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Know Your Surging Rival: Kansas State

COLUMBIA MO - JANUARY 17:  Jordan Henriquez-Roberts #21 of the Kansas State Wildcats dunks during the game against the Missouri Tigers on January 17 2011 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA MO - JANUARY 17: Jordan Henriquez-Roberts #21 of the Kansas State Wildcats dunks during the game against the Missouri Tigers on January 17 2011 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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As Laurence Bowers put it yesterday, it's time for the LATEST biggest game of the year.  Mizzou can all but lock up a Big 12 Tournament bye with a win in Manhattan, but the Octagon has become a much more difficult place to play since Oklahoma State Colorado tripped up the Wildcats back in early January.  (It has been particularly murderous for a Missouri team that hasn't won there since 2004.)  Kansas State has reserved a spot in the Field of 68 at this point, but losses to Missouri and Texas could edge them back toward the bubble, and Mizzou is quite likely to see Kansas State's A-game tomorrow morning.

Kansas State (19-9) Since Last Time

Pace (No. of Possessions)
Points Per Minute
1.71 1.68
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.06 1.04
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.28 1.40
2-PT FG% 44.2% 48.8%
3-PT FG% 35.8% 37.5%
FT% 72.7% 73.4%
True Shooting % 53.4% 56.9%

KSU Opp.
Assists/Gm 10.9 11.4
Steals/Gm 5.8 7.1
Turnovers/Gm 14.3 15.8
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.17 1.17

KSU Opp.
Expected Off. Reb./Gm 12.2 10.4
Offensive Reb./Gm
13.0 9.6
Difference +0.8 -0.8

KSU is 6-3 since they left Mizzou Arena, having lost to solid teams on the road, swept through the home slate, and thumped No. 1 Kansas on Valentines Day.  They are still a solid rebounding team, though their overall stats have predictably regressed since non-conference season thanks to both tougher opposition and a thinned-out roster following the departures of Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge.  Ball control is a major issue, and they give up a few too many open 3-pointers, but they've been grinding out wins with a slow pace, rebounding, improved free throw shooting and ... well, Jacob Pullen.  As we'll see below, he is one of two players who have asserted themselves to any high degree individually.  It's Pullen, Rodney McGruder and a host of role players.  And recently, the formula has worked.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

KSU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

KSU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 61 45 Push
Effective FG% 174 123 MU
Turnover % 265 12 MU Big
Off. Reb. % 3 280 KSU Big
FTA/FGA 54 183 KSU Big
MU Offense vs KSU Defense Ranks

MU Offense KSU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 16 25 Push
Effective FG% 33 96 MU
Turnover % 17 36 Push
Off. Reb. % 130 96 KSU
FTA/FGA 283 309 MU

The areas in which Missouri has typically struggled on the road will likely determine this game.  Mizzou holds a huge advantage in terms of ball control and turnovers forced, but their home-road splits -- 19.6 turnovers forced at home, 11.8 on the road; Opp. BCI of 0.77 at home, 1.89 on the road -- are striking.  Meanwhile, KSU's biggest advantage comes on the glass, but at home, Mizzou has been a solid rebounding squad.  They are just minus-0.8/game in terms of expected rebounds at home ... and minus-3.2 on the road.  If Mizzou plays to their typical road form, they don't have much of a chance.  But if they're rolling like they were in early in the first half against Texas A&M and Iowa State and, basically, playing like this is a home or neutral site game, they hold some solid matchup advantages.

Results Since Last Time

  • Wins (Team Rank is from
    No. 3 Kansas, 84-68
    No. 45 Nebraska, 69-53
    at No. 45 Nebraska, 61-57
    No. 64 Baylor, 69-61
    at No. 78 Iowa State, 86-85
    No. 136 Oklahoma, 77-62
  • Losses
    at No. 3 Kansas, 66-90
    at No. 41 Texas A&M, 56-64
    at No. 62 Colorado, 56-58

Kansas State is just 1-2 versus likely tourney teams recently, but a) both losses came on the road (which obviously doesn't apply to this game), and b) their one win was damn impressive.  They thumped Kansas by 16 points thanks to a tour de force performance from Jacob Pullen, and perhaps as importantly, they avoided a letdown after beating Kansas.  They thought about letting Oklahoma back into the game before laying the hammer down late, and they took out Nebraska in the Devaney Center.  As I mentioned above, it's safe to say they've got a semi-solid spot in the tourney at this point, though I doubt they're interested in seeing what happens if they lose to both Mizzou and Texas between now and Monday night.

