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Know Your Final Border War: Kansas Jayhawks

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We kick things off with a Missouri-Kansas piece I wrote for The Mothership this morning. I encourage you to go check it out (YouTube clips galore!), then come back for the rest of this preview.

Some rivalries form because of a history of important matchups. With Missouri-Kansas, that really isn't the case. Sure, there have been moments -- MU-KU basketball was incredible in the late-1980s, Mizzou pulled a series of home upsets of superior Kansas basketball teams in the 1990s, and the teams played a trio of incredible football games at Arrowhead Stadium from 2007-09. But rarely have the teams both been great in a single sport at the same time. This rivalry is based on neighbor hating neighbor. On some story of a long-ago ancestor done wrong by those damn Jayhawkers/Missourians. On beautiful, beautiful pettiness.

After a few months of Kansas fans trying to convince Missouri fans (and themselves) that they don't REALLY care about Mizzou, Bill Self told Kansas City radio yesterday that he expected the atmosphere at Allen Fieldhouse to be the best it has ever been for tomorrow afternoon's (4:00 p.m. ET) battle between the No. 3 Missouri Tigers and No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks.

A Kansas win would clinch at least a split of another conference title for the Jayhawks. A Missouri win would give the Tigers inroads to a split title of their own and a No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tournament (and, for that matter, the NCAA Tournament) despite an upset loss to Kansas State on Tuesday. It is probably the biggest Border War basketball game in Lawrence since 1990. Perhaps the game will follow the recent script and result in a Kansas blowout. Perhaps Missouri will spring an enormous road win like they did 22 years ago.

Regardless of the outcome, it will be more notable simply because of the finality of the situation. Cooler heads may eventually prevail, but while Missouri has plenty of reasons for changing conferences (and yes, it goes beyond simply "money," Dick Vitale), there is no doubting that the move will have come with some serious collateral damage.

The first time Kentucky comes to town, or the first time former Missouri coach Mike Anderson leads his Arkansas Razorbacks back to Mizzou Arena, Missouri fans will find plenty of outlets for hatred and satisfy their need for rivalry in the SEC. But there is no substitute for old hate, and there is no hate older than Missouri-Kansas.

Kansas Jayhawks (23-5) Since Last Time

Pace (No. of Possessions)
Points Per Minute
Points Per Possession (PPP)
Points Per Shot (PPS)
2-PT FG% 52.4%
3-PT FG% 36.3%
FT% 71.2%
True Shooting % 57.1%

KU Opp.
Assists/Gm 15.3
Steals/Gm 7.0
Turnovers/Gm 13.8
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO

KU Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 10.8
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 11.3
Difference +0.5

An odd thing has happened over the last three weeks or so. Kansas has begun to allow slightly better shooting, they have stopped forcing turnovers, they have allowed turnovers to creep back into their offensive game ... and they have seized control of the Big 12 for approximately the 37th consecutive season. Thanks to Missouri's loss to Kansas State, and the fact that Kansas managed to avoid road land mines against Baylor and Kansas State (one still technically remains at Oklahoma State), the Jayhawks are all but certain to win at least a share of another conference title, and now Missouri is in the awkward position of having to win in Lawrence to even salvage a split. That is a bit daunting considering that whole "Mizzou hasn't won in Lawrence since Norm Stewart was the coach" thing.

As daunting as tomorrow's task may be, Kansas still has a few weaknesses available for exploitation. But Mizzou will probably have to be on from long range, or it won't matter.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

KU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

KU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 10
Effective FG% 26
KU Big
Turnover % 149
Off. Reb. % 76
MU Offense vs KU Defense Ranks

MU Offense KU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 1
Effective FG% 3
Turnover % 4
MU Big
Off. Reb. % 224
KU Big

Where the Jayhawks are weakest

Kansas still ranks fourth in Ken Pomeroy's ratings -- they are as well-rounded as ever. They are not without flaws, however. They are indeed sometimes careless with the basketball -- they rank 149th in Off. TO% and 204th in Off. Steal%. Tyshawn Taylor is always toeing the line between fantastic and completely out of control, and you could call a travel on Thomas Robinson every time he touches the ball (and lately, this has become a bit more common).

