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Down the wire: how Missouri has handled being close and late

Mostly good, a little bad, but the Tigers seem to get what they want.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I retweeted something after the LSU loss when Mizzou Twitter was doing the usual thing after a loss. I saw Dave Matter quote tweet one of his replies about Mizzou not being able to finish a game. Considering Mizzou won on a buzzer beater literally the game before, I found the comment odd. So I retweeted Matter, but more out of an intention to come back to the original thought and look into it. Here’s the tweet in question:

So here we are, some time later and I’ve come back to it. I love fan tropes like this one. A trope is essentially a word or phrase used as an expression, but it’s something we often use and it ends up being true... in a sense it’s ingrained in our minds as true despite evidence it’s NOT true. And Mizzou being bad in close games is certainly one of those things.

I’m not a big fan of Matter’s cut off of five points because it will conveniently cut off the most recent loss to LSU (a 6 point loss) that was undoubtedly close. Plus, removing the arbitrary 5 point mark and expanding it a little gives us a better clearer idea of what late game execution looks like.

So let’s start with the parameters.

What is a close game?

So here’s what I went with, and I tried to keep it simple:

  • The score must have been within a single possession (3 points or less) on either side in the last 5:00 minutes in the second half of play.

Here are the games:

Mizzou in Close + Late

Date Opponent Time Score Leader Mizzou's Last/Biggest Lead Finish Result
Date Opponent Time Score Leader Mizzou's Last/Biggest Lead Finish Result
12/12/20 Illinois 3:18 76-76 tie 0:51 +4 MIZZ 5-2 W
12/22/20 Bradley 3:44 50-42 Bradley 0:01 +1 MIZZ 12-3 W
1/30/21 TCU 4:40 82-70 TCU - MIZZ 19-7 (OT) W
02/03/21 Kentucky 4:53 68-65 Mizzou 2:05 +9 MIZZ 7-5 W
02/06/21 Alabama 4:45 64-49 Mizzou 4:45 +15 ALA 16-4 W
02/13/21 Arkansas 2:54 71-66 Arkansas - MIZZ 7-2 (OT) L
2/16/21 Georgia 4:55 64-62 Georgia - UGA 16-8 L
2/23/21 Ole Miss 3:01 50-50 tie - OM 10-3 L
03/03/21 Florida 2:27 70-62 Mizzou 2:27 +8 UF 8-2 W
03/06/21 LSU 1:20 80-80 tie 4:32 +1 LSU 6-0 L
3/11/21 Georgia 3:09 66-65 Mizzou 4:52 +10 MIZZ 7-5 W
03/12/21 Arkansas 1:49 63-60 Arkansas - ARK 7-4 L

So we have categories, and I figured I’d explain why I chose them. So we’re looking at games that were close within the last five minutes. You have the date, opponent and the time on the clock with the score where it was.

Where the score was is a little subjective. If the game was close throughout, I list when it was the closest and how late. If there was a comeback, what was the largest spread so we can see how it closed. The idea behind it... How is this team actually closing close games?

The leader part is obvious, but I also thought it was important to determine if Mizzou ever held a lead and when as well. Thus the Last/Biggest lead column. Then the finish and the result.

Some takeaways

  • Overall record in close games as determined by my parameters: 7 - 5 (PRETTY GOOD!)
  • Mizzou wins in games they held any lead with under 5 to play: 6 - 1 (VERY GOOD)
  • Mizzou wins in games where they held no lead in the last 5 minutes: 1 - 4 (not surprising)
  • If you look at the loss column, they all have one thing in common (except for one): Mizzou never had the lead down the stretch. They led briefly (+1) against LSU with 4:32 to play, LSU scored 17 seconds later, hit a 3 shortly thereafter, and Mizzou never led again (they did tie it late on a Mitchell Smith putback).
  • Mizzou has outscored their opponent half the time, and been outscored half the time. Which is... I’m not sure.

To me, the pattern seems pretty clear. When Missouri is able to get the lead, they’re a lot better off than when playing from behind. The two results against Bradley and TCU were a lot of fun, but those were against lesser teams. When the Tigers faced similar competition — 9 of the 12 games came against league opponents — they were only able to outscore their opponent by more than a single possession once. And that was closing down on Arkansas to send the game to overtime... a game they eventually lost.

Which kind of touches on what I wrote about yesterday, Mizzou as a team whose efficiency margin isn’t big enough to be elite. So when the competition level is more narrow, they rely on being ahead where they can rely on good ball handling and reliable free throw shooting from their guards to keep the lead.

I tend to think Mizzou is neither good nor bad late in games. They’re pretty average. And this research bears it out a bit. They aren't always able to play from behind to win games, but they’re able to hold onto most leads.

I would assume the game against Oklahoma will be close. So look for whether or not Missouri has a lead in the last five minutes. It should indicate they’re pretty likely to win.