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The Verdict: Mizzou Romps Against Former League Foe

On a day that brought back memories of years past, Mizzou humiliated their neighbors to the north.

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

Matt Watkins (@DataMizzou) and Matt Harris (@MattJHarris85 on Twitter) 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 Sources: Synergy Sports and Ken Pomeroy.


Setting the Stage

On Saturday afternoon, Mizzou Arena may well have been confused with the Hearnes Center 30 years before. The Tigers, adorned in their fresh vintage uniforms, squared off with former conference foe, Iowa State. Though the names of the players had changed, and the venue was several hundred yards further south, the nostalgia was splitting at the seams.

Saturday’s outing was the fourth against the Cyclones since Mizzou departed for economically greener pastures. Continuing with the theme of sentimentality, the homestanding Tigers prevailed by 17 points. They had dropped the last two games in the series in Ames by 17 each time. Their first non-conference meeting resulted in a 15-point Tiger victory — and that’s all that happened that night, I swear.

All what’s old is new once again.

This year’s matchup — like last season’s — was a part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. With the Big 12 hemorrhaging institutions faster than a Tiger fan’s wallet when seeing the fauxback unis for sale, this may prove to be the last meeting with Iowa State for the foreseeable future.

Warm feelings of yesteryear aside, this was a massively important game for the home team. Surreptitiously constructing a resume built to be analyzed in March, Mizzou was in search of a marquee victory. Iowa State’s impressive resurgence provided them that exact opportunity, sporting a top 10 NET rating and a current share of the Big 12 conference lead.

The Cyclones’ very essence under second year coach, T.J. Otzelberger, is that of an incredibly formidable half court man-to-man defense. Borrowing from the increasingly en vogue “no-middle” philosophy, Iowa State’s defensive efficiency is one of the best in the country. And unlike a year ago, their offense is capable, if not elite. Their squad has the makings of a group that will push for a second weekend appearance come March.

With the pleasantries out of the way, let’s move on to the pre-game keys for success and the performance analysis, shall we?

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

Mizzou Offense

Strength on the Ball

Pregame Key: What if I told you that Mizzou, who predicates defensive success on creating turnovers, was not the most prodigious turnover creation machine in this matchup? It’s true. The Cyclones, even with their half court style of play, rank number 1 nationally in opponent turnover percentage at 28%. Their no-middle man-to-man defense, complete with icing ball screens and forcing actions to the sidelines has been incredibly effective at generating steals (4th nationally) and dead ball turnovers (1st nationally). This is a major component of their elite half-court man defensive metrics. Mizzou, meanwhile, ranks 31st nationally in offensive turnover rate.

Discussion: As you’ll see after a full read of this piece, turnovers were in fact a major story. Beginning with Mizzou’s ball protection performance:

  • Mizzou Pre-Game Offensive Turnover Rate: 15.1%
  • Iowa State Pre-Game Defensive Turnover Rate: 28.0%
  • Result: 18.5%

As for those turnovers that came about via live ball steals:

  • Mizzou Pre-Game Offensive Steal Rate: 9.1%
  • Iowa State Pre-Game Defensive Steal Rate: 14.6%
  • Result: 9.2%

To understand the importance, these percentages are merely the percentage of possessions on which they occur. Saturday’s game featured 65 possessions. As such, Mizzou only turned it over 12 times (18.5% of possessions) and Iowa State had 6 steals (9.2%). While both of these rates were slightly higher than Mizzou is accustomed to, they were well below what Iowa State typically generates.

Verdict: A-

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Get Up and Go

Pregame Key: This game invites an interesting contrast in game speeds. Iowa State prefers a methodical game. They prefer to play a pace that ends in approximately 64 possessions. Mizzou, meanwhile, prefers warp-speed. The Tigers strive to crack 70 possessions in a game and have only once been held to 64 or fewer (UCF). There’s incentive in this contest, especially. Iowa State’s transition defense is not bad by any means, allowing only 0.974 PPP. However, their half-court man defense is elite (0.765 PPP). The Cyclones are elite at suppressing rim attempts when the defense gets set, so transition is vital. They do allow a fair number of opportunities in transition. In their 15 wins, ISU yielded 9.7 points in transition per contest. In their 4 losses? 13.3 transition points per game. If one looks at this game realistically, and sees a Tiger victory, it almost certainly involves denting ISU in the open court.

Discussion: If you read that pre-game key and then saw that the game featured 65 possessions, you may rightfully assume that Iowa State dictated the tempo of the game. And to some degree, they did. However, Mizzou was able to generate points in the open floor.