This is also only a decent shooting team, at least by Kansas standards. The Jayhawks rank just 154th in 3PT% and 161st in FT%. As we saw late in the game at Mizzou Arena, their primary ball-handlers (Taylor, Elijah Johnson) cannot be trusted to nail key free throws. They have combined to make just 66 percent of their freebies for the season. This could be a serious weakness come tourney time, though obviously it will be less of a concern for them at home.

Also, as covered the first time around, this is not a very deep team. Kansas ranks 308th in Bench Minutes (Missouri: 307th). Foul trouble can poke a hole in them just as it could with Mizzou. Players like freshman guard Naadir Tharpe and sophomore big Justin Wesley may eventually develop into strong, trustworthy pieces, but they haven't been that way this year.

Where they are best

This is still Kansas, which means this is still a team with great size, length and athleticism, a team that plays fantastic on-ball defense and leverages you into taking shots you aren't accustomed to taking. As I've discussed plenty of times through the years, the Jayhawks do an incredible job of giving you wide open shots you aren't likely to make. Every time Mizzou loses in blowout fashion at Allen Field House, fans mourn all the open looks that didn't go in. A lot of that is by design. They take away your security-blanket shots, give you other shots you're less likely to make, and clean up on the defensive glass. Robinson is No. 1 in the country in Defensive Rebound Rate, and 7-foot-1 Jeff Withey is second in the country in Block Percentage (as a team, Kansas is eighth in the same category. You are forced to take lower-percentage jumpers, and if you miss them, you are toast.

Kansas' Season Since Last Time

  • Wins (Team Rank is from
    at No. 15 Baylor, 68-54
    at No. 20 Kansas State, 59-53
    No. 95 Oklahoma State, 81-66
    at No. 108 Texas A&M, 66-58
    No. 240 Texas Tech, 83-50
  • Losses
    at No. 9 Missouri, 71-74

As we mentioned after Missouri's win over Kansas in Columbia, Mizzou's path to the conference title was simple: hope Kansas loses at Waco or Manhattan, hope Missouri wins out in games not at Kansas, and you can win the title without a win in Lawrence. Instead, Kansas survived Baylor, K-State and Texas A&M on the road, and Mizzou was done in by a terrible first half against Kansas State at home. The result: now Mizzou has to pull off an enormous win just to get a split.

Kansas Player Stats Since Last Time

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Jeff Withey (7'0, 235, Jr.)
29.3 MPG, 13.5 PPG (59% 2PT, 77% FT), 9.2 RPG, 4.7 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.7 TOPG
Thomas Robinson (6'10, 237, Jr.)
30.8 MPG, 16.7 PPG (54% 2PT, 76% FT), 11.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 4.2 TOPG, 4.0 PFPG
Tyshawn Taylor (6'3, 185, Sr.)
34.3 MPG, 15.5 PPG (49% 2PT, 39% 3PT, 52% FT), 4.2 APG, 1.7 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 3.5 TOPG
Elijah Johnson (6'4, 195, Jr.)
34.5 MPG, 9.0 PPG (48% 2PT%, 30% 3PT, 56% FT), 3.8 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.7 TOPG
Travis Releford (6'6, 207, Jr.)
28.3 MPG, 6.0 PPG (48% 2PT, 38% 3PT, 71% FT), 4.7 RPG, 2.2 APG
Conner Teahan (6'6, 212, Sr.)
20.3 MPG, 5.2 PPG (33% 3PT, 100% FT), 2.5 RPG
Kevin Young (6'8, 185, Jr.)
10.7 MPG, 3.0 PPG (50% 2PT), 2.0 RPG, 1.0 TOPG
Naadir Tharpe (5'11, 170, Fr.)
3.7 MPG, 0.5 PPG
Justin Wesley (6'9, 220, So.)
6.3 MPG, 0.5 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 1.8 PFPG

* 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 (31%), Taylor (28%), WIthey (21%), Young (20%)
  • Highest Floor%: Withey (45%), Releford (44%), Robinson (40%), Young (39%)
  • Highest %Pass: Johnson (66%), Releford (65%), Young (60%), Taylor (56%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Withey (40%), Teahan (34%), Robinson (33%), Young (30%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Withey (34%), Robinson (13%), Teahan (10%), Taylor (7%)
  • Highest %T/O: Robinson (12%), Withey (10%), Young (10%), Teahan (9%)

An odd thing has happened to this team since the last time they faced Missouri: Jeff Withey has become their best player. He is still a complementary player, not unlike a stretched-out Quincy Acy -- the offense doesn't run through him, nor should it, but his defensive ability and scrappitude (he's been hitting the ground as much as Steve Moore in recent games) have had a significant impact on this team, and he's good for three offensive rebounds and about seven trips to the free throw line per game.

