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Know Your Unholy Rival: Kansas State

Big game Saturday night, to say the least.  The road to second place in the conference goes through The Octagon.  Leave your trifecta in comments!  And hey ... with Safford out of the running, the possible Trifecta combinations decrease ... so there's that.

What Happened Last Time

Powered by clutch shots from Marcus Denmon and Zaire Taylor, and the party-startingest dunk ever from Laurence Bowers, Mizzou beat K-State, 74-68 in both teams' first conference game of the season.  From the Study Hall piece following the game:

Everything That's Good About Big 12 Basketball

The intensity was palpable.  It felt like a late-February game in early-January, and two teams with a ton of character and athleticism threw their bodies around all afternoon (and I mean all afternoon).  It was intense even through all the whistles, and depending on who you believe, it either evened up a century-old series at 115-115, or it gave Mizzou a 116-114 lead (sheesh, does Mizzou agree with anybody about any series?).  These two teams have been duking it out forever, and this battle carried some weight from start to finish.

Everything That's Bad About Big 12 Basketball

Let's see ... 56 fouls, 73 free throws, 2.5 hours long.  It was an absolute officiating disaster.  Look, I know you can't have teams tackling each other out there, and as I mentioned in my preview, with two teams that toe the line as much as possible to see what they can get away with in terms of physical play, you're obviously going to have more fouls than a game with two teams playing zone defense and shooting a ton of 3's.  I get it.  But this was beyond ridiculous.  And worse, it could hurt both of these teams later on.  Remember in the late-1990s, when Kansas was mired in a series of upset losses in the NCAA tournament?  Every year, they would get used to Big 12 games with insane amounts of whistles, and they would get to the tourney and face a physical team, and when they expected whistles to come, there were no whistles.  In the postseason, you have to go out and win games, and there aren't fouls called every 43 seconds (seriously, there was a foul called every FORTY-THREE SECONDS).  And this type of crap does nothing but hurt the postseason iterations of these two teams.


K-State is a team that wins games by killing you in two areas -- getting to the line a ton and grabbing an insane amount of offensive rebounds.  When all was said and done, Mizzou had shot 43 free throws to K-State's 30, and they had outrebounded the Wildcats, both in terms of overall rebounds (+5) and expected rebounds (+2).  Amid the whistles, this was a wonderful performance against a big, super-physical team, and while I came away from the game believing that K-State truly is a strong, athletic, dangerous team (I hadn't seen them all season, so I couldn't verify with my own eyes), Mizzou was better at the things that make K-State good.

That's a good thing, as KSU almost beat Mizzou at Mizzou's game, forcing 20 turnovers and limiting Mizzou to a mediocre-at-best 1.00 BCI.


Be very careful, Marcus Denmon and Laurence Bowers.  One game into the conference season, you have set the bar VERY high.  A combined 8-for-13 shooting, 8-for-12 from the FT line (3-for-4 down the stretch), 9 rebounds (6 offensive), 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, and RIDICULOUSLY clutch play in the last five minutes.  Denmon's two 3's tied the game, and his two steals gave Mizzou the lead, then Bowers' gutty rebound of J.T. Tiller's missed free throw, two clutch free throws, and party-starting dunk (seriously, considering the circumstances, that has to be considered the best dunk of his career ... and that's saying something pretty lofty) iced the win.  They were unbelievable down the stretch, and if they do that too much, we'll come to expect it.

K-State is the #1 foul-drawing team in the country, which isn't a lovely thought considering Mizzou is down one Justin Safford, but chances are the whistles will go both ways if Mizzou is as aggressive in attacking the basket as they have recently (and as they were the first time around).  In Manhattan, though, KSU is likely to get more calls than they did last time, and if Mizzou wants to have a chance, they'll have to win the BCI battle by a decent amount this time around.

KSU's Season Since Last We Saw Them: 10-2

  • KenPom's Ranking in use here
    #30 Texas A&M (W, 88-65)
    at #94 Colorado (W, 87-81)
    #10 Texas (W, 71-62)
    #49 Oklahoma State (L, 69-73)
    at #17 Baylor (W, 76-74)
    #2 Kansas (L, 79-81, OT)
    at #91 Nebraska (W, 76-57)
    at #81 Iowa State (W, 79-75)
    #94 Colorado (W, 68-51)
    #91 Nebraska (W, 91-87)
    at #95 Oklahoma (W, 83-68)
    at #83 Texas Tech (W, 83-64)

The Transitive Property really isn't tremendously useful, but considering how many common opponents Mizzou and K-State have had since the last time they played, it might be interesting to take a look at common opponents.  The "Diff." column signifies the difference between KSU's scoring margin and Mizzou's.

