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For Mizzou Basketball to live up to hype, where do the Tigers need to improve the most?

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Foul less and make more shots. Easy, right?

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Auburn vs Missouri Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It’s become something of an annual tradition: my collection of the “ifs” it will take for Mizzou Football to reach different sets of goals. This year’s “ifs” post is forthcoming ... but Mizzou Basketball continues to butt its way into the football preseason, and after Jontay Porter’s decision to reclassify as a 2017-18 freshman, I figured we should start on the hoops side.

Before we get to the ifs, though, we have to figure out how to set some standards. We know that Missouri is going to begin the season with some of the best odds in the country at winning the national title. They were the eighth-best odds before Jontay’s move, so if there’s any further shift, it will be in the Tigers’ favor.

Since the Tiger roster has been overhauled both in terms of new bodies and raw talent, and since this whole “from eight wins to national title contender in a single offseason” thing is unprecedented, it’s really difficult to simply say, “For Mizzou to live up to hype, the Tigers have to improve in Categories A and B.” They have to improve in virtually every way.

To set standards, then, let’s create a generic Very Good Team.

To do this, I looked at the teams that reached the Elite Eight over the past five years — Mizzou has top-eight odds, and all — and looked at their basic KenPom rankings. You can play with that data here:

Elite 8 teams and rankings, 2013-17

Team Overall Rk Eff (O) eFG% (O) TO% (O) OR% (O) FTA/FGA (O) Eff (D) eFG% (D) TO% (D) OR% (D) FTA/FGA (D)
Team Overall Rk Eff (O) eFG% (O) TO% (O) OR% (O) FTA/FGA (O) Eff (D) eFG% (D) TO% (D) OR% (D) FTA/FGA (D)
2015 UK 1 6 75 32 8 31 1 1 45 211 64
2016 Nova 1 3 8 58 224 242 5 42 43 147 48
2017 Gonzaga 1 15 8 37 144 76 1 1 266 49 21
2013 UL 1 7 88 77 16 71 1 32 2 242 147
2015 Wiscy 2 1 16 1 125 193 38 110 334 4 1
2016 UNC 2 1 54 21 3 285 21 84 167 182 51
2014 Zona 2 20 76 30 27 154 1 1 118 13 55
2013 UF 2 9 6 55 89 294 3 10 45 51 48
2015 Duke 3 3 4 35 32 97 12 70 204 125 4
2016 UVA 3 8 18 14 164 289 7 95 129 18 94
2017 UNC 3 9 115 39 1 208 11 71 168 25 82
2014 UF 3 19 61 116 41 108 3 27 23 42 22
2015 Zona 4 7 31 40 62 9 3 25 78 1 191
2016 KU 4 10 10 160 87 114 3 16 153 86 181
2017 UK 4 12 65 19 49 40 7 44 134 105 136
2013 Mich 4 1 11 1 139 329 39 148 243 71 1
2017 Fla 5 24 121 64 73 56 5 17 32 193 153
2014 Wiscy 5 4 32 2 279 99 36 76 325 15 3
2017 KU 6 5 12 98 37 160 24 70 165 203 56
2013 Duke 6 4 17 4 270 87 26 51 146 186 93
2015 Gonzaga 7 5 2 28 85 122 18 14 287 43 43
2013 Ohio St 7 14 83 10 159 190 10 48 132 46 43
2015 ND 9 2 1 3 277 174 102 115 274 228 5
2014 Mich St 9 13 14 107 117 321 21 35 215 17 169
2013 Cuse 9 25 141 113 9 150 7 5 23 281 157
2016 Okla 10 16 22 193 124 271 18 55 202 212 30
2017 Oregon 10 17 17 75 70 203 17 27 129 192 12
2016 Oregon 12 13 60 45 47 87 37 117 58 215 75
2014 Michigan 12 3 8 16 242 302 88 157 245 124 2
2014 UK 13 14 150 154 2 12 32 40 303 99 99
2015 Mich St 15 14 40 71 99 283 30 24 312 32 221
2014 Uconn 15 39 83 103 209 233 10 15 82 244 78
2015 UL 17 64 229 62 56 124 5 10 41 157 94
2013 Wichita 17 34 105 142 18 158 20 44 173 12 237
2017 SC 24 91 304 165 41 52 3 15 5 275 331
2013 Marq 26 24 112 234 15 45 46 76 196 231 73
2016 Cuse 27 50 162 179 52 208 17 59 48 337 23
2017 Xavier 31 29 107 167 31 36 68 214 244 37 131
2016 ND 37 9 29 19 71 273 158 153 335 285 11
2014 Dayton 42 36 52 158 87 162 72 129 137 55 236

