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.
Data Source: Synergy Sports and Ken Pomeroy.
Setting the Stage
December 2, 2019, was a bitterly cold Sunday in Columbia. Mizzou was tasked with battling a Central Florida Knights team would eventually fall to Duke in the NCAA tournament, led by 32 points from Zion Williamson. The game was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams seemingly having the game locked down.
As fate would have it, Jordan Geist willed Mizzou back from the brink of defeat when the Tigers trailed by three with only seconds remaining. And then...
The last time these teams met... pic.twitter.com/1OWK4iY5wN— Order On The Court (@DataMizzou) December 17, 2022
As they say: History has a way of repeating itself.
Fast-forward to December 17, 2022, Mizzou once again faced a Johnny Dawkins-led UCF team in a contest that came down to the final moments. The only difference seemingly was the temperature outside the arena. Because lighting struck the Knights twice.
Eat your heart out, folks pic.twitter.com/Wme95HdUDG— Order On The Court (@DataMizzou) December 17, 2022
I cannot see Mr. Dawkins entering another series with the home squad.
The more recent game was one also marked by runs. Mizzou fell into an early hole, 10-0, just minutes into the contest. Later in the half UCF would spring a 9-0 run to take the lead and do so once again late in the second half. The Tigers opened the second half on a 15-1 run after sprinting back from the original deficit to take a multiple-possession lead in the first half. And so it went. Back and forth. Back and forth. The teams lobbed volleys at one another for 39:59.
And then Mizzou dropped the big one.
After securing a defensive rebound, D’Moi Hodge slipped on a logo as he hurriedly moved up court. Showing next-level awareness, he rolled the ball to mid-court. Just when everyone thought this game had reached his conclusion, DeAndre Gholston fielded the groundball and fired off a last second effort from just inside half court. The dull “thud,” thundered off the backboard. Mizzou’s bench swarmed the newest Tiger hero just feet in front of Dawkins.
The Tigers had done it to him again.
Here’s how the game got to that point...
The Scout: When Mizzou Has the Ball
- Pace of Play: Rinse. Repeat. I can probably leave this heading in ink. We know Mizzou wants to play a fast game. Ideally by generating quick possessions defensively via turnovers. Manufacture quick looks in transition and secondary break opportunities on offense. UCF? They’ll want to slow the game down. They have allowed a high rate of transition opportunities, but if there’s nothing there, they gum up the game. They rank 335th fastest in offensive possession length. They’re middle of the pack defensively. For Mizzou to win, this game will likely need to crack 70 possessions, unless an outlier shooting performance occurs. And they need to convert on their transition opportunities. The Knights are stout on the run defensively and in the half-court.
- Create Second Chances: Another repeat from last weekend. Despite their impressive size, UCF gives up A LOT of offensive rebounds. They rank 247th nationally in defensive rebound rate. Mizzou rates 94th in offensive rebound rate. There will be chances to secure second chances. Furthermore, UCF gives up a large amount of putback attempts on those boards. The Tigers need to capitalize.
- Win Away from the Action: Wait, what? Allow me to explain. UCF is elite at the point of attack defensively. They absolutely shut down opponents attempting primary scoring from pick and rolls as well as isolation attempts. This leaves openings elsewhere, be it on spot-up opportunities or off-ball cutting, UCF gives up a lot of opportunities to secondary options. Because of their elite size and recovery ability, they’ve managed to keep these plays less than efficient. But the opportunities will be there. Mizzou has to convert. D’Moi Hodge, Nick Honor, Dree Gholston and lord-willing, Isiaih Mosley are key players.
The Scout: When UCF has the Ball
- Create Turnovers. Again, the main theme defensively. Unlike Kansas last weekend, UCF coughs up the ball. A lot. They rank 309th in offensive turnover rate. Mizzou ranks 5th in defensive turnover rate. The delta between their respective figures is 5.2%. If Mizzou can get UCF’s turnover rate above 25% (1 in 4 possessions resulting in a turnover), they’re going to be in good shape. If it’s under 20%? It’s going to be hard to win. The Knight’s biggest problem have been dead ball turnovers. UCF has seen a fair amount of pressure defense and have handled it decently. Not great, not bad. To truly capitalize, Mizzou will need to generate more live ball turnovers to spur their offense.
- Be better on Defensive Rotations. Much like Kansas, the Knights are looking to move the ball and find open players while catching the defense slow in reacting. They don’t score well off of primary pick and roll options, but they’re dangerous when they find open men off the pass. The includes both rollers and men spotting up on the wings. They’re an elite group at finishing in both categories. They average 1.124 points per possession on catch and shoots, they hit 36.9% of three pointers and rollers convert for 1.737 points per possession. If Mizzou isn’t forcing turnovers and is once again struggling on defensive assignments in the half court, it’s good...knight. A player to watch for is freshman Taylor Hendricks. When not playing in transition, his game consists of spot-ups and cuts. The exact things that Grady Dick exploited a week ago. He’s a legit NBA-talent and can win this game if the defensive outing is similar. Ithiel Horton is another spot-up artist Mizzou must keep in check.