K-State Mizzou Diff.
at Kansas N/A L, 65-84 N/A
Kansas L, 79-81 N/A N/A
at Nebraska W, 76-57 W, 74-59 KSU +4
Nebraska W, 91-87 W, 70-53 MU +13
at Iowa State W, 79-75 N/A N/A
Iowa State N/A W, 65-56 N/A
at Colorado W, 87-81 W, 84-66 MU +12
Colorado W, 68-51 W, 92-63 MU +12
Texas A&M W, 88-65 L, 74-77 KSU +26
at Texas Tech W, 83-64 W, 94-89 KSU +14
at Baylor W, 76-74 L, 62-64 KSU +4
at Oklahoma W, 83-68 L, 61-66 KSU +20
Oklahoma State L, 69-73 W, 95-80 MU +19
Texas W, 71-62 W, 82-77 KSU +4


That's a difference of about 1.6 in KSU's favor over the ten games these teams have in common, which ... well, that sounds about right, doesn't it?  K-State is one game better in the standings, after all.  Each team's last five games are in boldface.  Both teams appear to be peaking at the moment; they're 9-1 in their last ten combined games, with the only loss being a last-second Mizzou defeat at the hands of Baylor.  Both have lost games to lesser teams -- Mizzou at Oklahoma, K-State at home to Oklahoma State -- but that was a while ago.


KSU Since Last We Saw Them

Points Per Minute
1.94 1.74
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.10 0.99
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.35 1.28
2-PT FG% 49.3% 46.0%
3-PT FG% 36.0% 33.7%
FT% 67.7% 66.0%
True Shooting % 55.5% 52.4%
Assists/Gm 13.8 12.2
Steals/Gm 6.9 7.6
Turnovers/Gm 15.2 16.8
Ball Control Index
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.37 1.18
Expected Offensive Rebounds/Gm 12.8 12.8
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 14.7 12.5
Difference +1.9 -0.3

Ken Pomeroy Stats

KSU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks
KSU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 12 10 Push
Effective FG% 50 36 Push
Turnover % 218 2 MU Big
Off. Reb. % 5 328 KSU Big
FTA/FGA 1 195 KSU Big
MU Offense vs KSU Defense Ranks
MU Offense KSU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 28 21 Push
Effective FG% 58 65 Push
Turnover % 41 19 KSU
Off. Reb. % 110 215 MU Big
FTA/FGA 233 320 MU

K-State is a damn good defensive team and a great offensive one.  They shoot well, but it's the sheer number of free throws they end up with that puts them over the top.  If Mike Anderson doesn't trust John Underwood much yet, I could see Mizzou playing a lot of zone to cut down on the fouls.  Of course, zone D leads to offensive rebounds, and K-State already holds a ridiculous advantage in that category, so that might not pay off.  My hope: Mizzou gets as much as they can out of Steve Moore and Underwood (a combined 25 minutes would be great but rather unexpected ... I expect Moore to get into foul trouble pretty quickly) and hope that they hold their own on the boards like they did at Mizzou Arena.  If they get into foul trouble, particularly in the front court, then they'll obviously have to do whatever they've got to do -- zone or otherwise.

KSU Player Stats Since Last We Saw Them

We're going to add a bit to the table below: we're going to compare the Adj. GS/Min. total below to what it was in my preview for the first MU-KSU game.  In the per-minute column below, you'll find their recent output next to their output leading to the beginning of conference play (in parentheses).

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min
(Last Time)
Jacob Pullen (6'0, 200, Jr.) 15.9 0.48 (0.65) 33.2 MPG, 17.5 PPG (37.7% FG, 33.3% 3PT), 3.9 APG, 2.5 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 3.1 TOPG
Denis Clemente (6'1, 175, Sr.) 15.6 0.45 (0.37) 34.8 MPG, 18.0 PPG (40.6% FG, 38.2% 3PT), 4.0 APG, 2.2 TOPG
Curtis Kelly (6'8, 250, Jr.) 12.1 0.51 (0.56) 23.7 MPG, 11.0 PPG (55.9% FG), 6.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 3.1 TOPG
Jamar Samuels (6'7, 215, So.) 11.4 0.49 (0.49) 23.3 MPG, 11.7 PPG (57.9% FG), 5.4 RPG, 1.5 TOPG
Dominique Sutton (6'5, 210, Jr.) 8.9 0.40 (0.41) 22.2 MPG, 7.5 PPG (52.4% FG), 4.9 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.6 TOPG
Rodney McGruder (6'4, 205, Fr.) 5.1 0.34 (0.52) 15.2 MPG, 4.1 PPG (48.7% FG), 3.6 RPG
Luis Colon (6'10, 265, Sr.) 2.6 0.17 (0.35) 15.5 MPG, 3.0 PPG (42.1% FG), 3.5 RPG
Martavious Irving (6'1, 209, Fr.) 1.6 0.16 (0.26) 9.8 MPG, 1.4 PPG (27.8% FG)
Jordan Henriquez (7'0, 245, Fr.) 1.4 0.15 (0.30) 9.4 MPG, 1.4 PPG (35.7% FG), 2.1 RPG
Wally Judge (6'9, 248, Fr.) 0.4 0.05 (0.24) 7.9 MPG, 1.5 PPG (27.8% FG), 1.7 RPG
Chris Merriewether (6'3, 210, Sr.) 1.2 0.15 (0.02) 8.0 MPG, 1.3 PPG (42.9% FG), 1.4 RPG
Victor Ojeleye (6'8, 225, So.) 2.5 0.42 (0.15) 29 minutes
Nick Russell (6'4, 200, Fr.) -0.1 -0.02 (0.09) 28 minutes