  • Mizzou Pre-Game Transition Offense: 25.2% Usage — 1.131 PPP
  • Iowa State Pre-Game Transition Defense: 13.9% Usage — 0.974 PPP
  • Result: 20.83% Usage — 1.067 PPP

Mizzou did not dominate Iowa State in transition. However, they did generate 15 such opportunities over 65 possessions and scored 16 points. As noted above, opponents defeating Iowa State averaged 13.3 points in transition. Mizzou bested that figure. Additionally, the result falls almost directly in between the two teams’ pre-game usage and efficiency figures. The Tigers didn’t win the game here, but they did enough to supplement the blowout.

Mizzou made quick work on changes of possession. Even if they were slowed in the initial transition push, they quickly recalibrated to hunt for an early clock look on the fly.

All of these buckets came after Mizzou secured the ball, probed in transition, were turned away and found the next great look. A key in beating the stout Cyclone man-to-man defense: don’t let it get organized. The Tigers did well in generating early offense before moving to base offensive sets.

Verdict: B+

Crack the Half Court Code

Pregame Key: An oft-cited — and often accurate — mantra in college basketball: Did you make your threes? In this game, it will be important. Iowa State’s opponents’ shot profile reflects this: 60% of an opponents’ shots come via jump shots. Only 10 teams force opponents to shoot a higher share of jump shots. And if you may be thinking, “ok, well, just need to knock down some threes,” allow me to go further. Iowa State does not allow a lot of the “gold standard,” jumpers, the catch and shoot opportunity. Furthermore, ISU opponents are only converting for 0.783 PPP on uncontested catch and shoots, 2nd best nationally. They force jumpers, they prevent catch and shoots, and those that are prime looks are typically taken by their opponents’ worst shooters. So, when Mizzou is forced to play a half court game, they’re likely going to need to work doubly hard for good opportunities. (And to make them, of course.) If Mizzou is successful, you’ll have the major benefit of the points, obviously, but also an opportunity to extend Iowa State’s defense and open up cutting lanes which may just be their Achilles’ Heel.

Discussion: We’re going incorporate a fair amount of film to help with the heavy lifting on this, because there’s simply so much content! Mizzou absolutely worked over the Cyclones half-court defense. Especially the vaunted no-middle man to man. But first, let’s roll through some stats:

  • Mizzou Pre-Game offensive 3pt %: 34.5%
  • Iowa State Pre-Game defensive 3pt %: 31.4%
  • Result: 46.7%

The Tigers strafed the Cyclones behind the arc, converting on 14 of 30 opportunities. Digging further into the numbers...

  • Mizzou Pre-Game offensive Jump Shots: — 51% Usage — 1.000 PPP
  • Iowa State Pre-Game defensive Jump Shots: 60% Usage — 0.882 PPP
  • Result: 67.9% Usage — 1.306 PPP

Iowa State forces opponents to stay out of the paint, ergo: no-middle defense. That leads to a high share of jump shots. Mizzou simply leaned into that, converted...and then converted some more. But it wasn’t just taking jump shots for the sake of doing so, they killed it with their “gold standard,” opportunities:

  • Mizzou Pre-Game offense Catch and Shoot Jumpers: 67.1% of jumpers — 1.078 PPP
  • Iowa State Pre-Game defense Catch and Shoot Jumpers: 58.1% of jumpers — 0.921 PPP
  • Result: 52.8% of jumpers — 1.421 PPP

While the share was slightly lower than one might hope, the efficiency was otherworldly. Mizzou attempted 19 catch and shoots (15 of which were uncontested) and produced 27 points. Iowa State’s prior defensive performance would’ve expected to yield 17.5 points, a significant 10-point addition to the box score. This performance allowed Mizzou to beat Iowa State’s half-court defense to a red and yellow pulp:

  • Mizzou Pre-Game Half-Court Offense: 74.8% Usage — 0.968 PPP
  • Iowa State Pre-Game Half-Court Defense: 86.1% Usage — 0.765 PPP
  • Result: 79.2% Usage — 1.088 PPP

The share of possessions played in the half-court was as one would expect. The efficiency of those trips was outstanding.

First we’ll take a look at what exactly Iowa State’s “No Middle,” setup is. In the very first clip, you’ll see a perfect example. Mosley’s many sets up on the high side of the ball screen to disallow him dribble penetration to the middle, rather, redirecting him to the sideline, AKA “icing the screen.” Further through the play, Carter attempts to drive middle and his man ushers him towards the baseline, with Kobe’s man providing bottom-side help defense. The next clip shows Nick Honor attempting to isolate his defender off the dribble but comes up short on the layup. The third clip shows a series of slipped ball screens with Kobe ultimately drawing a double leading to a held ball. Finally, Kobe and Carter run a ball screen slip into a high low, that nearly beats the double team, but savvy weakside help draws the charge.