Last Time

Mizzou 75, Kansas State 59

Pace (No. of Possessions)
Points Per Minute
1.88 1.48
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.14 0.90
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.36 1.26
2-PT FG% 47.2% 54.8%
3-PT FG% 42.1% 18.8%
FT% 63.0% 72.7%
True Shooting % 56.1% 52.0%
Mizzou Opp.
Assists 15 8
Steals 12 3
Turnovers 12 24
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
2.25 0.46
Mizzou Opp.
Expected Offensive Rebounds 12 10
Offensive Rebounds 14 13
Difference +2 +3

Missouri beat KSU on MLK Day by destroying Kansas State's backcourt and holding steady on the glass.  Marcus Denmon and Phil Pressey alone combined for 27 points on 9-for-18 shooting (4-for-7 on 3-pointers), seven steals and five assists.  Meanwhile, Kansas State guards not named Jacob Pullen -- Rodney McGruder, Will Spradling, Martavious Irving and Shane Southwell -- combined for just 14 points on 6-for-19 shooting (3-for-10 on 3-pointers), five assists and 12 turnovers in 85 minutes.  On a one-on-one basis, Flip Pressey outdueled Pullen.  And to say the least, Mizzou took full advantage of KSU's sloppy ball-handling.

To win tomorrow morning, Mizzou must win the ball-handling battle and at least come close to splitting on the glass again.  Chances are, Pullen is going to be great (it's been a safe bet recently), making up a decent portion of Mizzou's winning margin by himself.

Player Stats Since Last Time

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Jacob Pullen (6'0, 200, Sr.) 19.9 0.56 35.4 MPG, 21.8 PPG (41.1% 2PT, 40.0% 3PT, 78.5% FT), 3.2 APG, 2.1 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 3.3 TOPG
Rodney McGruder (6'4, 205, So.) 10.0 0.30 32.8 MPG, 9.6 PPG (46.9% 2PT, 36.4% 3PT, 75.0% FT), 5.0 RPG, 1.5 TOPG
Curtis Kelly (6'8, 239, Sr.) 8.0 0.33 24.4 MPG, 8.2 PPG (47.1% 2PT, 52.0% FT), 5.3 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 1.3 APG, 2.6 TOPG
Jamar Samuels (6'7, 220, Jr.) 7.2 0.27 26.8 MPG, 7.5 PPG (40.9% 2PT, 16.7% 3PT, 78.6% FT), 4.4 RPG, 1.5 TOPG
Will Spradling (6'3, 170, Fr.) 7.1 0.33 21.6 MPG, 7.4 PPG (63.6% 2PT, 31.8% 3PT, 85.7% FT), 1.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.2 TOPG
Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (7'0, 245, So.) 6.4 0.41 15.4 MPG, 4.2 PPG (48.4% 2PT, 70.6% FT), 4.7 RPG, 1.4 BPG
Nick Russell (6'4, 200, So.) 5.0 0.58 8.6 MPG, 4.2 PPG (66.7% 2PT, 50.0% 3PT, 66.7% FT), 1.6 RPG
Martavious Irving (6'1, 209, So.) 1.8 0.15 12.2 MPG, 2.4 PPG, 1.2 APG
Shane Southwell (6'6, 220, Fr.) 1.2 0.06 18.8 MPG, 2.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 2.2 TOPG

* 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.

  • Highest Usage%: Pullen (33%), Kelly (23%), Russell (21%)
  • Highest Floor%: Russell (45%), Henriquez-Roberts (43%), Pullen (38%)
  • Highest %Pass: Southwell (64%), Spradling (47%), Pullen (42%)
  • Highest %Shoot: McGruder (44%), Irving (41%), Russell (37%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Samuels (23%), Henriquez-Roberts (19%), Irving (19%)
  • Highest %TO: Kelly (13%), Southwell (13%), Samuels (9%), Russell (9%).
  • You didn't need stats to tell you this, but this team runs through Jacob Pullen.  He has succeeded recently by somewhat shedding the role of point guard (at this point, KSU doesn't really have a point guard -- only Shane Southwell registers over the 50% Pass mark, and ... he's a turnover-prone, 6'6 freshman) and doing what Jacob Pullen does: dominate the ball, take a lot of shots, make a lot of shots.  He turns the ball over quite a bit, but that's because he has the ball in his hands so much.  Right now, he's been making enough plays to lead to KSU victories.  An off game from Pullen, and KSU's probably losing.  No pressure.
  • Before the last MU-KSU game, I expressed a decent amount of concern about Rodney McGruder.  But aside from some offensive rebounds, he really didn't show up to Mizzou Arena (four points on 2-for-9 shooting in 30 minutes).  His per-minute rates have fallen apart (a month ago, he was shooting 44% from 3-point land and averaging seven rebounds per game; since then, it's 36% 3-point shooting and five rebounds), but he is still one of KSU's more valuable players.  As I predicted it was last time, the McGruder-vs-English battle could be interesting.  English typically plays on the road about how McGruder did in Columbia, so the tables could turn in this one-on-one battle.
  • McGruder is not the only KSU player who has seen his per-minute AdjGS totals tumble recently.  Your per-minute totals are expected to fall once the competition improves, but some of these have been pretty stark.

