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Missouri's freshmen are Kim Anderson's saving grace ... for now

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And yes, I'm pretty sure I was saying the same thing a year ago.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

MUtigers.com: @MizzouHoops Falls on the Road at No. 20 Kentucky, 88-54

Mizzou Network: HIGHLIGHTS: Mizzou at #20 Kentucky

The Trib: Kentucky puts another beating on Missouri at Rupp Arena

Post-Dispatch: Another Rupp meltdown for Mizzou

Your Trifecta: Walton-Phillips-Puryear. And VanLeer was fourth. The freshmen were the only players who delivered a single damn thing.

Your Season Totals: Your Season Totals: Puryear 25, Phillips 19, Clark 15, Wright 13, Walton 12, Gant 10, Isabell 9, VanLeer 7, Woods 5, Allen 2, Rosburg 3. Freshmen 63, sophomores 34, juniors 20, seniors 2.

Kentucky 88, Missouri 54

Mizzou
Kentucky
Pace (No. of Possessions) 70.0
Points Per Possession (PPP) 0.77 1.26
Points Per Shot (PPS) 0.95 1.35
2-PT FG% 32.6% 55.6%
3-PT FG% 28.6% 45.0%
FT% 73.7% 78.6%
True Shooting % 41.3% 61.8%
FTA/FGA 33.3% 21.5%
Mizzou Kentucky
Assists 7 18
Steals 4 6
Turnovers 15 11
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
0.73 2.18
Mizzou Kentucky
Expected Offensive Rebounds 14.8 11.5
Offensive Rebounds 9 15
Difference -5.8 +3.5
  • We knew that Missouri was entering the season without enough size. And Kentucky is one hell of an offensive rebounding team (sixth in the country). But the Wildcats are also rather mediocre on the defensive glass (166th), and Mizzou had absolutely nothing to offer. The Tigers missed enough shots that they should have been expected to grab between about 12 and 15 offensive rebounds by accident. They grabbed nine. And three were deadball rebounds. Sending guys back to avoid transition opportunities is fine. But UK was making about every shot no matter what.

  • When you lack size, you have to make up for it with shooting and ball-handling. Mizzou ... doesn't.

  • Let's just move on.

Mizzou Player Stats

(Definitions at the bottom of the post.)

Player
AdjGS GmSc/Min Line
K.J. Walton 27.1 1.29 21 Min, 10 Pts (3-5 FG, 1-2 3PT, 3-4 FT), 6 Reb (4 Off), 1 TO, 1 PF
Terrence Phillips 16.6 0.54 31 Min, 8 Pts (3-6 FG, 2-2 FT), 6 Reb (1 Off), 3 Ast, 2 Stl, 4 TO, 4 PF
Kevin Puryear 16.3 0.86 19 Min, 10 Pts (4-7 FG, 2-2 FT), 1 Reb, 1 TO, 1 PF
Cullen VanLeer 7.0 0.35 20 Min, 7 Pts (3-6 FG, 1-3 3PT, 0-1 FT), 1 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 TO, 3 PF
Jakeenan Gant 4.4 0.26 17 Min, 2 Pts (1-3 FG, 0-1 3PT), 3 Reb, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 1 TO, 1 PF
D'Angelo Allen 1.2 0.08 14 Min, 1 Pts (0-5 FG, 0-1 3PT, 1-2 FT), 5 Reb (1 Off), 3 Ast, 1 Blk, 1 TO, 1 PF
Ryan Rosburg -0.6 -0.05 11 Min, 2 Pts (1-3 FG, 0-1 FT), 1 Reb, 1 PF
Wes Clark -1.2 -0.05 25 Min, 11 Pts (3-16 FG, 2-5 3PT, 3-4 FT), 1 Stl, 2 TO
Russell Woods -1.5 -0.08 18 Min, 0 Pts (0-0 FG), 1 Reb, 2 PF
Namon Wright -15.5 -0.70 22 Min, 3 Pts (0-6 FG, 0-2 3PT, 3-3 FT), 1 Reb, 4 TO, 1 PF
Player Usage% Floor% Touches/
Poss.
%Pass %Shoot %Fouled %T/O
K.J. Walton 18% 47% 1.1 0% 59% 30% 12%
Terrence Phillips 17% 38% 2.5 61% 21% 4% 14%
Kevin Puryear 23% 48% 1.3 0% 76% 14% 11%
Cullen VanLeer 18% 41% 1.8 44% 44% 5% 7%
Jakeenan Gant 12% 22% 0.6 0% 75% 0% 25%
D'Angelo Allen 24% 19% 4.8 71% 20% 5% 4%
Ryan Rosburg 15% 26% 0.9 0% 83% 17% 0%
Wes Clark 39% 20% 2.2 0% 78% 12% 10%
Russell Woods 0% N/A 0.0 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Namon Wright 25% 12% 1.5 0% 50% 16% 34%
  • I do get morbid enjoyment out blowout losses in one specific way: blowout losses mean that at least a couple of players played so poorly that the AdjGS calculations get skewed. And in this case, Namon Wright had such an abysmal night in Lexington (0-for-6 from the floor, four turnovers, no assists, no steals) that the game score calculator had trouble adding up to 54. So it gave KJ Walton massive credit for making three of five shots and grabbing four offensive rebounds.

