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Know Your Border Rival: Kansas


First, a programming note: I HIGHLY doubt you get a Rock-M-tology post today.  Monday games throw off my pattern.  If you do get one, it will be a rather stripped-down version.

Mizzou Versus Allen Fieldhouse

Before we look at what Kansas brings to the table, we need to confront the first obstacle.  If Missouri is going to pull a significant upset tonight, quite a few players are going to have to play well for the first time at Allen Fieldhouse.  As you'll see below ... nobody really has before.

  • Justin Safford: 3 games, 17.3 MPG, 6.3 PPG (5-19 FG, 8-10 FT), 4.3 RPG, 2.7 PFPG
  • Marcus Denmon: 2 games, 15.5 MPG, 1.5 PPG (1-3 FG), 2.0 APG, 1.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG
  • Laurence Bowers: 2 games, 11.5 MPG, 3.5 PPG (3-10 FG), 3.0 RPG
  • Kim English: 2 games, 18.5 MPG, 8.0 PPG (5-18 FG, 5-5 FT), 2.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG
  • Mike Dixon: 1 game, 13 MPG, 2.0 PPG (1-7 FG)
  • Steve Moore: 1 game, 7 MPG, 0.0 PPG

In the last trips to AFH, Mizzou has lost by 19, 25 and 19 points.  Granted, this is not an obstacle to season success -- the 25-point loss happened to take place right before the Elite Eight run of 2009 -- but it's obviously frustrating.  Mizzou players have combined for 11 career games at AFH, and only Safford last year (19 points on 5-15 shooting, 8-10 from the line) has posted anything resembling a good performance.  Either the newcomers are going to have to carry the Tigers tonight, or players like Denmon and English are going to have to overcome some demons.  (Denmon's demons are in not getting shots to even attempt; English has attempted -- and missed -- plenty.)

Alright, now to look at the team in the other jerseys.

Kansas: 22-1

KU Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions) 70.2
Points Per Minute 2.06 1.57
Points Per Possession (PPP) 1.18 0.90
Points Per Shot (PPS) 1.43 1.08
2-PT FG% 58.4% 43.3%
3-PT FG% 38.6% 28.2%
FT% 66.7% 70.1%
True Shooting % 60.9% 47.4%
KU Opp.
Assists/Gm 18.2 10.5
Steals/Gm 8.6 6.0
Turnovers/Gm 13.6 15.6
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.97 1.06
KU Opp.
Expected Off. Reb./Gm 11.1 13.6
Offensive Reb./Gm 11.2 11.3
Difference +0.1 -2.3

This is ... a good team.

Bill Self has fared quite well against Mike Anderson through the years, and the reason is pretty obvious: Kansas is both comfortable at playing at a fast pace (36th in the country in Adj. Tempo) and really, really talented.  People often make reference of Kansas' success as proof that Missouri struggles against size; that's partially true, but Kansas succeeds because of the quality and depth of their size.  This year's team isn't quite as good at rebounding and blocks as past teams (to be expected considering they don't have Cole Aldrich anymore, thank goodness), but they make up for it with better overall shooting.  They don't need as many rebounds because they're making more shots.  Without Sherron Collins, the Jayhawks have been more well-rounded on offense and just as good on the defensive end of the court.

As I've mentioned before, Kansas' biggest defensive strength is that they determine what shot you can't make, and they let you take it all game.  If things aren't going well tonight, we will inevitably be saying "We're missing open shots!!" and it will be true; but there's a reason those shots will be open.  Kansas leverages you and dictates how you play offense better than just about any team in the country.  If Mizzou wins tonight, it will be because they generated a ton of transition points and second-chance points.  If it's a halfcourt affair, Mizzou is getting drubbed.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

KU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks
KU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 5 33 KU
Effective FG% 1 88 KU
Turnover % 92 14 MU
Off. Reb. % 75 269 KU Big
FTA/FGA 146 239 KU
MU Offense vs KU Defense Ranks
MU Offense KU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 31 3 KU
Effective FG% 51 7 KU
Turnover % 14 85 MU
Off. Reb. % 148 33 KU Big
FTA/FGA 277 55 KU Big

Where the Jayhawks are weakest:

First, the Jayhawks really are a lesser team on the offensive glass.  Last year's team ranked 27th in Off. Reb. %, the 2009 team ranked 48th.  Mizzou will have the same choice to make as they often do against solid rebounding teams -- do they keep more men back to rebound, or do they attempt to get away with minimal bodies in the hopes of getting quick outlet passes and transition points?  Without Aldrich, Mizzou might (MIGHT) be able to get a few more transition opportunities, but ... it's not a guarantee.