When operating well, it’s a tough nut to crack.

So how exactly did Mizzou do it? They went 5-out and moved the ball with startling speed. Most of these sets including four things: 1. A 5-out set (5 players beyond the 3-point line); 2. A ball screen to trigger the play; 3. Dribble penetration; 4. Passing to beat the Cyclone’s defensive rotations. The Tigers’ execution was simply clinical. And the shot-making helped, of course!

The Tigers executed in special teams as well. First, they inbound the ball from the baseline and run a quick punch play for Kobe Brown, who was simply on one Saturday. Then, with arguably my favorite play of the game, they disguise their intent by circling Gholston to the top of the key as a decoy, which freezes Hodge’s man momentarily, and Carter sets a back screen, freeing Hodge for a wide open three on the flare screen. Dennis Gates used Iowa State’s scheme against them and the players executed it perfectly.

Mizzou was shredding Iowa State’s man defense so badly that T.J. Otzelberger straight up ditched the defense and went to an extended 1-3-1 for most of the second half. The strategy was well-advised, as we’ve already seen, but it came with drawbacks as well. For Mizzou was on a heater of all heaters last week. Tiger shooters settled into the crevices and continued to bomb away. Though their efficiency dipped against the zone, it wasn’t nearly enough to allow ISU a chance to climb back.

Verdict: A+

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

Mizzou Defense

Be the Tornado, Not the Trailer Park

Pregame Key: Ball security again? You bet! Mizzou rates 9th nationally in opponents' turnover rate and 2nd nationally in steal rate. Unlike Mizzou, however, Iowa State has been shaky in this regard offensively. The Cyclones offense rates 172nd in overall turnover rate and 285th in opponents’ steal rate. Simply put: On offense, this is strength vs. strength. On defense, Mizzou has a big advantage on paper. The Tigers cause a lot of chaos via the press, utilizing pressure defense on ~36% of possessions. Iowa State has seen pressure on 14% of possessions and has largely handled it poorly. To simply press and attempt to produce chaos is not enough. The funnel must touch down.

Discussion: The Tigers most certainly were privy to this same information, because they applied pressure at every turn, rolled through substitutions to keep defenders fresh and simply wreaked havoc. The Cyclones, with Caleb Grill’s absence, were reduced to a 6.5 man rotation. An already short bench was tasked with handling the relentless defensive intensity that Gates’s crew applied.

  • Mizzou Pre-Game Press Defense — 36.1% Usage — 0.831 PPP
  • Iowa State Pre-Game Press Offense — 14.6% Usage — 0.777 PPP
  • Result: 50.8% Usage — 0.606 PPP

Mizzou did not back off of the pressure — when the opportunity was available — until the game was well in hand. The numbers speak for themselves. The Tigers flew around the court all game long and Iowa State had no answer. Looking at the turnover data:

  • Mizzou Pre-Game Defensive Turnover Rate — 25.2%
  • Iowa State Pre-Game Offensive Turnover Rate — 18.7%
  • Result: 29.4%

Mizzou was the first opponent to force ISU to turn the ball over more than 22.5% of possessions in a game. They not only beat that number; they demolished it. When the dust settled, the Cyclones had given away 19 of their 65 precious possessions.

These clips show Mizzou using nothing more than an aggressive, full-court man defense to disrupt Iowa State’s ball handlers from starting their offensive sets.

Here we’re seeing the half-court installment of the same principles once the sets begin. Ball pressure and switching everywhere. The Tigers’ defensive rotations (after a switch, finding your man) were some of the best we’ve seen yet this season. They did not achieve perfection — as discussed below — but you were really pleased to see the Tigers sit down and guard for the full 30 seconds.

Verdict: A

Protect your Backside

Pregame Key: As we’ve seen previously in Mizzou games, when their pressure is effective things are pretty good. When it’s not? Open opportunities galore. The Cyclones are an effective group in transition offensively, even if not a frequent participant. So too are they adept at spraying the ball to open shooters out of ball screen actions. While they’re not an elite shooting team, they’re good enough to win games. They have three players shooting 35%+ from three on more than 50 attempts: Jaren Holmes, Gabe Kalscheur and Caleb Grill. Grill has been hobbled recently with back issues and his status is uncertain. But if any of these three players are in the game, they must be checked. If the pressure fails to produce turnovers or defensive rotations are out-of-whack, the Cyclones can and will make you pay. Either by knocking down open jumpers or cutting behind a recovering defense, they make life difficult on defenses. Open opportunities are going to be a trade-off for a blitz of pressure, but it can’t be the theme.

