Matt Harris (@MattJHarris85 on Twitter) and Matt Watkins (@DataMizzou) have shifted into game breakdown mode. Now that the data set has started to accumulate, and the schedule shifts into a higher difficulty mode we’re going to look into the key aspects of why the Tigers won...or lost. If you enjoy the finer points of analysis and the nitty-gritty of film study, this is for you. Even if it’s not, we’ll still bring you A LOT of film to enjoy. Also, please note: the pre-game scouting reports were drafted prior to the game. They’re included as a guide to properly analyze performance through the prospective lens and not enjoy the benefit of hindsight.
Setting the Stage
After a 7-0 start, Missouri made its first road trek of the season to one of the toughest venues in the American Athletic Conference: Wichita State’s Charles Koch Arena. Over the five games leading up to the contest, MU had buttoned up its half-court defense and turned it into a turnover machine, fueling the Tigers’ transition attack. The caliber of competition to this point hasn’t exactly served as stiff resistance to the base version of Dennis Gates’ turbocharged Princeton offense.
Wichita State was a fitting foil. The Shockers also imported a slew of transfers this offseason, but coach Isaac Brown is rooting his reboot in WSU’s defensive identity. To a certain extent, it’s worked. The Shockers were 61st in adjusted efficiency, forcing opponents to grind out long possessions.
The problem: scoring. The Shockers ranked 159th in adjusted offensive efficiency last season and have not improved (122nd) dramatically this season. They’ve been pretty good around the rim early, but they entered Tuesday’s affair as a putrid jump-shooting unit. Point guard Craig Porter, Jr. and wing Jaykwon Walton need a third leg to make a tripod. However, Drexel transfer Xavier Bell and Southern Miss transfer Jaron Pierre are struggling at combo guard. Meanwhile, Colby Rogers, who shot almost 43 percent from deep last season, had his waiver request blocked by Siena.
It hasn’t helped that mobile bigs in James Rojas, an Alabama transfer, and Kenny Pohto are struggling to stretch the floor and create operating room.
When the well goes dry, it’s a long drought. It was a significant reason WSU lost to Alcorn State, and it helped San Francisco enjoy a comfortable margin most of the way in a victory at the Hall of Fame Classic. Wins over Grand Canyon and Richmond are solid, and Tarleton State might be pesky in the WAC, but this is also WSU’s first true test of the regular season.
On to the pre-game keys:
The Scout: When Mizzou Has the Ball
- Pace of Play: The two teams could not offer starker contrast. Wichita State, who ranks 328th in tempo, will undoubtedly want to turn this into a half-court slugfest. The Shockers will forfeit some offensive rebounds and rely on stellar transition defense to make opponents earn everything if need be. For its part, MU’s willing to concede some spot-ups to force turnovers and play on the break. It’s why the Tigers rank 14th nationally in adjusted tempo.
- Loosen The Half-Court Defense Off the Catch: Aside from ball handling, MU’s marked improvement at knocking down jumpers has been a long-awaited development. It’s also a tool the Tigers use a lot. (Almost half of MU’s shots are jumpers.) The Shockers do a good job running shooters off the line and contest most of those attempts. MU is average when shooters have a hand in their face, but knock down a couple and they’ll loosen up the Shockers’ interior defense.
- Cut the Shockers Open: The Tigers thrive on creating point-blank attempts, while WSU does a good job limiting opportunities around the rim. That said, there’s a potential avenue: cutting. The Shockers are average when defending them, and MU has been exceptional (1.551 PPP) when a player bolts into a gap. Brown’s teams rely on physical man-to-man defense and play a heavier amount of zone than most D1 squads. That means potential overplays against man defense and openings to exploit if the zone isn’t on point.
The Scout: When Wichita has the Ball
- Pace of Play: This may seem redundant, but it’s vital. Mizzou’s defense is predicated on generating turnovers. The Tigers force their opponents to face a press defense for nearly 33% of possessions and hold them to a low 0.690 PPP efficiency rate on those possessions. Wichita, meanwhile, has only faced press defenses on 19% of possessions and converts at a below-average rate of 0.813 PPP.
- Don’t Get Killed on the Glass: Mizzou’s defensive rebounding has found itself in the red early in the season. Wichita has utilized second chances as a strength. It’s a mismatch and a concern. Minimizing the damage here will be critical.
- Turn The Shockers into Jump Shooters: Wichita has struggled mightily early on as a jump-shooting bunch. They minimize this by attempting only 44% of shots from jumpers and instead spent more time hunting shots at the rim (~50%). There’s good reason behind this. They’re converting only 26% of three-point attempts. It hasn’t been their game. While outliers are always possible, the odds say you’d prefer to have them take their chances outside than at the rim.
