A trifecta win AND a win over Kansas? Can a Rock M'er dare to dream? Trifecta picks in comments! I've got a good feeling about this one ...
What Happened Last Time
After a relatively even first six minutes, Kansas unleashed their patented AFH surge on Mizzou, outscoring Mizzou 38-18 over the final 14 minutes of the first half. From there, they cruised to an 84-65 win. Here's what I said in the last Study Hall piece:
We knew heading into last night that Kansas had one of the best FG% defenses in the country. They play solid defense on the 3-point line, and obviously Cole Aldrich results in a black hole around the basket, meaning all you've got left to take are the 12- to 18-foot mid-range jumpers. Mizzou took a ton of those last night ... and made almost none. It's not hard to figure out why: nobody makes this shot anymore. The only players I trust to take this shot with any regularity are Laurence Bowers (1-for-5 on 2-pointers yesterday), Mike Dixon (1-for-4 ... nice to get that first AFH experience out of the way, huh, Mike?), and Marcus Denmon (0-for-0), and they just couldn't find the range last night. I would also trust Kim English to take this shot if he were to ever start going straight up on jumpers again, but he's not, so for the time being, I don't want him shooting at all.
It's REALLY hard to have a rebounding margin of 14 when you're using expected rebounds. Thanks to the sheer number of shots Mizzou missed (and the fact that, on average, about 67% of rebounds are of the defensive variety), you could have expected them to get outrebounded by a decent margin. But using expected rebounds, they still could have broken even by simply grabbing the number an average team would grab. They didn't quite do that. That, and they couldn't keep Marcus Morris off the offensive glass. Through four conference games, Mizzou was actually outrebounding opponents. That changed quickly and dramatically. Lucky for them, Oklahoma State is a terrible offensive rebounding team (though, strangely enough, they're an awesome defensive rebounding team), and Texas A&M (strangely enough), Colorado and Iowa State are not much better. If they respond as well as last year's team to tasting blood in their mouth, they will come back with a nice effort on the boards over the next week or two.
When [Cole] Aldrich goes up to block a shot with his left hand, while sticking his right forearm in the chest of the shooter, it is, by definition, a foul. Every time. Mizzou has played Kansas three times in the last 12 months, and he has gotten away with this multiple times every game. I don't understand. It is an easy call to make. He's not hiding it, but he's still getting away with it. He is a phenomenal defender and shot blocker who got plenty of perfectly clean blocks last night -- I even made a habit of rewinding to watch the block again just so I could prove to myself it was clean after my knee-jerk "CALL A F***ING FOUL!!!" reaction -- but at least twice (maybe three times ... I've already blocked some of the game out) in the first 12-15 minutes of the games, he got away with the forearm to the chest, and he should have had three fouls well before halftime. It probably wouldn't have made any difference whatsoever -- anytime Tyrady Morningreed is making that many 3-pointers, KU is probably going to win no matter how much Sherron Collins is struggling -- but my stress level would have been much lower.
I did want to point out that, if Mizzou can figure out a way to get better shots, they did find aspects of vulnerability in Kansas' game that they can exploit better than anybody else in the country. Despite the fact that their press was almost completely ineffective, Mizzou forced 23 turnovers and dominated the BCI aspect of the proceedings. This is a very good thing. Mizzou's halfcourt defense was, believe it or not, rather effective. The problem was that the press was not effective (more on that in a second), and Mizzou's missed shots and Aldrich's great outlet passes gave KU a ton of transition opportunities, where they were absolutely deadly.
I have to mention that nobody in the country breaks Mizzou's press better than KU. Not even Kemba Walker. They are full of great athletes (most of them were total stud recruits), and thanks to their residence in the Big 12 North, they get plenty of practice against Mizzou's style. This is a lot like OU always ripping apart Texas Tech at home in football -- they have the athletes to cope with the style, and in their own backyard they are almost untouchable. But KU was indeed vulnerable to poor passing in the halfcourt, and as with last year at Mizzou Arena, it wouldn't at all surprise me to see Anderson laying off the press and focusing on crazy-intense half-court D when KU comes to town in a few more weeks. If they can force the same number of turnovers in Columbia, and if they can at least just shoot poorly instead of atrociously, they'll give themselves a shot.
