensive rebounds versus 0.05), turns the ball over less and grabs more steals (road BCI: 3.75, home BCI: 2.40).

Why does this happen?  My first theory was that he's deferring to better-at-home teammates at home, but ... again, he shoots more frequently at home than on the road, so that explanation obviously doesn't fly, nor does it explain his better hustle stats.  Honestly, the most likely explanation is the sample size thing -- if he has a Nebraska-esque game against Colorado Wednesday night, then suddenly his home stats will look pretty similar to his road stats.

But that answer is just completely unsatisfying, isn't it?  That's what I thought.  So instead, we'll just assume that Denmon thrives on hostile energy, and the only possible solution is to get him an apartment in Jefferson City, bus him in for every game, make him dress in the visitor's locker room (or at least over at Hearnes or something), and have the home crowd boo him every time he touches the ball.  That sounds like much more fun than a simple small sample-size theory.


Again, you're supposed to beat last-place teams when you consider yourself an NCAA tourney-caliber squad.  But while I don't want to overstate how good a win this was ... this was a great win.  With the Texas win in their back pocket, Mizzou needed to just beat Colorado at home and either Nebraska or Iowa State on the road to get to 9-7 and a likely tourney bid.  I thought winning at Hilton was much more likely than winning in Lincoln, so yesterday was almost a pleasant surprise for me.  Now, not only is Mizzou one win away from all but clinching NCAA eligibility, but a bye in the Big 12 Tourney is now starting to creep back onto the table.  Obviously the losses to Baylor and Texas A&M will hurt them in that quest -- it's hard to win tie-breakers when two of the three teams with whom you are jockeying for position (the other is Texas ... along with maybe Oklahoma State, who also fell to Mizzou), but wins over Colorado and Iowa State would potentially get them there ... and a win over Kansas or Kansas State on top of that would almost certainly get them there.

And really, that's as much or more than we could have asked for this year, considering the turnover in both talent and leadership from last season.  Mizzou has not only rebounded from the Worst 13 Minutes Ever against Texas A&M, and they appear to be playing their best ball as the season reaches its home stretch.  This season is starting to get pretty fun.

One more win to NCAA Tournament eligibility.