Post-Game Performance Analysis
As for what happened Tuesday...
Mizzou survived what can only be described as a spirited effort out of the home-standing Shockers. All of the puzzle pieces fell into place for the Tigers during the first 21 minutes of the contest. Then, a 16-0 run by the Wichita group had Mizzou all out of sorts. The teams volleyed back and forth until 5 minutes were remaining, and Mizzou trailed 66-56 and had a win probability of 6.1%. Yet, this game had a few more surprises in store. Mizzou rallied to send the game to overtime before imposing their will for the final time and bringing home a gutsy 88-84 victory.
We now turn our attention to how they did it by diving headfirst into the nitty-gritty of our pre-game scout keys above.
Pace of Play
In building their 9-point margin and erasing the Shocker’s 10-point lead, Mizzou could ramp up the defensive pressure and score in transition. Consider:
- Mizzou Pre-Game Transition Offense: 27.2% of Possessions — 1.175 PPP
- Wichita Pre-Game Transition Defense: 14.7% of Possessions — 0.791 PPP
- Result: 28.9% of Possessions — 1.077 PPP
Mizzou was able to win this area of the game. Though the efficiency number dipped, it was only a slight decrease. They made up for it in volume with 26 possessions throughout the game. They managed this number offensively in large part because of their defensive performance:
- Mizzou Pre-Game Steal Rate Defense: 9.8% of possessions with a steal
- Wichita Pre-Game Steal Rate Offense: 7.7% of possessions allowing a steal
- Result: 19.8% of possessions ended in a steal.
This determined the basketball game. Nearly one out of every five trips the Shockers made down the floor, Mizzou forced a live ball turnover and headed the other way. Every single Tiger who appeared notched at least one steal. Impressive!
Here’s how they did it:
There’s a common misconception that offense entirely dictates tempo. Yet defense also plays a role, specifically a team’s turnover rate. That makes sense: turnovers result in fast breaks, which are snap-quick offensive possessions. Almost 8.5% of Mizzou’s initial shots come without 10 seconds of a takeaway, per Hoop Math. That volume is 11th in Division I.
On film, MU’s method isn’t hard to tease out. Often, the Tigers’ pick-up point, where a defender engages a ball-handler, is high up the floor. At a minimum, it’s half-court. On Tuesday, it was frequently Wichita State’s free-throw line — or more than 80 feet from the Tigers’ rim. Yes, the Tigers occasionally use a 2-2-1 press or a run-jump press. Still, at a minimum, they want Nick Honor, Sean East, D’Moi Hodge, or Tre Gomillion heating up the dribbler.
How suffocating was it? The Shockers coughed the rock up six times before the under-12 timeout. Along the way, coach Isaac Brown had to make several tweaks. First, he took the ball out of Craig Porter’s hands and had Jaykwon Walton, a bigger-bodied guard, initiate. Then, when that didn’t help, he inserted Shammah Scott, who Honor pestered. Finally, Brown used a screener in the backcourt to bump a pressuring defender off.
We’ve previously talked about early-clock offense, but it’s fundamental to how MU operates. Gates has said he wants five guys capable of snatching a rebound and pushing. No waiting for a guard to get their butt to the sideline for an outlet. Just grab and go.
MU’s shot volume from these touches is basically smack dab in the middle of D1, per Hoop Math’s data. But when you combine it with turnovers, almost 30% of MU’s initial shots are generated in transition.
Nobody embodies that notion better than D’Moi Hodge, who you see in two clips. He’ll sprint the wing to spot-up. Collect a board and quickly accelerate in the open floor. Or he’ll make an intelligent hit-ahead to help beat the press.
When MU cranked up its transition game, it averaged 1.077 points per possession, per Synergy. But if WSU loaded up, the Tigers’ efficiency slid to 0.938 PPP.
Mizzou’s Catch and Shoot Jump Shooting Woes
Mizzou entered the game as an above-average team nationally in this category. However, their efficiency on the season lagged behind their efficacy at the rim, as with most squads. As such, Isaac Brown and the Shockers made a strategic bet: Jam up the paint and force the Tigers to beat them from outside. Narrator: Isaac hit the jackpot.
- Mizzou Pre-Game Catch and Shoot Offense: 76.9% of Jump Shots — 1.089 PPP
- Wichita Pre-Game Catch and Shoot Defense: 61.9% of Jump Shots — 0.856 PPP
- Result: 75% of Jump Shots — 0.556 PPP
Sweet Moses. The Tigers hoisted 27 catch-and-shoot jumpers and yielded just 15 points from them. Expectation (splitting the difference between Mizzou’s offense and WSU’s defense season efficiency) would have resulted in scoring about 26 points on these chances. Think those 11 points would’ve made a difference?