Beyond the rebounding (which, let's face it, is still strong), Kansas' biggest defensive weakness seems to be that, like other recent Mizzou opponents, they foul guards a lot.  They rank 230th in Def. FT%, which means they tend to send good shooters to the line.  (Of course, the game is at AFH, meaning Missouri isn't going to be sending anybody to the line, but I digress.)

On offense, Kansas has the exact opposite problem -- they don't send guards to the line very much.  They rank 230th in Off. FT% because their most frequent foul shooters -- Marcus Morris (66.4%), Markieff Morris (66.7%), Thomas Robinson (52.8%) -- aren't very good.  That could be an advantage in a raucous Mizzou Arena, though we'll see if/how it benefits the Tigers tonight.

A couple of other relative weaknesses: 1) they're good-not-great at preventing steals on offense (70th Off. Steal%), and 2) they're not amazingly experienced (103rd in Pomeroy's Experience measure).  Only one freshman is in the rotation (Josh Selby), and he probably won't play tonight, but of the other 10 players in the Jayhawk rotation, only three (Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar, Mario Little) are seniors.  Somehow the Morris brothers are only juniors.  I'm getting tired of them.

Where they are strongest:

Lots of places.  They have the best 2-point shooting offense in the country, and are 31st in 3-pointers.  They also rarely get shots blocked (36th in Off. Block%).  On defense, they rank seventh in the country in Def. 3PT% and 28th in Def. 2PT%.  They register a lot of steals of their own (34th in Def. Steal%).  In the end, they make their shots and you miss yours, and they win because of it.


Kansas Results

  • Wins (Team Rank is from
    vs No. 18 Arizona, 87-79
    No. 45 Kansas State, 90-66
    No. 47 Nebraska, 63-60
    at No. 47 Nebraska, 86-66
    No. 50 USC, 70-68
    at No. 51 Baylor, 85-65
    at No. 52 Colorado, 82-78
    No. 55 UCLA, 77-76
    at No. 61 Michigan, 67-60 (OT)
    at No. 66 California, 78-63
    vs No. 72 Colorado State, 76-55
    at No. 76 Iowa State, 84-79
    No. 88 Valparaiso, 79-44
    vs No. 89 Memphis, 81-68
    at No. 141 Texas Tech, 88-66
    No. 180 North Texas, 93-60
    vs No. 187 Ohio, 98-41
    No. 194 Miami-OH, 83-56
    No. 206 UT-Arlington, 82-57
    No. 253 UMKC, 99-52
    No. 318 Texas A&M-CC, 82-41
    No. 320 Longwood, 113-75
  • Losses
    No. 3 Texas, 63-74

Now ... this is a very good team, but they are not without their flaws.  Their biggest flaw: they just haven't seemed to bring it at all times.  They have played only two teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy's Top 40 -- they beat Arizona by eight on a neutral court and got thumped by Texas at AFH.  They are 7-0 against teams ranked 45-60, but their victories have come by 24, 20, 20, 4, 3, 2, and 1 points ... and three of the four close games took place at home.  When they bring it -- as they did against Baylor, Kansas State, and others -- they are as good as always; and let's face it, I'm pretty sure we're getting Good Kansas tonight.  But they have had their lapses, and that will likely preclude them from playing too deep into the NCAA Tournament -- you have to play four straight good games to make the Final Four, and Kansas really hasn't done that this year.  (Then again, they've played three straight very good games heading into tonight, so...)