A lot of the comments above remain relevant -- the things that will most create a Mizzou win this time around are a) shooting, b) not getting demolished on the boards, c) getting some calls, and d) forcing turnovers with halfcourt defense. Also sadly relevant: Kim English is once again jumping diagonally on his jumper. That needs to stop immediately. Mizzou got by against Iowa State while getting less than nothing from Kimmeh ... but beating Kansas without him will be difficult, to say the least.
KU's Season Since Last We Saw Them: 9-1
KenPom's Ranking in use here
at #10 Kansas State (W, 81-79, OT)
at #86 Colorado (W, 72-66, OT)
#97 Nebraska (W, 75-64)
at #13 Texas (W, 80-68)
#80 Iowa State (W, 73-59)
at #22 Texas A&M (W, 59-54)
#86 Colorado (W, 94-74)
#90 Oklahoma (W, 81-68)
at #45 Oklahoma State (L, 77-85)
#10 Kansas State (W, 82-65)
Right now, Kansas reminds me of Roger Federer or Pete Sampras, saving their best efforts for their biggest opponents. In the ten games KU has played since they last met Mizzou, they have won nine games, none by more than 20 points. They know they can get by with their B+ game most of the time, and they do just that -- they do just enough to win comfortably against the Iowa State's and Nebraska's of the world (which occasionally leaves them vulnerable -- see their trips to Boulder and Stillwater), but when a team like K-State beckons, they step it up a notch. Kansas State actually played pretty well Wednesday night, yet once KU got going, it felt like they could have won by 25 if they wanted to ... and K-State is a likely 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament! This is worth mentioning, of course, because Mizzou will likely get a similar effort from them. Great, huh?
KU Team Stats*
* Note that these are NOT the same "since we last saw them" stats that I've been using for other North opponents the second time around. That's because I screwed up my spreadsheet and didn't keep a copy of the data I used for the preview the first time around. I'm awesome. So these are full-season stats. I'm sure this annoys only me, but there you go.
|Points Per Minute
|Points Per Possession (PPP)
|Points Per Shot (PPS)
|True Shooting %||58.8%||47.3%|
|Ball Control Index
(Assists + Steals) / TO
|Expected Offensive Rebounds/Gm||12.0||14.1|
Ken Pomeroy Stats
|KU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks
|KU Offense||MU Defense||Advantage|
|Off. Reb. %||29||316||KU Big|
|MU Offense vs KU Defense Ranks
|MU Offense||KU Defense||Advantage|
|Off. Reb. %||118||122||Push|
Obviously these matchups favor KU tremendously -- that's no surprise. For Mizzou to even the matchups, they'll need to do much better on the glass than they did last time (that's one area where they have improved in Justin Safford's absence, so that's something), and they'll need to take full advantage of the BCI game.
KU Player Stats
(These are also full-season stats instead of "since last time." I'm still including the "last time" GS/Min totals from the last KU preview, but obviously the shifts in per-minute stats aren't tremendously different since they also use the same 20 games from the start of the season.)
|Cole Aldrich (6'11, 245, Jr.)||14.8||0.55 (0.56)
||26.7 MPG, 11.4 PPG (55.2% FG), 9.8 RPG, 3.6 BPG, 1.4 TOPG|
|Sherron Collins (5'11, 205, Sr.)||12.3||0.37 (0.44)
||32.9 MPG, 15.4 PPG (41.9% FG), 4.3 APG, 2.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 2.3 TOPG|
|Marcus Morris (6'8, 225, So.)||12.3||0.49 (0.52)
||24.9 MPG, 12.4 PPG (55.5% FG), 6.1 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.1 TOPG|
|Xavier Henry (6'6, 220, Fr.)||12.1||0.44 (0.44)
||27.5 MPG, 14.2 PPG (46.1% FG), 4.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.9 TOPG|
|Tyshawn Taylor (6'3, 180, So.)||6.9||0.31 (0.29)
||22.6 MPG, 7.5 PPG (46.7% FG), 3.2 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.8 TOPG|
|Markieff Morris (6'9, 232, So.)||6.8||0.41 (0.43)
||16.5 MPG, 6.6 PPG (56.7% FG), 5.3 RPG, 1.3 TOPG|
|Brady Morningstar (6'3, 185, Jr.)||6.0||0.27 (0.29)
||22.7 MPG, 4.4 PPG (41.6% FG), 1.3 RPG, 1.2 APG|
|Tyrel Reed (6'3, 185, Jr.)||4.8||0.32 (0.31)
||15.1 MPG, 4.4 PPG (47.5% FG), 1.3 RPG, 1.2 APG|
|C.J. Henry (6'4, 205, RSFr.)||3.5||0.55 (0.53)
||6.5 MPG, 3.6 PPG (60.9% FG)|
|Elijah Johnson (6'2, 183, Fr.)||2.9||0.39 (0.42)
||7.4 MPG, 2.8 PPG (56.8% FG), 1.5 APG, 1.2 RPG|
|Thomas Robinson (6'9, 230, Fr.)||2.3||0.30 (0.30)
||7.6 MPG, 2.8 PPG (50.0% FG), 2.8 RPG|
|Jeff Withey (7'0, 225, RSFr.)||1.7||0.48 (0.55)
||3.5 MPG, 1.6 PPG (53.8% FG), 1.7 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.