We speculated pre-game that Mizzou may have been able to take advantage of the Shockers defense by utilizing cuts. Actions intended to beat aggressive defense. They were able to spring five such plays that yielded five big points in return. None bigger than the play that tied the game at the end of regulation.
The design itself is pretty straightforward. Down the stretch, MU’s offense relied heavily on ball screens set in the middle of the floor, usually having Noah Carter as the screener and Sean East handling.
Here, though, it’s a dummy action. First, it lifts and occupies two defenders in pick-and-roll coverage. While that’s taking place, East sprints toward Honor, almost selling a dribble handoff. At the same time, Carter moves to the pinch post, pulling James Rojas from the top of the restricted area.
Maybe a DHO was the plan, one blown up by Gus Okafor. But look at all that open hardwood below the foul line. Know who noticed? Hodge. The vet recognized Walton overplaying him and did what any player is taught: dart backdoor. Not only did it set Hodge up to draw MU even, but Rojas also picked up his fifth foul in the process.
Mizzou Cleaned the Defensive Glass
An area that needs to be discussed is Mizzou’s performance on the defensive glass.
- Mizzou Pre-Game Putback Defense: 8.4% of opponent possessions — 0.865 PPP
- Wichita Pre-Game Putback Offense: 10.3% of opponent possessions — 1.298 PPP
- Result: 4.65% of Wichita possessions — 1.500 PPP
Here, we’re a little more concerned with volume than efficiency. Simply because these are typically point-blank shot attempts. On an ordinary evening, Wichita could’ve expected to see such opportunities. Tuesday night, they only saw four. Mizzou saved themselves 3-4 points which proved to be very important. Moreover, their total defensive rebounding rate (not just putbacks) was impressive:
- Mizzou Pre-Game Offensive Rebound Rate Allowed: 37.4% (347th nationally)
- Wichita Pre-Game Offensive Rebound Rate: 33.8% (62nd nationally)
- Result: 21.9%
Mizzou dominated an area where they were reasonably expected to be dominated. We’ll shelve the film because there isn’t much to show!
Best Laid Plans: Wichita Beat Expectations on Jumpers
Tell me if you’ve heard this story: A team who struggles shooting the ball has an outlier performance on its home court, and the opponent can’t recover. It was almost made into a two-hour movie Tuesday night.
- Mizzou Pre-Game Catch and Shoot Jumper Defense: 66.1% of jump shots — 0.966 PPP
- Wichita Pre-Game Catch and Shoot Jumper Offense: 58.2% of jump shots — 0.764 PPP
- Result: 73.5% of jump shots — 1.320 PPP
Goodness, gracious. Using our same expected point analysis from Mizzou’s catch-and-shoot performance above, Wichita beat expectations on these attempts by 11 points. ELEVEN! Combined with Mizzou’s performance, this accounted for a 22-point swing! You may say, well...Wichita was open on these attempts. You’re not wrong. But indulge us in sharing those numbers:
- Mizzou Pre-Game Open Catch and Shoot Defense: 57.4% of C+S Opportunities — 0.988 PPP
- Wichita Pre-Game Open Catch and Shoot Offense: 48.3% of C+S Opportunities — 0.674 PPP
- Result: 64% of C+S Opportunities — 1.625 PPP
Wichita had an outlier shooting night, making wide-open shots they rarely make. Mizzou assuredly knew this. The Tigers hedged their bets, sold out for steals, and attempted to protect the rim. But the best-laid plans can go awry. Even on uncontested opportunities, the Shockers beat expectations by 13 points. That is incredible.
How concerned should we be about opponents’ 3-point shooting? KenPom would tell us to remain calm. Several years ago, he noted that 3-point defense has almost zero influence on overall defense. The more significant driver: denying scoring chances at the rim.
And that’s the schematic crux of MU’s approach. To offset the lack of a traditional rim protector, Mizzou applies heavy on-ball pressure, making it hard to enter the ball to the post or hit cutters. The Tigers also provide liberal help toward the middle of the floor. It’s why the Tigers’ defensive efficiency around the rim ranks in the 71st percentile, per Synergy.
But that strategy involves a tradeoff — open shooters and long close-outs.
Our first two cut-ups show as much. In both, Gomillion’s guarding a man positioned in the slot. Still, he has to stunt — or take a quick step — toward a driver threatening the middle gap. As he does that, Gomillion’s man drifts toward the corner. Even if Gomillion does his best, the distance he has to cover on a close-out is too long. Meanwhile, there’s no teammate to help the helper in a scramble drill.