Withey's surge has offset the fact that Thomas Robinson has faded a bit. Robinson is still averaging a double-double, and he is still an absolute matchup nightmare for Mizzou, but he has averaged 4.2 turnovers and 4.0 fouls per game in the last six contests. That takes a lot off the table. If Missouri can either get into his head or get him on the bench with foul trouble, their odds of winning will increase considerably.

Turnovers have crept back into Tyshawn Taylor's game as well. In the four games leading up to the first Kansas-Missouri game, Taylor had averaged just 1.8 turnovers per game. In the last six, he's averaged 3.5. He's also seen his jumper come and go. He made 10 of 20 3-pointers against Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State and Texas Tech and one of five versus Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Kansas' ceiling varies wildly depending on which version of Taylor they get in a given game.

Keys to the Game

  1. Road Things. As always, offensive rebounds, fouls and Phil Pressey will go a long way toward determining Mizzou's chances. But all three of these factors are rather extreme against Kansas. The Jayhawks are phenomenal on the defensive glass, Mizzou has no chance if their bigs get into foul trouble (and a solid chance if Kansas' bigs do instead), and Mizzou won at Mizzou Arena despite a mostly horrendous game from Flip. A lot has to go right for Mizzou to win tomorrow, including all three of these things.

    And I'm actually going to add a fourth Road Thing™ for this game as well: runs. Kansas is going to make a few 3-pointers, score some transition points, block a few shots, and probably throw down some major dunks. They just will. It's going to happen. All of these things are going to get the Allen Field House crowd involved to a rather incredible level. This is going to be the loudest, most hostile road crowd Mizzou has seen all season, and they simply have to be able to respond when things get loud. If they cow to the moment, and dunks turns into quick 8-0 runs, things will get out of hand, as they have quite often for Mizzou at AFH in recent years.

  2. Hit Your Jumpers. We hate it when Mizzou seems to be settling for 3-pointers or launching them too quickly, but the fact is, Missouri will have to be hitting their 3's to have any chance. If the ball is moving well, and some combination of Marcus Denmon, Mike Dixon, Kim English, Phil Pressey and/or Matt Pressey gets hot from long range, they will stay in the game for a good long while.

  3. The Supporting Cast. Here's what I said before the last Mizzou-Kansas game:

    Thomas Robinson is going to have a good evening. He just is. But Mizzou can overcome that if they mostly negate the impact of role players like Withey, Travis Releford, and perhaps Connor Teahan. Mizzou has just been killed by Kansas' role players in years past, whether it is Tyrel Reed making a key 3-pointer at Mizzou Arena last year (after killing them the year before, too), or Releford and Mario Little coming out of nowhere to combine for 27 points on 11-for-14 shooting in Lawrence. Limit the hit-or-miss supporting cast, and you are putting a lot of pressure on Robinson and Taylor to not only score, but score 30 or more.

    Ditto. One-hundred percent ditto.


Ken Pomeroy's projections say Kansas 77, Mizzou 69. But as I like to say about games at Mizzou Arena, wins by 8-12 points are not likely -- it's either tight all the way to the end, or it is a 20-point (or worse) blowout. Expect the same tomorrow. Depending on whether Mizzou's jumpers are falling, depending on who gets into foul trouble, depending simply on how well Mizzou responds to Allen Field House, there is a very wide range of possible outcomes, and while I would love to tell you how optimistic I am, Mizzou's going to have to prove it to me. Mizzou last won at Kansas in 1999. In the 12 games since, they have averaged an 83-67 loss. We'll go with that. Now would be just about the best time in the world to prove me wrong, guys.