- Win the Paint. UCF is similar to Mizzou in that they struggle on the defensive glass but have succeeded in the offensive rebound department. The Knights rank 23rd nationally in offensive rebound rate while Mizzou ranks 326th defensively. UCF also derives over 9% of their offensive from putback attempts. They’re a physically impressive team. When Mizzou forces a miss, they can’t afford putbacks or resets on offense. UCF typically rates better away from the hoop shooting the ball, but easy opportunities at the rim will be tough to recover from.
Pace of Play
For nearly the entirety of Saturday’s affair, UCF controlled the pace at which it was played. The game featured a total of 63 possessions which was Mizzou’s lowest total of the year. The next closest tally was 70 possessions against Penn. The Knights turned this into a half-court grinder. The game was not devoid of transition opportunities, however.
- Mizzou Pre-Game Transition Offense — 26.7% Usage — 1.132 PPP (Points per Possession)
- UCF Pre-Game Transition Defense — 18% Usage — 0.852 PPP
- Result: 22.4% Usage — 1.533 PPP
What the Tigers lost in volume they more than made up for in efficiency. Mizzou used 15 possessions in the open court and scored a whopping 23 points from them. They weren’t allowed to run as much as perhaps they wanted to, but they made it count when they did. This result undoubtedly helped their cause.
Mizzou was stymied in its attempt to turn this into a track meet, but the Tigers were opportunistic as the clips show.
Mizzou also made several early clock positions pay out. Although these are not true transition opportunities, they do represent the overall strategy of trying to press the tempo. In the quiet arena, you could hear Assistant Charlton Young yelling, “GO! GO!!! GO!!!!!” These plays are what he wanted. Find opportunity before facing an organized defense.
Second Chance Creation
Comparatively, the Tigers weren’t able to take advantage of many second chances. The Tigers generated an offensive rebound rate of 24% (rebounded 24% of their own misses). This was Mizzou’s lowest figure through 11 games.
It’s not surprising then that any easy buckets coming from second chance putback opportunities were also minimized.
- Mizzou Pre-Game O-Reb Putback Offense: 7.0% usage — 1.115 PPP
- UCF Pre-Game O-Reb Putback Defense: 8.2% — 0.969 PPP
- Result: 2.99% Usage — 1.000 PPP
But folks, let me tell you something. The two points Mizzou did generate — were BIG. With 2:29 remaining in the second half, Ronnie DeGray collected an offensive rebound and was fouled. He calmly knocked down both free throws to preserve a narrow lead. While Mizzou didn’t win this category, they came up big in crunch time. DeGray’s also cost UCF C.J. Kelly for the stretch run, who picked up his fifth foul on the play.
Win Away from the Ball
I can assure you that I write the pre-game scout keys before the game. An effort at back-patting? Not really. An attempt to identify areas Mizzou will need to win to prevail in the game? You bet! This one was on point.
Collectively, Mizzou used a total of 12 possessions on pick and roll ballhandler shots, isolation shots and post up shots. There were 67 such possessions in the game (adding in multiple shots as additional possessions vs. the game total of 63). Meanwhile the Tigers attempted 20 catch and shoot jumpers, those where the pass sets up the shot. Their performance here was absolutely massive.
- Mizzou Pre-Game Catch & Shoot Offense — 74.5% of Jumpers — 1.045 PPP
- UCF Pre-Game Catch & Shoot Defense — 65.9% of Jumpers — 0.857 PPP
- Result: 60.6% of Jumpers — 1.800 PPP
Mizzou buried the Knights defense away from the action. Whether they were attempting shots off the catch in transition, off of traditional spot-up opportunities in the half-court or with well-conceived pick and pops where the roller pops beyond the arc, (Mizzou scored 9 points on 3 pick and rolls) Mizzou hammered the UCF defense on these jumpers. UCF performed well at protecting the paint. With their ground game flummoxed, the Tigers launched an aerial assault.
Early on, MU routed its offense through typical channels: inverting its bigs at the elbow or having them step out to the top of the key. UCF’s scouting report tasked its bigs with crowding Kobe Brown at the elbow and sagging off when he caught the ball out front. So, MU tried to overload the floor. In the first clip, Brown reverses the ball to Honor, who dribbles off staggered screens, turns the corner, and kicks the ball to Gomillion as he slides to the opposite corner.
Next, Gates pivoted. He sat Gomillion and Brown and inserted Carter and Isiaih Mosley. He also inverted his guards, running them off screens and floppy action. In the second clip, D’Moi Hodge cuts vertically off a Carter pin down, and he could pull the trigger on a 3 if his man gets picked off. Meanwhile, Mosley follows behind, using staggers. Had he come off clean, he would have had options to shoot or drive a closeout. Instead, Mosley punches the ball back inside to Carter on the block. Carter works to the middle, drawing help. On the weak side, Honor drifts to the corner for a kick out and an open 3. (Kudos to Hodge on the wall screen.)
Opponents have also noticed that MU wants to use its bigs in traditional ways. So, they’ve countered by running hard doubles at Brown, Carter, and DeGray after the ball gets entered from the wing. That means finding alternatives. Here, Gomillion spots DeGray with a half-decent seal on a duck-in and whips a pass to him.