Kansas Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Marcus Morris (6'9, 235, Jr.) 16.0 0.60 26.7 MPG, 16.7 PPG (67.0% 2PT, 34.7% 3PT, 66.4% FT), 6.8 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.4 TOPG
Markieff Morris (6'10, 245, Jr.) 13.4 0.56 23.7 MPG, 13.1 PPG (62.7% 2PT, 41.7% 3PT, 66.7% FT), 8.5 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.0 BPG, 2.0 TOPG
Tyrel Reed (6'3, 193, Sr.) 9.3 0.34 27.5 MPG, 9.7 PPG (46.8% 2PT, 38.0% 3PT, 83.3% FT), 3.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.3 SPG
Thomas Robinson (6'9, 237, So.) 9.0 0.58 15.4 MPG, 8.9 PPG (61.7% 2PT, 52.8% FT), 6.4 RPG, 1.4 TOPG
Josh Selby (6'2, 183, Fr.) 8.4 0.31 26.6 MPG, 12.0 PPG (40.3% 2PT, 43.5% 3PT, 80.8% FT), 3.2 APG, 2.8 RPG, 2.9 TOPG
Tyshawn Taylor (6'3, 185, Jr.) 8.2 0.30 27.5 MPG, 8.4 PPG (49.2% 2PT, 31.8% 3PT, 75.4% FT), 4.8 APG, 1.9 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 2.7 TOPG
Brady Morningstar (6'4, 185, Sr.) 7.0 0.29 23.7 MPG, 5.9 PPG (67.4% 2PT, 36.5% 3PT, 76.2% FT), 2.8 APG, 1.9 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.2 TOPG
Mario Little (6'6, 218, Sr.) 6.0 0.40 15.0 MPG, 5.8 PPG (56.5% 2PT, 41.7% 3PT, 60.9% FT), 2.9 RPG
Travis Releford (6'5, 207, So.) 5.0 0.39 12.8 MPG, 4.8 PPG (64.5% 2PT, 40.0% 3PT, 62.5% FT), 1.8 RPG
Elijah Johnson (6'4, 195, So.) 4.0 0.29 13.9 MPG, 3.6 PPG (58.3% 2PT, 38.5% 3PT, 50.0% FT), 2.1 APG, 1.3 RPG
Jeff Withey (7'0, 235, So.) 2.6 0.40 6.6 MPG, 2.3 PPG (58.3% 2PT, 48.4% FT), 2.0 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.

  • Highest Usage%: Robinson (27%), Marcus Morris (26%), Markieff Morris (26%), Selby (25%).
  • Highest Floor%: Marcus Morris (48%), Morningstar (46%), Little (46%).
  • Highest %Pass: Johnson (76%), Morningstar (72%), Taylor (71%).
  • Highest %Shoot: Marcus Morris (43%), Robinson (43%), Markieff Morris (42%).
  • Highest %Fouled: Robinson (22%), Marcus Morris (19%), Markieff Morris (16%).
  • Highest %TO: Robinson (10%), Markieff Morris (10%), Selby (9%).
  • Kansas isn't particularly deep in the frontcourt -- only three of their top ten players are taller than 6'6.  To that extent, if Mizzou could get one of the three in foul trouble, they could help themselves considerably.  But the three players they do have are very, very, very good.  The Morris twins have turned themselves into strong inside-outside threats (Marcus is more of a scorer, Markieff the rebounder), and Thomas Robinson is a bull in a china shop.

    The Morrises are very good, but Robinson is the type of player who has caused more trouble for Mizzou this year.  Like OSU's Darrell Williams, Robinson attacks the glass incredibly well and allows his offense to come from that.  Robinson's offensive rebounding rate is 20%, his defensive rebounding rate 27%. Mizzou can potentially account for one Morris twin at a time, but in overcompensating for the Morrises, they might open the door for Robinson to dominate the glass.
  • The offense runs through the bigs, but Tyshawn Taylor still touches the ball more than anybody else.  If Mizzou wins, it's going to be because their points were able to win their matchup with Taylor, Morningstar and Johnson.
  • I'll be honest: I was kind of disappointed to find out that Josh Selby was doubtful for tonight's game.  He is clearly very talented, but a) he's a freshman, and b) he's turnover-prone.  Again, if Mizzou wins, it's because of turnovers and a win in the backcourt, and Selby would have at least offered them a path to doing that.  If his absence makes for more minutes for Mario Little and Travis Releford, then maybe that's a good thing ... but probably not at AFH.