Players who have improved from the last preview to this one: none
Players who are about the same: Aldrich, Henry, Taylor, Mk. Morris, Morningstar, Reed, Henry, Robinson
- Players whose stats have regressed: Collins, Mc. Morris, E. Johnson, Withey (in limited minutes)
- Go pro, Cole. Go pro.
- Sherron Collins' late-season inconsistency has been relatively well-documented. He was 2-for-15 from 3-point range against Missouri, KSU and Colorado, then 4-for-6 against Nebraska. He was 4-for-18 in the next three games, then 9-for-19 in the next three. Then he went 1-for-7 against KSU this week. He is a lot like Kim English or Marcus Denmon -- if he makes his first one, be very afraid. And if he's not dialed in, you can handle him. He has had at least two turnovers in all but one game since his four against Mizzou the first time around, and he's had at least four three times. He's still great at driving and dishing (in the same amount of time, he's had at least four assists in all but one game), but when his jumper isn't falling, you can account for him at least somewhat. And he is only fifth among KU's regulars in terms of AdjGS/min.
The scariest thing about KU (other than Aldrich's game and Aldrich's face, which come in at #1 and #2) is their combinations. You don't know for sure that Marcus Morris will come up big, but if he doesn't, his brother Markieff probably will. You don't know for sure that Brady Morningstar will be making his 3's, but if he doesn't, Tyrel Reed probably is. And if all of the regulars are struggling, then Xavier Henry or Tyshawn Taylor (likely Henry) might kill you by themselves.
In all, KU has two guys (Collins, Henry) who have registered 30-point games this year, four more (Aldrich, Morris, Morris and Taylor) who have scored at least 18 in a game, and five more who have scored in double digits. They are as freakishly deep and talented as we feared they would be this year, and while Collins tends to get a large amount of credit for this team's success (seriously SI'sis still pushing him for player of the year ... he's clearly had some nice in-the-clutch moments this year, but come on), they are the best team in the country because of their overall wealth of talent, not any one player.
(And if it is due to one player, that player isn't Collins.)
Keys to the Game
Really, there are about seven things that need to go well if Mizzou is to win this game, but here are the top three.
ThreeTwo-Knockdown Rule Is In Effect. For almost the entire conference season, KU has relied on quick bursts to win games. The opponent hits a mini-slump on offense, KU hits the gas pedal, and suddenly a 2-point game is a 16-point game. With a great crowd and an overall solid performance, Mizzou can probably overcome one knockdown (i.e. a 10-8 round using the boxing scoring system we enjoy here at RMN), but almost certainly not two. Last year at Mizzou Arena, KU pulled ahead with a surge (in what constitutes the third round, the 12:00-8:00 mark of the first half), and it took Mizzou the entire rest of the game to chip away at it. Two knockdowns would be deadly.
To say "Mizzou needs to keep it close for as long as possible" is beyond obvious, but in previous MU-KU games, we've noticed an extra reason for why that's important -- quite simply, Cole Aldrich wears down against Mizzou. In the last two games at Allen Field House, it hasn't mattered because KU was up 20+ in the first half. But you can see his quality of play degrading as the game progresses, and if Mizzou can avoid a huge early deficit, they could see their biggest matchup nightmare become less of a problem as the game wears on. With every "round" that goes by without a KU knockdown, Mizzou gets a little closer to being able to take Aldrich out of the game. Obviously KU has tons of weapons to worry about -- for one thing, Marcus Morris was almost as much of a beast as Aldrich against Mizzou in January -- but Aldrich is still Nightmare #1. When he starts to wear down, he gets a step too slow to block shots, and he's less of a monster on the boards (Remember last year, when Matt Lawrence ripped a board away from him and got a putback late in the game?).
