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Know Your Senior Day Rival: Iowa State Cyclones



So it has come to this. Mizzou can clinch the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 Tournament, their best since 1999, with a home win over Iowa State tonight at Mizzou Arena. It is so much more than that, of course; it is also an opportunity to put their first truly poor week behind them (as much as a poor week can contain their single best performance since at least November) and, perhaps most importantly, send an incredible group of seniors off the right way. Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe, Steve Moore and Matt Pressey will be playing their final games at Mizzou Arena tonight, and it would be a damn shame to send them off to the postseason (via Lubbock) with a loss. Iowa State is a quality team, one that has predictably improved as the season has progressed. But aside from the fact that Chris Babb did a lovely job of guarding Denmon the first time around, Mizzou matches up pretty well and should be able to take home Win No. 26.

Iowa State Cyclones (21-8) Since Last Time

Pace (No. of Possessions)
Points Per Minute
Points Per Possession (PPP)
Points Per Shot (PPS)
2-PT FG% 48.5%
3-PT FG% 38.3%
FT% 66.0%
True Shooting % 55.3%

ISU Opp.
Assists/Gm 14.1
Steals/Gm 6.1
Turnovers/Gm 12.1
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO

ISU Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 11.8
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 10.1
Difference -1.7

Iowa State is an incredibly high-variance team. Not only do they shoot a lot of 3-pointers, which, as we've learned through the years, is quite high-variance in and of itself; but they also rely on Royce White, who can score in high-volume and has racked up eight double-doubles on the year, but is an absolutely dreadful free throw shooter, turns the ball over in droves, and disappears quite a bit. In White's last eight games, he has scored 22, three, 15, five, 14, four, 13 and nine points while making just 15 of 40 free throws.

Generally speaking, Iowa State's gameplan is simple: break even in ball control, make their 3-pointers, keep you off the offensive glass, win. And to be sure, they have won quite a bit (they do, after all, still have a fighting chance at a second-place finish). But this is a team with a pretty high upside and still an iffy downside. We'll see which Iowa State we get tonight.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

ISU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

ISU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 25
Effective FG% 31
Turnover % 64
Off. Reb. % 181
MU Offense vs ISU Defense Ranks

MU Offense ISU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 1
Effective FG% 3
MU Big
Turnover % 5
MU Big
Off. Reb. % 222

Where the Cyclones are weakest

All told, this isn't a very good defensive team. They rank ahead of Missouri overall, primarily because of their defensive rebounding ability and the way they avoid fouls, but the actual act of playing defense before a shot goes up is not one of the Cyclones' strengths. They rank 251st in Def. 2PT%, 258th in Def. Block%, 233rd in Def. Steal% and 287th in Def. Turnover%. After playing Kansas State and Kansas, Missouri will encounter a completely different (and lower) level of physicality in this one. (That said, ISU went 3-1 versus KSU and KU this year, so less physical doesn't naturally mean worse.)

ISU is a strong offensive team, but they are not without their flaws. They rank 228th in FT% (almost single-handedly thanks to Royce White -- four regulars are making at least 75% of their freebies in the last 14 games) and they get a lot of shots blocked (238th in Block%). And they are not equipped to take advantage of a couple of Missouri weaknesses: they rank 297th in Bench Minutes and 230th in Effective Height.

Where they are best

Well, they defend the 3-point line well, ranking 22nd in Def. 3PT%. Thanks to Ken Pomeroy, we've been recently trying to figure out how much 3-point defense is based on skill or luck, but we learned in Ames that Chris Babb is one heck of a perimeter defender (Marcus Denmon scored just six points on 1-for-5 shooting, 0-3 from 3-point range), so that probably has something to do with it. Mizzou shot 5-for-21 from long range in Ames, and ISU certainly had a role to play in that.

Still, most of ISU's strengths are on the offensive side of the ball. They rank 25th in overall efficiency, 30th in 3PT%. They rank 56th in Assists Per Field Goal Made, which tells you this is a team reliant on ball movement; Royce White is a lovely passer out of the post, leading the Cyclones with 6.0 assists per game since the last time these teams played. He has managed at least seven assists in six of ISU's last seven games, which is really, really unique for a post player. (Of course, he has also averaged 4.2 turnovers.) ISU also ranks 13th in 3-Point Attempts Per Field Goal Attempt, which, when added to White's stats, tells you quite a bit about the offense. They run the offense through White, and when he is on, that results in both easy scoring chances down low and, eventually, open 3-pointers for any number of shooters. Knowing Mizzou's defensive flaws, that is kind of scary. And to be sure, it worked the first time around -- Iowa State made 12 of 23 3-pointers in the teams' January meeting.