Alternatively, the fourth clip shows MU can keep it simple. Hodge springs himself with a ghost/brush screen to the slot and drills a 3. Or it can come down to Mosley making the right decision while attacking in transition, whipping a pass to Honor running to the corner.
The Tigers didn’t win this category so much as they didn’t lose it. Mizzou forced turnovers on 23.9% of UCF’s possessions, which is higher than UCF allows on average but lower than Mizzou typically creates. Perhaps more importantly, the Tigers only created eight live ball turnovers via steal (12.7%), a drop from their season average of 16.9%. Three turnovers, in fact, came from shot clock violations. Great defensive possessions, make no mistake, but not as useful as the live ball variety that can lead to buckets via transition opportunities.
The difference between the UCF and Kansas game, the latter in which Mizzou was strafed for points seemingly at will? Open court defense and half-court awareness.
- Mizzou Pre-Game Transition Defense: 22.3% Usage — 1.010 PPP
- UCF Pre-Game Transition Offense: 15.8% Usage — 1.031 PPP
- Results: 24.3% Usage — 1.000 PPP
A week ago, Mizzou yielded 1.650 PPP on transition opportunities. A marked improvement, no doubt. Furthermore:
- Mizzou Pre-Game Press Defense: 33.6% Usage — 0.803 PPP
- UCF Pre-Game Press Offense: 14.2% usage — 0.866 PPP
- Result: 41% Usage — 1.000 PPP
The Tigers didn’t win when pressuring UCF, but the loss was manageable. Finally:
- Mizzou Pre-Game Cutting Action Defense: 9.0% Usage — 1.076 PPP
- UCF Pre-Game Cutting Action Offense: 7.5% Usage — 1.066 PPP
- Result: 11.43% Usage — 0.625 PPP
Mizzou gave up more opportunities on cuts than they probably wanted to, but instead of the 1.267 PPP Kansas hit them for, Mizzou cut that efficiency figure in half. In these three categories Mizzou didn’t “win,” per se, but they kept the margins close.
If DeGray’s offensive rebound wasn’t the second biggest play of the game down the stretch, this was.
Unlike a week ago, Mizzou heavily mixed their defensive looks. They played almost a 50/50 split of Man to Man and Zone defenses. While the results weren’t a superlative, they were good enough. And sometimes that’s all you need.
- Mizzou Pre-Game Spot-Up Defense: 26.4% Usage — 0.948 PPP
- UCF Pre-Game Spot-Up Offense: 27.8% Usage — 0.951 PPP
- Result: 41.4% Usage — 1.379 PPP
The numbers here weren’t pretty, but because they were taking virtually everything else away from UCF, it made the game manageable.
- Mizzou Pre-Game Catch & Shoot Defense: 66.1% of Jumpers — 1.057 PPP
- UCF Pre-Game Catch & Shoot Offense: 61.4% of Jumpers — 1.124 PPP
- Result: 78.9% of Jumpers — 1.385 PPP
UCF dented Mizzou from outside, there’s no question. Mizzou just did it better (1.800 PPP on catch & shoot). If you liked made jumpers, this was the game for you.
It would have been really difficult for Mizzou to be as bad as it was against Kansas. Yet the Tigers still have a tendency to over-help toward the baseline. Stunting to the middle and recovering back still presents problems. In one clip, Ronnie DeGray helps off Taylor Hendricks – despite the dribbler being contained. Rotating to shooters can happen a split-second off schedule. And botched switches earlier in possessions come home to roost later.
Quietly, Mizzou’s increased its usage of zone looks, especially the 1-3-1. Against UCF, Gates had the Tigers drop into this look after showing a token press to the Knights. It was helpful because it limited Hendricks’ chances to hunt mismatches out of switches in man-to-man. And MU also looked organized as the ball swung around the arc.
Did it mean conceding jumpers? Yes. Did the Knights occasionally drill them? Sure. But MU’s organization was sound enough that gaps didn’t regularly open up and stress the Tigers in rotation. This approach also meant easing ball pressure – the kind that creates turnovers. Yet it provided a trade-off: better shot defense.
Yes, UCF’s stellar freshman started to simmer in crunch time, but for long stretches, MU kept a lid on him. They had defenders dig when he caught the ball inside. The Tigers rotated back to take away easy run outs on the break. And they collapsed hard when Hendricks committed to a gap.
The Paint was Mostly Won
Mizzou conceded eight made baskets by UCF at the rim in 12 opportunities. While that’s not a great performance, they did cause the Knights to attempt 12 more two-point opportunities away from the rim, which UCF converted only once. The Tigers did a fine job of preventing UCF from winning the game with easy rim opportunities, a fair percentage of which came in transition.
They prevented cuts from being easy conversions (see above) as well as allowing only three total points to be scored via isolation shots, pick and roll ballhandler shots, pick and roll rollers, handoffs and post ups. Three points! While they were winged from outside, the Tiger defense performed well enough on the interior to bring home the victory.