  • Actually, let's stop there for a second. Walton, a 6'3 freshman, grabbed four offensive rebounds in 21 minutes. Not including deadballs, the rest of the team, which includes 6'7 Kevin Puryear, 6'8, Jakeenan Gant, 6'7 D'Angelo Allen, 6'10 Ryan Rosburg, and 6'8 Russell Woods, grabbed two in 179 minutes.

  • Honestly, I really do like what the freshmen had to offer. They're the only ones who had an excuse when it comes to being overwhelmed by Rupp Arena and its crowd. And they're the only ones who did anything positive.

  • But hey, at least Woods got some exercise, running up and down the court for 18 minutes without existing in the box score.

Summary

The freshmen are Kim Anderson's saving grace right now. Without them, it would be difficult to come up with a decent case for him to get a third year as head coach.

Mind you, I say that knowing all about what he inherited. He landed his dream job, then found out he was going to be dealing with at least a few self-imposed NCAA sanctions. Because of them, he wouldn't be able to field an entire roster of talent. Because of a potential APR hit, he wasn't going to be able to go after more risky talent. He inherited Tim Fuller, but Fuller couldn't go out and recruit. Et cetera.

But he also fielded a team that won nine games last year and finished 214th in the Pomeroy rankings. And while this year is technically an improvement (185th, on pace for 10-11 wins), that is incredibly minor. I tried to look at Mizzou's previous eight games (which had featured three easy wins and three games in which the Tigers either met or exceeded projections in losses) as a sign of improvement. But every time this team takes two steps forward, it takes three steps backwards. Beat Auburn, then lose to Arkansas by 33 at home. Lose to South Carolina, Georgia, and A&M by 'only' 25 combined points, then lose to Kentucky by 34 (and it could have been much worse). The offense has "improved" in Pomeroy's ratings from 245th last year to 224th. The defense has "improved" from 163rd to 143rd. Namon Wright is shooting 27% from 3-point range. Ryan Rosburg and Russell Woods are shooting 61% from the field (good!) ... and not even managing six combined field goal attempts per game. Oh, and they're shooting 41% from the line. And Tramaine Isabell is back in the dog house.

And on and on. Anderson was supposed to struggle to recruit solid talent, but his biggest problem right now is something that we assumed would be a strength: development. There's been almost none with the players he either inherited or brought in last year. And technically, that means we don't even know if he's going to be able to elevate this freshmen class beyond its current production. Even with what Anderson inherited, this total lack of progress could be be cause for dismissal.

Even with the freshmen, Anderson's case is tenuous at the moment, especially if Missouri doesn't win at least one of the next two games -- the Tigers are projected to have a 45% chance of winning against both MSU and Ole Miss at home ... and after that, there's only one game with even a 30% chance.

Still, Anderson can point to the freshmen. Of the 11 players who have received most of this year's minutes, the four freshmen have accounted for more than half of this year's Trifecta points. Puryear and Phillips have certainly seen their production go down against better competition, and VanLeer is hitting only 31% of his 3-pointers, but these three and Walton are busting their collective asses and figuring out ways to make things happen. If this season doesn't ruin them, and if they actually grow and develop as freshmen are supposed to, you can talk yourself into these four being the base of a pretty competitive team in a couple of years.

Then again, I was saying the same thing about last year's freshmen at this point last January.

Beat Mississippi State, guys. I'm tired of talking about hot seats and backwards steps. It got depressing a long time ago.

---

AdjGS: a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It takes points, assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls into account to determine an individual's "score" for a given game. The "adjustment" in Adjusted Game Score is simply matching the total game scores to the total points scored in the game, thereby redistributing the game's points scored to those who had the biggest impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

Usage%: This "estimates the % of team possessions a player consumes while on the floor" (via). The usage of those possessions is determined via a formula using field goal and free throw attempts, offensive rebounds, assists and turnovers. The higher the number, the more prevalent a player is (good or bad) in a team's offensive outcome.

Floor%: Via Basketball-Reference.com: Floor % answers the question, "when Player X uses a possession, what is the probability that his team scores at least 1 point?". The higher the Floor%, the more frequently the team probably scores when the given player is involved.

Touches/Possession: Using field goal attempts, free throw attempts, assists and turnovers, Touches attempt to estimate "the number of times a player touched the ball in an attacking position on the floor." Take the estimated touches and divide it by the estimated number of possessions for which a player was on the court, and you get a rough idea of how many times a player touched the ball in a given possession. For point guards, you'll see the number in the 3-4 range. For shooting guards and wings, 2-3. For an offensively limited center, 1.30. You get the idea.

Anyway, using the Touches figure, we can estimate the percentage of time a player "in an attacking position" passes, shoots, turns the ball over, or gets fouled.