As one would expect, to make the Elite Eight, you have to be good overall and good at a lot of things.

  • 27 of 40 teams were in the overall KenPom top 10.
  • 26 were in the top 15 in offensive efficiency
  • 24 were in the top 20 in defensive efficiency

Rocket science here, I know. But how those teams got to those lofty rankings varied from team to team. To create a Good Mizzou Team, then, we’ll simply take the median rankings from each category, figure out what value those rankings would have translated to last year (like, if the median ranking for eFG% was 46, what percentage ranked 46th last year?), and figure out how much Mizzou needs to improve to hit those targets.

Once we’re done with this exercise, we can in a future post ascribe “ifs” to the current roster for reaching those targets.

First, the basics:

  • Median overall ranking for Elite 8 team, 2013-17: 6.5 (Approximate value: +27.3 | Mizzou last year: +2.3)
  • Median offensive ranking: 12.5 (Approximate value: 121.5 | Mizzou last year: 101.5)
  • Median defensive ranking: 17.0 (Approximate value: 93.2 | Mizzou last year: 100.9)

Without getting into what those terms mean, you can at least see that Mizzou needs to improve on both sides of the court but requires a little bit more of a boost on offense (20.0 points per 100 possessions) than on defense (7.7 points per 100 possessions).

So let’s get into the nitty gritty.

How Mizzou’s offense needs to improve

Offense MEDIAN Approx. Value Mizzou 2017 Proj. change
Offense MEDIAN Approx. Value Mizzou 2017 Proj. change
Eff 12.5 121.5 101.5 20.0
eFG% 46.0 53.7 45.2 8.5
TO% 56.5 16.7 16.9 -0.2
OR% 70.5 32.3 28.2 4.1
FTA/FGA 156.0 36.1 38.7 -2.6

Mizzou’s eFG% needs to improve by 8.5% — easily the most drastic required change — and its offensive rebound rate needs to rise by 4.1%. Meanwhile, the Tigers already hit the mark or came close in terms of turnover rate and fouls drawn.

This is good news when you think about what Cuonzo Martin has most directly added with his first recruiting class: scoring ability and size.

What about the defense?

How Mizzou’s defense needs to improve

Defense MEDIAN Approx. Value Mizzou 2017 Proj. change
Defense MEDIAN Approx. Value Mizzou 2017 Proj. change
Eff 17.0 93.2 100.9 -7.7
eFG% 44.0 47.5 49.6 -2.1
TO% 149.5 19.0 19.2 -0.2
OR% 114.5 27.9 30.2 -2.3
FTA/FGA 68.5 30.8 42.6 -11.8

On defense, Mizzou needs to limit opponents’ eFG% by an extra 2.1% and needs to cut opponents’ rebound rate by 2.3%; the Tigers need to keep forcing turnovers at their current rate, and more than anything else, they need to figure out how not to foul so damn much.

Obviously the addition of Jeremiah Tilmon and the Porter brothers dramatically increases Mizzou’s length, which should help directly on the glass and indirectly in FG% defense (it’s hard to shoot over taller people, right?). But considering what Mizzou’s working with — a foul-prone guard in Terrence Phillips and a lot of young big men who might get caught out of position a lot — there’s no guarantee the foul situation will improve.

Granted, awful-shooting, foul-prone South Carolina’s Final Four run last year proved that you can be deficient in a couple of areas if you master others (like, in the Cocks’ case, FG% defense and forcing turnovers). But this sets the bar for improvement in appropriate areas, I think.