Discussion: Mizzou stitched together one of their better defensive efforts of the season Saturday. Much of that was a result of turnover creation. But to my eye, Mizzou did a better job in the shot defense department and was certainly better rotating away from the ball. Let’s dig into the data:

  • Mizzou Pre-Game Transition Defense: 21.3% Usage — 1.016 PPP
  • Iowa State Pre-Game Transition Offense: 9.3% Usage — 1.200 PPP
  • Result: 15.0% Usage — 1.083 PPP

Much like Mizzou’s offensive transition game, the two teams split the kitty. Iowa State managed 13 points on 12 transition possessions. Both fell below what Mizzou was able to accomplish offensively. And that’s important, because Mizzou’s half-court defense was quite good:

  • Mizzou Pre-Game Half-Court Defense: 78.7% Usage — 0.850 PPP
  • Iowa State Pre-Game Half-Court Offense: 90.70% Usage — 0.882 PPP
  • Result: 85% Usage — 0.706 PPP

The volume was as expected. The efficiency figure was a big win for Mizzou. They were able to really batten down the hatches and make life tough on the visitors.

  • Mizzou Pre-Game Pick & Roll + Pass Defense: 17.3% Usage — 0.895 PPP
  • Iowa State Pre-Game Pick & Roll + Pass Offense: 30.5% Usage — 0.849 PPP
  • Result: 21.25% Usage — 0.529 PPP

When teams have gotten Mizzou in ball screens and found success, they get the defense scrambling all over the place with switches and swing the ball to open men. Mizzou performed remarkably well in this regard. A big part of that was their improved results in defending spot-up opportunities:

  • Mizzou Pre-Game Spot-Up Defense: 28.0% Usage — 0.958 PPP
  • Iowa State Pre-Game Spot-Up Offense: 25.8% Usage — 0.979 PPP
  • Result: 17.5% Usage — 0.857 PPP

The Tigers did a much better job of closing out — and marking generally — shooters that were away from the action. A frequent bugaboo in past games, Mizzou did not allow Iowa State to win the game in this manner. Anecdotally, I think a big part of this was Iowa State’s short bench, Mizzou’s relentless pressure and tired Cyclone legs in the second half (ISU was 2-8 from 3pt after halftime). That said, there were some breakdowns worth noting.

These clips show that when Mizzou’s initial press gets broken, problems typically follow. These situations typically involve an odd-man (2 v 1; 3 v 2) break. Iowa State was able to break through the pressure on occasion.

These clips are exactly what I had in mind when penning this key last Friday. Pressure is a numbers game. When you bring extra players to the ball, someone will be open. The back side of the play (opposite side from the ball) is typically where you’ll see it. Here, Iowa State was able to identify those situations and make the right pass for a high percentage opportunity.

Much like the back side jump shots, cutters away from the ball were a concern coming in. Iowa State found several opportunities where they were able to use Mizzou’s pressure against them.

Fortunately, these clips were the bulk of the opportunities created out of pressure situations. Mizzou more than made up for it with the volume of turnovers and contested looks forced.

Verdict: B+

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

Do Something, Anything, on the Glass

Pregame Key: At this point in the season, you largely concede the edge on the defensive glass going into the game. It’s merely a matter of degree of defeat. Not trying to sound too defeatist, but Mizzou’s offensive rebound rate allowed is 37.3%. Meaning simply that opponents rebound 37.3% of their missed shots. That rate ranks 361st best nationally. There are 363 teams measured. Only five high major teams rank below 300, two of which play exclusively zone defense. Iowa State is good on the offensive glass, measuring 36th nationally, rebounding 34.2% of their own misses. It’s a mismatch on paper. It’s an avenue for the Cyclones to recoup lost possessions should Mizzou succeed in turning them over, and it typically leads to high percentage shots shortly soon thereafter. Mizzou will need to keep this respectable.

Discussion: If there’s a negative to this game, we’ve arrived to it. The Tigers dominated nearly every aspect of Saturday’s contest, but once again bled possessions (and points) on the opponent’s offensive glass.

  • Mizzou Pre-Game Opponents Offensive Rebound Rate: 37.3%
  • Iowa State Pre-Game Offensive Rebound Rate: 34.2%
  • Result: 47.1%

For much of the first half, offensive rebounding was the only thing keeping Iowa State in the game. Once the dust settled, the Cyclones attempted 7 putbacks off of misses and netted 10 points. Considering the overall rebound rate, this could’ve been much worse. Fortunately for Mizzou, the excelled elsewhere so that an extra two points here and there wouldn’t damage their chances of a victory.

Verdict: D+