Iowa State's Season Since Last Time

  • Wins (Team Rank is from
    No. 4 Kansas, 72-64
    No. 23 Kansas State, 72-70
    at No. 23 Kansas State, 65-61
    No. 79 Oklahoma State, 71-68
    No. 102 Oklahoma, 80-69
    at No. 102 Oklahoma, 77-70
    No. 119 Texas A&M, 69-46
    No. 237 Texas Tech, 72-54
    at No. 237 Texas Tech, 76-52
  • Losses
    at No. 4 Kansas, 73-82
    No. 9 Missouri, 69-76
    at No. 15 Baylor, 64-79
    at No. 27 Texas, 55-62
    at No. 79 Oklahoma State, 67-69

Mizzou's win in Ames just continues to look bigger and bigger. Without it, the Cyclones are 12-4 in conference play, the Tigers 11-5. Iowa State is a rock solid team, but there is a decent-sized dropoff away from Ames. Yes, they beat Kansas State in Manhattan, but so did Oklahoma. The Octagon is evidently only dangerous for Missouri.

ISU Player Stats Since Last Time

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Royce White (6'8, 270, So.)
31.6 MPG, 12.6 PPG (53% 2PT, 38% FT), 9.1 RPG (2.4 OFF), 6.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 4.2 TOPG, 3.0 PFPG
Scott Christopherson (6'3, 195, Sr.)
34.4 MPG, 13.8 PPG (39% 2PT, 58% 3PT, 88% FT), 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.9 TOPG
Melvin Ejim (6'6, 220, So.)
24.8 MPG, 10.8 PPG (57% 2PT, 21% 3PT, 80% FT), 6.8 RPG (2.5 OFF), 1.4 SPG, 1.3 APG, 1.6 TOPG, 2.9 PFPG
Tyrus McGee (6'2, 205, Jr.)
23.1 MPG, 8.1 PPG (44% 2PT, 39% 3PT, 82% FT), 3.6 RPG (1.1 OFF)
Chris Allen (6'3, 205, Sr.)
29.6 MPG, 12.4 PPG (33% 2PT, 43% 3PT, 75% FT), 2.4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 2.2 TOPG
Chris Babb (6'5, 225, Jr.)
34.4 MPG, 5.8 PPG (61% 2PT, 25% 3PT, 50% FT), 3.6 RPG (1.0 OFF), 1.6 APG
Percy Gibson (6'9, 245, Fr.)
9.6 MPG, 4.2 PPG (61% 2PT, 71% FT), 1.3 RPG
Anthony Booker (6'9, 250, Jr.)
11.8 MPG, 3.0 PPG (42% 2PT, 36% 3PT, 50% FT), 2.5 RPG, 2.4 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%: White (28%), Ejim (24%), Allen (24%), Christopherson (19%)
  • Highest Floor%: Gibson (48%), Christopherson (43%), White (41%), Ejim (41%)
  • Highest %Pass: Pass (65%), Babb (55%), Christopherson (51%), Allen (40%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Booker (64%), Gibson (53%), McGee (48%), Allen (43%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Gibson (20%), Booker (17%), McGee (15%), Ejim (14%)
  • Highest %T/O: Allen (9%), White (8%), Ejim (8%), Gibson (8%)
  • As much as transfers have made a difference for this team (White, Allen, Babb and Booker all began their careers at different D1 schools), one underrated reason for ISU's surge has been the play of Melvin Ejim. He has hurt Mizzou in recent meetings with his strong work on the offensive glass (as a whole, ISU is not a great offensive rebounding team, but White and Ejim have been combining to give ISU about five second-chance opportunities by themselves) and his mid-range ability. He is not a good 3-point shooter, but inside the arc he has nice touch.
  • It makes me very happy that, at most, I will have to be typing the word "Christopherson" in a game preview one more time after this (if Mizzou and ISU meet in the Big 12 Tournament ... though technically I guess they could meet in the NCAAs as well). Not only is he a thorn in your side as a player, but ... I'm not sure there is another name on the planet I have more consistently misspelled and had to correct. "Christopher" makes sense to me; so does "Kristofferson." But "Christopherson?" Does not compute. And he's been around for a long time.

Keys to the Game

  1. From Way Downtown. Mizzou beat Iowa State in Ames despite getting doubled up in 3-point percentage (52% to 24%), so maybe this isn't a huge issue ... but if you can beat ISU in this category, they will very much struggle to defeat you. The 3-pointer is a key to both teams' success, but it is actually more important to ISU, and it's rare we say that about a Missouri opponent.

  2. Whistles On Bigs. Royce White both fouls a lot and gets fouled a lot. Yes, he is a wretched free throw shooter, but this game could be very much defined by whether he or Ricardo Ratliffe is spending a lot of time on the bench. Steve Moore can body White up relatively well, but we've seen what can happen to the Missouri offense when Ratliffe is on the bench for an extended period of time (especially against a team that plays good perimeter defense). In Ames, foul trouble struck both players; if only one finds the bench, the other's team has quite an advantage.

  3. The Early Rounds. Mizzou says they have put the Kansas game in their rear view mirror. Here's to hoping. They can beat Iowa State without the benefit of a fast start, but it could be difficult. Come out executing like you did in Lawrence, and you could build a nice lead; let Iowa State hang around and/or jump ahead early, and you're in for a 40-minute dog fight on tired legs.


Ken Pomeroy says Missouri 80, Iowa State 70. I'll go with that. Iowa State is indeed high-variance, which means that nothing between a five-point ISU win and about an 18-point Mizzou win would surprise me all that much, so we'll split the difference. The seniors get the send-off they deserve, and Mizzou puts the game away midway through the second half.