Yet there are times when those catch-and-shoots result from a gaffe. We’re not trying to pick on Aidan Shaw, but you’ll see two snippets where he loses his orientation in the shell. The first clip shows Honor stunting. When he does, Scott executes a corner drift. Notice how far up the lane Shaw is. He should probably be closer to the block. That way, Shaw protects the rim but can close out under control to the corner. And in the second clip, he might be a tad aggressive, stepping toward the driver, giving Jaron Pierre time to relocate for a spot-up.
Don’t Shortchange the Shockers
Ironically, the Shockers found cutting to be an effective scoring mode. They doubled up Mizzou in the possession count, and those touches generated 1.333 PPP, per Synergy. So, what kind of ingenious sets yielded those chances?
They told a dude to stand in the short corner and wait.
If it’s not apparent, MU’s not a gap-based scheme defensively. They don’t sag off, let the ball easily swing around the perimeter, and keep everything in front. Instead, the Tigers guard tight and switch everything. That’s fine. Assuming you contain the dribbler.
When that didn’t happen, the results were gnarly.
Whether by design or a response to pressure, WSU’s sets often started way up the floor. That meant the third level of MU’s defense was usually stationed along the top of the restricted area. When Scott or Porter split defenders or snaked a ball screen, they had a safety valve in the paint: a big loitering in the dunker spot waiting for a pass.
Missouri In-Game Offense Adjustments
By our count, almost half of MU’s possessions came from turning defense into offense, attacking early the clock, or facing some form of a zone. Every so often, the Tigers tried a new or modified set. But Tuesday was a night for the base system — and a chance to see how Mizzou used different pieces as it made in-game adjustments.
First, let’s see how Wichita State defends a basic look: a punch play to Kobe Brown. Whether facing man or zone, a post touch for Brown is ideal. And in recent outings, those touches have been a way for the Tigers to get the ball behind a zone, draw defenders down, and let Brown ping passes to teammates.
But on Tuesday, WSU dusted off a plan many opponents used last year — run a second defender at Brown on the catch. That help usually came down from the nail or elbow, allowing WSU to keep a low help defender in place as a backstop at the rim.
Midway through the second half, Gates pivoted. He stationed Brown at the elbow. He used a 21 alignment off the ball — two Tigers on the weak side and another in the strong side corner. After an entry pass, Brown and a lead guard could play in a two-man game. Or he could operate solo.
In both clips, he’s matched up against a slower-footed big, and he can still survey his options if help arrives. Against Rojas, he sold going right and spun back to his preferred left hand, using the rim as a shield. For his part, Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler did a noble job walling up and altering Brown’s shot. But Rojas slid over to help, freeing Ronnie DeGray to make a savvy baseline cut that turns a miss into a lob.
Soon enough, though, Wichita State countered by crowding Brown in the pinch post, making pick-and-pop that you see, one of the cleaner looks he could get. Or they were incredibly physical with Missouri. In the second clip, the down screen after the pinch-post entry — a standard action in MU’s offense — isn’t clean. And on the switch, Pierre doesn’t give Brown any leeway to roll into a post-up.
With roughly 5:40 left, Gates made several critical decisions. It started with personnel. First, he opted for a four-guard lineup, lifting Shaw and Brown to insert Gomillion and Carter. Next, he subbed off DeAndre Gholston for Honor, giving the Tigers another ball-handler. Those changes coincided with a shift toward middle pick-and-rolls as the driver of MU’s crunch-time offense.
Functionally, MU moved the starting point for sets from one location to another. Using East and Carter as a pair was the masterstroke. In JUCO, ball screens served as a tool for East to generate pull-up jumpers or dig into his bag of floaters. So what if you cut him off in the middle of the lane? He’ll loft a teardrop toward the rim.
Having Carter as a screener also helps. Unlike most bigs, the Northern Iowa transfer doesn’t dive bomb as a roller. Instead, he’s more prone to pop. Usually, he’ll pull the trigger on a spot-up, but he’s also sneaky efficient attacking a close-out.
So, East can turn the corner and hunt for a comfortable mid-range look, a drive that puts the defense in rotation. Or he can kick to Carter, who demands a quality close-out. Once Carter puts the ball on the deck, defenders struggle to bump him off on a straight-line drive. Meanwhile, you have two deadly spot-up shooters — Honor and Hodge — ready to catch and pull.
No one could argue with the results: the duo scored 27 of the Tigers’ final 33 points in regulation and overtime.