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Know Your Rocky Mountain Rival: Colorado

Mizzou will not have a better shot at conference win #9 than tomorrow night inside the very friendly confines of Mizzou Arena.

Trifectas in comments!

What Happened Last Time

In a game not unlike the one that took place this past Saturday in Lincoln, Mizzou beat Colorado 84-66 in Boulder, slowly pulling away after a close first few minutes.  The only difference was that they didn't fall down 11-1 against Colorado.  They led by 13 at half, and slowly locked things down from there.  Mizzou made 44.4% of their 3's (with Marcus Denmon leading the way, of course ... since it was on the road and all), passed wonderfully (20 assists), and split the difference on the boards.  From the Study Hall CU piece:

Let's just say...

...that anytime Mizzou shoots over 40% from 3-point range, over 50% on 2-pointers, and over 80% from the line, AND outrebounds their opponent ... and puts up double-digit steals to boot ... yeah, they're going to win, and probably by double digits.  Colorado kept things inside 20 points by racking up the steals and making free throws as they tend to do, but this was Good Mizzou, and it was a welcome sight.


I think I am more torn on Justin Safford than any other Mizzou player.  He has been wonderful offensively in each of the last two games ... but with the more time that passes, the more I start to suspect that he simply isn't a very good defensive player, and aside from the occasional game, he is not good enough on the boards.  He grabbed four boards in 15 minutes today, certainly not a bad total, but his defense was lacking considering the subpar opponent.  A couple of times, either Keith Ramsey or Laurence Bowers would cut their interior man off, but Safford's man would break free underneath for an easy bucket.  Again, it was only a couple of times, but I do think Safford still thinks like a guard in a big man's body, and ... well, he's a junior.  He needs to be getting over that.  Clearly he brings things to the table offensively (even though his FG% is WAY too low for a power forward), but he takes things off too.


Colorado did manage 11 steals, and because of that the BCI battle was a lot closer than normal, but Mizzou's ball movement was nice, and they got the shots they needed.  Nobody took too many out-of-character shots (aside from a small span in the first half where everybody fell in love with 17-footers ... the worst, least effective shot in basketball ... it's as hard to make as a 3, only people don't practice it as much, and it's only worth 2 points), and ... well, they just played well.

Colorado takes some chances on defense because they know they have to.  If they don't, they're giving up some makeable shots.  That's what happened in Boulder, and that's what will happen again in Mizzou Arena if Mizzou is patient.  Of course, they have to make the makeable shots too, but they've been doing a better job of that lately.

CU's Season Since Last We Saw Them

  • KenPom's Ranking in use here
    at #11 Kansas State (L, 51-68)
    #83 Iowa State (W, 74-71)
    at #2 Kansas (L, 74-94)

It really hasn't been too long since these two teams faced off, and CU hasn't fared too well on the road against the rest of the North's top half.

Colorado Since Last We Saw Them: 1-2

CU Opp
Points Per Minute
1.68 1.96
Points Per Possession (PPP)
0.95 1.11
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.24 1.39
2-PT FG% 42.9% 56.1%
3-PT FG% 40.7% 36.4%
FT% 79.5% 69.2%
True Shooting % 53.3% 59.0%
CU Opp
Assists/Gm 12.5 17.3
Steals/Gm 8.8 9.3
Turnovers/Gm 16.0 15.5
Ball Control Index
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.33 1.71
CU Opp
Expected Offensive Rebounds/Gm 11.8 11.1
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 7.8 10.3
Difference -4.0 -0.8

Ken Pomeroy Stats

CU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks
CU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 53 10 MU
Effective FG% 49 37 Push
Turnover % 88 2 MU
Off. Reb. % 338 329 Push
FTA/FGA 48 208 CU
MU Offense vs CU Defense Ranks
MU Offense CU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 33 143 MU Big
Effective FG% 73 282 MU Big
Turnover % 44 72 MU
Off. Reb. % 116 319 MU Big
FTA/FGA 234 321 MU

CU can nail the 3-ball, and they do a solid job on both sides of the court with ball-handling and free-throw shooting.  The Alec Burks-Cory Higgins combo has quite a bit of upside and explosiveness, but ... to say CU is deficient on the interior is like saying the Gary Barnett era didn't quite end as Barnett would have preferred.  It is just a smidge of an understatement.  Marcus Relphorde is solid, but the Casey Crawford-Keegan Hornbuckle-Austin Dufault-Shane Harris-Tunks combination has too many deficiencies to be anything close to an asset.  The four of them combine to average fewer rebounds per minute than Marcus Denmon, and while a couple of them are relatively efficient shooters, they don't do the things big men need to do, and it kills CU.  If you can't make Mizzou pay for their own size deficiencies, then beating them consists basically of "Hope they miss a lot of jumpers" ... only, if you're giving up wide-open jumpers, then ... yeah.