* 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.

  • Fun fact: since the last time MU and KSU met, KSU has taken 253 3-pointers ... 198 of them have come from Clemente (102) and Pullen (96).  Only two others take even 1.0 per game -- Samuels (1.3 attempts per game) and McGruder (1.2).  No matter how big and strong KSU's frontcourt is, they still live and die by the FIFTEEN 3's per game that these two take.  If they make ten of those, it's over.  If they make 4-5, teams will have a chance against them.
  • Players who have improved from the last preview to this one: Clemente (+0.08 AdjGS/min), Merriewether (+0.13).
  • Players who are about the same: Samuels (0.00), Sutton (-0.01), Kelly (-0.05).
  • Players whose stats have regressed: Irving (-0.10), Henriquez (-0.15), Pullen (-0.17), McGruder (-0.18), Colon (-0.18), Judge (-0.19).
  • Now, to be sure, you would expect most players to regress since last time because ... well, their schedule has gotten a lot harder in conference play.  It's not a surprise that six players have regressed while two have improved.  It's also not a surprise that the two players who have improved are seniors (granted, Merriewether is a minor contributor, but still), while all four freshman contributors have regressed.  You would expect that.
  • Pullen was riding a serious hot streak when conference play started, and he's regressed to merely really good instead of great during conference play.  Of course, I shouldn't tell that to Texas Tech fans, who saw Pullen go for 28 points and five assists against them on Tuesday night.  Meanwhile...
  • ...Clemente is hot.  Really hot.  Since the loss to Kansas, here is Clemente's stat line:

    Denis Clemente (last six games): 33.5 MPG, 20.8 PPG (46.2% FG, 46.2% 3PT, 94.4% FT), 4.5 APG, 1.8 TOPG

    He took a stupid shot at a key time against Kansas, and ever since then, there really hasn't been any such thing as a stupid shot.  Anything is within range right now.

Keys to the Game

These are exactly the same as the keys to the last KSU game, as I think they're still 100% relevant.

  1. The Zebras. Last time around at Mizzou Arena, Tom O'Neill, Terry Davis and Andrew Walton were the three most dominant people on the court (especially Walton), calling 56 fouls and creating 73 free throw attempts.  Mizzou guards Kim English and Mike Dixon were both limited by foul trouble, as was Laurence Bowers; meanwhile, FOUR KSU front-courters (Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels, Wally Judge and Luis Colon) had at least four fouls, as did Chris Merriewether.  It was brutal.

    These two teams always test the line of what is and isn't a foul, and technically you probably could call a foul on every single possession when they're on the court.  But that doesn't mean you should try to do that.  As with last time, how this game is called will be a huge factor.  If Mizzou guards are allowed to be a little more physical, it will help them; same with KSU's forwards.  Plus, with Mizzou's sudden lack of frontcourt depth (it wasn't exactly a strength before Safford's injury), foul trouble could kill them.

  2. Who Gets Hot?. In his last six games, Kim English is 11-for-22 from the 3-point line.  In his last two games, Marcus Denmon is 7-for-11.  In his last six games, Denis Clemente is 24-for-52.  Jacob Pullen hasn't been as hot recently but has made at least six 3's in a game four times this year and made three of six against Tech.  If any of them gets hot, the game swings wildly in favor of their team.

    An important note: Mizzou has been less reliant on the 3-ball recently, shooting 20 or fewer in each of their last six games.  They have averaged 16.3 3-point attempts in that time (27% of their overall shots), making 41% of them; the six games before that, they averaged 25.3 3-point attempts (39% of their overall shots), making just 36% of them.  However, with one of their primary 2-point shooters (Safford) out, and with KSU's overall size advantage, there's a chance that Mizzou will end up having to rely on the 3-ball a bit more.  We'll see.  If Mizzou is able to drive well, as they have in recent games, 3's might come open.  And if they hit those 3's, they'll have a chance to win.  If they don't know where to go with the ball and start pulling up for 21-footers, they'll lose by 20.  (Unless they go in.)