R-E-B-O-U-N-D. First things first: Kansas is going to win the rebounding battle. They just are. But the difference between losing the expected rebounding battle by fourteen and by eight is simply enormous. Again, without Safford in the lineup, Mizzou is a worse offensive team and a better rebounding/defensive team. Mizzou's bigs -- Keith Ramsey, Laurence Bowers, Steve Moore -- will obviously have to come up big, but so will Mizzou's guards. Marcus Denmon, Zaire Taylor and Mike Dixon were as responsible as anybody for Mizzou's second-half rebounding improvement against Iowa State on Tuesday, and even if it means not getting as many players involved in transition after rebounds, it's going to take a full-team effort to keep KU off the boards.
It's Your Time, Kim. The 2009-10 season has been an interesting one for Kim English. He has scored 18 points or more eleven times this year ... and scored seven points or fewer five times. He's gone 9-for-12 from the field, and he's gone 2-for-11. He is our very own Sherron Collins (minus the elevator mishaps), and while Mizzou has learned to win without him at times this year, they simply cannot win tomorrow without Good Kimmeh making a prolonged appearance. It is hard to tell how much Mizzou has missed Justin Safford's presence so far, simply because they've missed English's in the last two games as well. He is 8-for-23 in his last two contests (1-for-8 from 3-point range), and he has once against stopped going straight up consistently with his jumper. He played only seven minutes in the second half and overtime in Ames because his game was in complete disarray. But he's already proven in his brief career that he's a 'big game' type of player. Now's his chance to atone for all of the inconsistency he has battled this year.
One of the most underrated aspects of last year's MU-KU game in Columbia was the spark English gave in the first three minutes of the second half, when he scored six quick points and Mizzou made a 10-4 run to cut a 14-point deficit to eight. He only scored eight points in the entire game, but only he and Marcus Denmon are capable of giving Mizzou the quick jolts of scoring that they will need to keep up with Kansas' own mini-bursts. Mizzou will need big games from both English and Denmon, but for this contest English is more important. Nobody owns the Mizzou crowd more than he does at this point, and Mizzou Arena will need to be at the same transcendent level that it was last year, when, for instance, it caused Collins to miss two free throws with 1:48 left. The crowd was so loud that I actually got dizzy and almost lost my balance during those free throws, and it will need to be at that level every single time the players need it. Success from English is the most directly sure way for Mizzou Arena to be turned up to 11 all game.
This is a simply great Kansas squad, but every single Missouri fan knows that less talented Mizzou teams have defeated more talented (or as talented) Kansas teams in Columbia, and they believe Mizzou can again tomorrow.
Pardon me ... I feel I can't hint at the Corey Tate game without showing the Corey Tate game ...
Ahh ... that's nice. Once you've seen a team with Dibi Ray, L. Dee Murdock, Tate Decker, Danny Allouche, Corey Tate and Tyronn Lee (all of whom were on the court in the game's final two possessions) defeat a team with Jacque Vaughn, Raef Lafrentz, and Jarrod Haase (among others), you realize that anything is possible in this series.
Anyway, there's a clear avenue to success in this game, no matter how good KU actually is.
If KU wins ... Aldrich blocks shots (and doesn't get into foul trouble), KU dominates the boards by double digits, Mizzou isn't dialed in from 3-point range, and not even the crowd can will the game in Mizzou's direction. Kansas never lets it get within a possession or two down the stretch and wins 74-64.
If Mizzou wins ... they answer Kansas' flurries with combinations of their own and kept things uncomfortably close for the Jayhawks. Either English or Denmon gets hot from long range, and Mizzou is able to hold its own better on the glass. The game is close enough down the stretch that the crowd is able to once again make a huge difference. Mizzou makes its free throws and a couple of huge defensive stands, and they win it 68-64.
Which one am I picking? While I have certainly picked against Mizzou a few times this year, I can't make myself do it here. The atmosphere in last year's game was so magical, and if Mizzou can avoid pressing quite as much as they did in the first half last year, they can potentially avoid another double-digit first half deficit. The longer it stays close, the better it is for Mizzou, and because my prediction doesn't even remotely matter, of course I'm going with Mizzou 68, Kansas 64.