CU Player Stats Since Last We Saw Them

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Alec Burks (6'6, 185, Fr.)
19.7 0.61 32.3 MPG, 19.5 PPG (58.1% TS), 5.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, 2.8 TOPG
Cory Higgins (6'5, 190, Jr.)
18.1 0.57 31.5 MPG, 16.8 PPG (55.7% TS), 4.3 RPG, 2.8 SPG, 1.8 APG, 2.8 TOPG
Marcus Relphorde (6'7, 220, Jr.)
12.7 0.44 28.7 MPG, 10.3 PPG (45.3% TS), 6.3 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.7 SPG, 2.3 TOPG
Dwight Thorne II (6'3, 185, Sr.)
7.2 0.31 23.5 MPG, 6.3 PPG (53.1% TS), 3.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, 2.0 TOPG
Nate Tomlinson (6'3, 185, So.)
5.2 0.18 29.8 MPG, 5.3 PPG (77.0% TS), 3.0 APG, 2.8 RPG, 2.5 TOPG
Casey Crawford (6'9, 245, Jr.)
3.2 0.21 15.3 MPG, 4.0 PPG (55.1% TS), 2.0 RPG
Keegan Hornbuckle (6'7, 205, Fr.)
3.0 0.20 15.0 MPG, 5.0 PPG (83.3% TS), 2.0 TOPG
Austin Dufault (6'9, 230, So.)
2.3 0.13 18.3 MPG, 3.8 PPG (35.4% TS), 2.0 RPG
Levi Knutson (6'4, 200, Jr.)
1.9 0.16 12.3 MPG, 2.8 PPG (50.6% TS)
Shane Harris-Tunks (6'11, 225, Fr.)
-0.3 -0.02 12.7 MPG, 0.3 PPG (17.4% TS), 1.7 RPG
Trey Eckloff (6'10, 235, So.)
-1.2 -0.14 8.3 MPG, 0.7 PPG (25.8% TS), 1.3 RPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds.  It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls.  It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • There's no question that Burks has begun to click at a very high level from the 2-guard position.  How did this Grandview, MO, product end up in Boulder, anyway?  For one thing, he was a bit of a late bloomer.  As of the June before his senior season, he didn't have any offers, and when he chose Colorado that September, he only had offers from the Buffs, some MVC schools and other mid-majors, and, late in the process, K-State.  (I read something about potential discipline problems with Burks, but I can't find any verification of that, so I'll assume that's just rumor until proven otherwise.)

    In their pursuit of Michael Snaer, the Tigers never ended up giving Burks a serious look, and by the time Snaer committed to Florida State, Burks was already taken.  He ended up outplaying Mike Dixon (albeit at a different position) in the state playoffs, bringing Grandview all the way to the state finals, and winning Missouri's Gatorade Player of the Year award.  It really is interesting to me how, in the current structure of recruiting, late-bloomers have almost no chance of getting a seat at the table.  Not really playing the what-if game here -- we're doing just fine, and he's getting a lot more minutes in Boulder -- but it's certainly interesting how things play out sometimes.
  • CU's assists leader in recent games: power forward (and sometimes default center) Marcus Relphorde.  Interesting.
  • Colorado has six players averaging at least two turnovers per game in recent games.

Keys to the Game

  1. Swarmswarmswarmswarmswarmswarmswarm. Whereas Doc Sadler's teams have tended to match up pretty well with Mike Anderson's over the years (Mizzou has won three in a row against Nebraska, but Sadler still leads Anderson 5-4 head-to-head), Jeff Bzdelik's teams have not fared nearly as well.  In the last two seasons, Mizzou has beaten Colorado by 16, 13, and 45 points, and they even swept Colorado in Anderson's first two seasons in Columbia as well.  This is a matchup nightmare for Colorado, and the only way Colorado has a true chance to beat Missouri is if the Tigers are not asserting themselves enough.  This probably won't be a problem, but you never know.  If Mizzou can create chaos and bring a high pace to the game's first 10-12 minutes, they'll win going away.  But if they let Colorado get established, then you start inching closer to "anything can happen" status.  Swarm from the opening tip, and end this one early.

  2. Make your jumpers.  The Buffs have the potential to get hot from long-range, and if that is combined with a poor shooting performance from Mizzou on the other end, then that gives them another obvious chance to stick around.  Since the ATM loss (and the Worst 13 Minutes Ever), Mizzou has done a much better job of attacking the basket, getting some easier shots, and finding more open jumpers as a result, and they will need to keep at it.  CU's bigs are far from intimidating, and Mizzou should be able to drive and either dish or finish.  But when they dish, the jumpers still need to fall.

  3. R-E-B-O-U-N-D. Let's say Mizzou isn't swarmswarmswarming tremendously well, and their jumpers aren't falling at a high rate.  They still have a chance to dictate the outcome of this game by crashing the boards and taking advantage of Colorado's deficiencies on the interior.  Let's put it this way: when I set up the Ken Pomeroy tables above, usually the "Offensive Rebound %" category leads to a Mizzou disadvantage on offense and a huge disadvantage on defense.  Against Colorado, it's a huge Mizzou advantage and a push.  They split on the boards with Colorado the last time around, and if they straight-up win the rebounding battle, that really doesn't leave Colorado with any other avenues to success unless Burks or Higgins goes for 40.  And even then their odds aren't good...


If CU wins ... Mizzou was missing jumpers like they did against Iowa State, and they were unable to push the pace to an uncomfortable level.  CU more than held its own on the boards, and with the game on the line, Burks and Higgins made clutch shots, stealing a 66-63 Colorado win.

If Mizzou wins ... it played out like a lot of Mizzou-CU games have recently.  Mizzou's athleticism advantage was too much -- the Tigers forced a ton of turnovers, made easy buckets and pulled away.  I don't think Mizzou has a 107-62 performance in them this year like what happened last time Colorado visited Mizzou Arena, but this scenario leads to something like an 88-66 Tiger win.

If Mizzou didn't suffer a letdown against Nebraska in Lincoln, I doubt they do tomorrow night.  Anything is possible, but we'll say 88-66 Mizzou.  Mizzou is potentially starting to peak (KNOCK ON WOOD), and that's probably bad news for the Buffs.