    Rodney McGruder: 0.48 to 0.30
    Jamar Samuels: 0.43 to 0.27
    Curtis Kelly: 0.42 to 0.33
    Martavious Irving: 0.22 to 0.15
    Shane Southwell: 0.22 to 0.06
  • KSU has worked their way into the Field of 68 primarily because of Pullen, rebounding, and the improvement of Will Spradling (0.28/minute to 0.33) and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (0.34 to 0.41).  Spradling's 3-point shooting has been iffy, but he's getting to the rim a lot more, it appears, and he's become a much more efficient scorer.  Henriquez-Roberts, meanwhile, has taken advantage of Asprilla's and Judge's departures by hitting the boards hard in his extra minutes, pulling down a 16% offensive rebound rate and a 23% defensive rebound rate.  He fouls far too much to be trusted to log major minutes -- 3.3 fouls in 15.4 minutes, a rate of which Steve Moore cannot even brag -- but he's making the most of the minutes he stays on the court.

Keys to the Game

  1. Play. Your. Game.  I feel my "Keys to the Game" for road games are predictable ... but they're still keys.  If Mizzou plays like they do at home or on a neutral court, they'll have an excellent chance of winning this game.  If they play at their typical road game level, they'll lose by double digits.

    We've been through this before, but here are some of Mizzou's home-road differences in Big 12 play...

    Opp. 2PT%: 44.3% at home, 53.8% on the road
    Opp. 3PT%: 30.9% at home, 37.5% on the road
    Opp. FTA/FGA: 0.29 at home, 0.49 on the road (!!)
    Opp. Off. Reb. %: 34% at home, 40% on the road
    Opp. Def. Reb. %: 64% at home, 69% on the road
    Opp. Turnovers/Game: 19.6 at home, 11.8 on the road
    Opp. BCI: 0.77 at home, 1.89 on the road

    Mizzou allows more open shots and more rebounds on the road, fouls more, and forces far fewer turnovers.  Do that at The Octagon, and you lose.  Badly.

  2. Kim English and Mike Dixon.  Again, predictable.  But still important.

    Kim English at home: 12.9 PPG (43.1% FG), 3.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.4 TOPG
    Kim English on the road: 7.5 PPG (28.0% FG), 3.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 2.3 TOPG

    Mike Dixon at home: 11.7 PPG (46.7% FG), 4.1 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.7 SPG
    Mike Dixon on the road: 7.2 PPG (26.8% FG), 1.7 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.7 SPG

    With the home versions of Kimmeh and Predator, Mizzou could win this game.  With the road versions, there is so much pressure put on everybody else -- Marcus Denmon, Phil Pressey, Laurence Bowers, Ricardo Ratliffe, etc.  English and Dixon don't have to play like All-Americans at Bramlage -- they just need to play like the good versions of themselves.

  3. Officiating.  Let's not kid ourselves.  A good portion of this game will be decided by how the refs call the game.  The only team in the Big 12 harder to officiate than Missouri is Kansas State.  If the refs allow hand-checking on the perimeter like John Higgins, Bert Smith and J.B. Caldwell did in Wednesday's Mizzou-Baylor game, this benefits Mizzou rather significantly.  Against lankier, turnover-prone guards, Phil Pressey, Mike Dixon, and company could have a field day.  But if Mizzou's guards are getting called for ticky-tack stuff that they are usually allowed to get away with at home, then Mizzou's perimeter defense becomes pretty terrible, pretty quickly.  And Phil Pressey -- one of Mizzou's better recent road scorers -- is guaranteed to pick up two quick fouls.

    On the flipside, if the refs allow KSU's athletic bigs push Mizzou around and go over the back when shots are in the air, this benefits KSU just as significantly.  But if Kelly and Henriquez-Roberts get into early foul trouble, then KSU's biggest advantage is somewhat negated.  (And of course, the number of times they change the definition of a foul will also make a difference.)

    I hate putting this in the "Keys" list because it really isn't in Mizzou's control ... but to pretend that officiating won't make a huge difference in this game is to ignore reality.  This game could have anywhere between about 35 and 60 fouls when all is said and done, and which types of fouls are called (and how easily refs are swayed by a loud Bramlage Coliseum) will possibly give one team a significant advantage.


I find myself unusually confident about this game.  Make no mistake, I'm picking KSU to win -- I never bet against a streak, and odds still favor something resembling a 74-67 KSU win -- but KSU has become even more reliant than I expected on one specific player, and Mizzou has gotten contributions from enough different players recently that they might be able to ride a team approach to victory. In other words, I think Mizzou might be just about ready to play at a higher level on the road.  (And yes, that means Mizzou is now destined to lose by 55.)  If the version of K-State that beat Kansas on February 14 shows up, it might not matter what Missouri does.  But anything less than that, and Mizzou could leave town with their first win in Manhattan since this happened.

And yes, I will take advantage of any possible opportunity to post that.



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