  3. R-E-B-O-U-N-D. The most remarkable aspect of the first MU-KSU game was that Mizzou more than held their own on the glass.  As you see above, KSU is the #5 offensive rebounding team in the country; last time around, Mizzou countered KSU's second chances with second chances of their own, and honestly, without Safford, this is one area where Mizzou's game won't suffer.  Safford and Ramsey average roughly the same number of rebounds per minute, with Ramsey a little better on offense, Safford a hair better on defense.  Meanwhile, Steve Moore is almost nonexistent on the offensive glass, but in conference play he has been the best per-minute defensive rebounder on the team, edging out Laurence Bowers.  And John Underwood might actually be better than Moore in that regard (and that regard only).  Mizzou might be a hair worse on the offensive glass, but their defensive rebounding could see improvement in Safford's absence.

    If Mizzou can prevent KSU from getting as many second chances as they're used to, not only will KSU get to the line a bit less (no hacks after offensive boards), but they'll be that much more reliant on hot shooting to win.  KSU's a good shooting team, but they're a great overall offensive team because of free throws and second chances.  Keeping KSU off the glass would clearly limit them in both of their strongest areas.


If KSU wins ... it will probably be a lot like Mizzou's last two trips to Manhattan.  Last year, Mizzou fell down 13-6 in the game's first seven minutes; the year before, they were down 12-5 after five minutes.  (In that game, Mizzou clawed back to cut the lead to 19-18 ... then KSU went on a 22-1 run.)  It seems that most of the positive effect The Octagon has on Mizzou, it comes in the game's opening minutes.  If Mizzou can survive the first half, then their second half strengths could prevail -- in six conference road games, they've won the second half/overtime five times.  But a KSU win is most likely set up by an early blitz that gives them a cushion; when Mizzou has to take more chances to come back, KSU makes them pay and ends up winning 84-71.

If Mizzou wins ... they play to a draw in the first half, make the crowd tense up, and make the plays down the stretch.  It's predictable, but it's true.  Going back to the boxing analogy, if they can fight to a draw in the first three rounds, they'll be doing better than they were the last couple of trips to Manhattan.  (Actually, their last four trips to the state of Kansas, period, have seen them take on huge first-half deficits, whether it's KU or KSU.)  So Mizzou keeps KSU (somewhat) off the glass, the game is within about 3-4 points either way at halftime, and Mizzou executes better in the final minutes.  Zaire Taylor or Marcus Denmon probably makes a huge shot near the end (crazy, I know), and Mizzou wins 79-76.

Never bet against a streak, right?  Mizzou's state of Kansas streak has not been pretty (not that I can blame them -- I get flustered when I'm in that state too), and until they prove otherwise, I kind of have to think it will continue.  I still love that Mizzou is peaking at the right time of the season, but I think we're probably due a step backwards.  I'm quietly optimistic heading into Saturday, but I'm also realistic.  Mizzou could win ... but a KSU win is still more likely.  Kansas State 84, Mizzou 71.  If it's tied after 12 minutes, I reserve the right to change my mind.




By the way ... a clarification: in a post I was otherwise pretty proud of -- Sunday's "How will the Big 12 play out?" post -- I snuck in an unprompted (and unexplained) jab at K-State right at the beginning, saying "For all the (90% justifiable) hype Kansas State has received this season, they still have quite a bit of work to do to lock up the tournament's 2-seed."  I should explain the "90% justifiable" thing.

1) Part of it came at the end of the above sentence -- it's been an assumption for a while that K-State was running away with the 2-seed in the conference, which has been a bit annoying to the insecure Mizzou fan in me.  They spent the first half of conference play tied with Mizzou in the standings and have only been able to gain a game on them over their hot last three weeks.  But while K-State is getting "OMG THEY COULD BE A 1-SEED IN THE NCAA'S" treatment at the moment, Mizzou can't even grab many Top 25 votes despite being one win away from a second-place tie (in which they would own the tie-breaker).  The whiny, bitter fan inside of me (I usually keep it tamped down pretty far) is annoyed with that.

2) The whiny, insecure fan in me is also getting a little tired of the "OCTAGON OF DOOOOOOOOOOOM" meme.  This is a funny thing to say considering a) Mizzou's gotten their doors blown off in each of their last two trips there, and b) I fully acknowledge that a third straight blowout is conceivable -- I'm even somewhat predicting it above.  But the DOOOOOOOM meme caught on because of two specific games: a loss to Kansas and a 9-point win over a Texas team about to collapse.  I feel the urge to defend Mizzou Arena, where Mizzou has lost one game in two seasons (KSU has lost five at home in that time), beat Kansas in their last appearance there, and defeated Texas by almost the same margin.

Again, I fully acknowledge that this is just bitter, whiny, insecure fan-speak, and I probably should have let the comment disappear (since few probably noticed it in the first place).  But I'm wordy, and I have the tendency to over-explain myself.  So there you go.