    Plus, Selby playing might have benefited Mizzou in one other way: it might have gotten his friend from Baltimore, Mr. Kim English, more dialed in.  English works in strange ways, but having his own friendly rivalry playing a game-within-a-game couldn't have hurt.
  • I'm so happy to see that Tyrady Morningreed is a senior.  More sick of him than the Morris twins.
  • Speaking of which ... Bill Self has done something really interesting with his roster through the years.  Redshirts are very uncommon in college basketball, but with Kansas signing quite a few blue chippers who are guaranteed to leave early for the pros (Xavier Henry, Cole Aldrich, Darrell Arthur, etc.), he has assured himself quality depth through redshirting.  Morningstar, Henry and Releford have all spent seasons on the sideline, and it is working out well for them.  If you don't have early entries/departures, then redshirts just eat up scholarships for future seasons; that isn't a problem for Self, and he's figured out a way to take advantage of it.

Keys to the Game

  1. Risk a Blowout.  There are two ways Missouri could get blown out tonight: 1) They could attempt to play their game and get eaten alive on the glass and in transition, or 2) They could overcompensate for Kansas' strengths and neutralize their own, finding themselves in a halfcourt game and shooting 30% until KU eventually pulls away.  Give me (1).  Kansas is a strong transition team, but Mizzou absolutely must push the tempo if they stand any chance whatsoever.  If that means sacrificing a few rebounds in the name of long outlet passes, or taking a few quick 3's, or allowing a few dunks because Kansas broke the press, then fine.  Playing faster, and faster, and faster is the only way Mizzou has any chance, and if it means their odds of losing by 25 (instead of, say, 15) are higher, then so be it.  Do your best to swarmswarmswarmswarmswarm.

  2. The Bench.  As we discussed last week, one of Mizzou's many problems on the road has been that their bench has made little to no contribution.  (Or when someone on the bench does contribute, like Matt Pressey last week in Stillwater, it's neutralized by a couple of eggs in the starting lineup.)  Only two players average better than 0.40 AdjGS/minute for Mizzou on the road (Ricardo Ratliffe, Laurence Bowers), and both of those players are going to be getting worked by Kansas' big three on the inside.  Mizzou will be lucky if Ratliffe and Bowers are able to fight their men to a draw.  If Mizzou is to win, it is going to be both because players like Denmon and English actually played at Allen Fieldhouse for once, but also because they actually got contributions from more than three or four players.  Justin Safford is the one Tiger to have played well at AFH; he'll have to do so again.  Mike Dixon?  Matt Pressey (even if he starts, he still gets bench minutes)?  Steve Moore?  Hell ... Ricky Kreklow?  You guys are going to have to contribute something ... anything.

  3. Kim English.  Yep, I'm back to naming him every game.  Against Colorado on Saturday, Missouri didn't shoot particularly well from long range and didn't rebound very well.  But they were never seriously challenged because of two players, really: Phil Pressey (who, for some reason, I assume will play well tonight) and Lord Baltimore.  Once again, Mizzou is a completely different team when English is contributing 15+ points and grabbing some boards.  English has been simply awful on the road this year (0.14 AdjGS/min), and Mizzou has no chance whatsoever tonight if he doesn't play well.  I mentioned in the Colorado preview that Mizzou's season will likely be defined by how well English plays in February and March.  He passed one test on Saturday ... now here's another one.


Don't bet against a streak, right?  While acknowledging that Mizzou can compete if a) Kansas plays like they have at home against teams like Nebraska and UCLA, b) the Mizzou bench contributes, and c) Kim English comes up big ... the odds are still not in Mizzou's favor.  Consider me hopeful but skeptical.  Kansas has won the last three battles at AFH by an average of 21 points, so ... we'll say Kansas 89, Mizzou 68.  Prove me wrong, boys.