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The Verdict: Border War Post-Game Analysis

Mizzou did enough Saturday to make it a ballgame. They were unable to do enough to threaten stealing a win against their hated rivals.

Syndication: Columbia Daily Tribune Abigail Landwehr/Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome to The Verdict series. You may have become acquainted with these pieces in the past, and in efforts to improve them, we’ve made a few changes. Prior to each game receiving the full treatment, we’re going to release a series of pre-game keys to watch for in each matchup. After the results are in, we’ll return to those keys and analyze the performance with data and film. Credits for statistics to Ken Pomeroy, Synergy, Pivot Analysis and Matt Watkins. Film has been graciously provided by Matt Harris.

Note: Pre-Game keys are in standard font. Post-Game analysis and data are in bold and italics.


The drought continues. On Saturday afternoon, Mizzou fell to their bitter rivals to the west by a 73-64 scoreline. While the result is disappointing because of the foe, the more disappointing thing to me at least, is that Mizzou had a valuable opportunity but was unable to capitalize.

Mizzou came out of the gates with defensive intensity. For much of the game the Tigers held Kansas at bay. In what has been an increasingly common view, Mizzou was at least equally reliant on defensive performance than offensive, which is an incredible turnabout from year 1 in the Dennis Gates era. Led by Kobe Brown, last year’s team was going to win by simply overwhelming you with points. 10 games in, we can safely say this team is not that. Which isn’t all bad, if you defend at a level higher than last year’s group. Saturday went a long way in proving that.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Which brings us back to the Border War. Mizzou’s offense simply couldn’t manage enough buckets to put any real stress on the Jayhawks in crunch time. Mizzou mustered a 0.914 PPP (points per possession) — which considering the opponent and venue isn’t bad — it just wasn’t ever going to be good enough. Part of that was the surprising announcement that Senior Caleb Grill would miss the contest — and more — due to injury. More of it was an amalgamation of substandard shot selection and making.

No matter, there were some positive takeaways to help mitigate the depressing ones. Let’s take a look at how they fared in my pre-game keys.

Keep Your Head Above Water

Road games are hard to win. Road games at Allen are near impossible. Over their last 50 home games the Jayhawks have put together a 47-3 record. This isn’t exactly surprising stuff. Neither is how they do it. Looking back since the start of the 22-23 season as a sample, Kansas has been blitzing opponents to their demise. They say college basketball is a game of runs. No place is this more evident than in Lawrence.

Over that 21-game grouping, Kansas has had 28 runs that netted a +10 in the scoring column — think 10-0, 11-1, etc. They have conceded just 10 such runs to visiting opponents. The average Kansas run yields a 14.4-1.6 advantage. Only twice in 21 games have they not put together at least one of them. In six games, they’ve tallied two or more. Just four times has an opponent put together a run that was more valuable than any the Jayhawks could muster.

That’s a lot of random data. Suffice it to say, for Mizzou to have any chance of winning this game, they must avoid these decisive bursts, for they rarely go the visitors’ way.

Mizzou marched out to a 15-6 lead eight minutes into the game. In the second half they managed an extended 13-3 run. However, these two sequences were less “runs,” and more labored stretches where Mizzou managed a few buckets and Kansas did not. More importantly, what we warned about did in fact happen. The Jayhawks ripped off a 20-2 run over the last 5 plus minutes of the first half. It wasn’t just that it happened, it was that it was due in part to Mizzou’s failings. Two fouls on three-point attempts, two air balls on open three-pointers of their own, throwing away a chance to take the last shot of the half, etc. Mizzou played a composed 35 minutes. The five where they slipped submarined any realistic chance they had.

Impose Your Game

Mizzou isn’t exactly the high-powered transition behemoth they were a year ago. Yes, they still run. No, their efficiency isn’t the same and they don’t crank up the tempo as much. In an unusual twist, Mizzou’s half-court offensive efficiency is virtually identical of that to their half-court, which is rare — especially for them. Theoretically — and often in practice — scoring is more efficient in the open court than against a set defense.

No matter, Mizzou’s best chance in this game is two-fold. First, Mizzou must continue to rack up blocks and steals — they rank 3rd and 14th in those categories nationally — to generate defensive stops. Second, they must cash in a portion of those in the form of transition points. Mizzou still brings a fair amount of pressure via a press defense, and that is the surest way to accomplish this task.

  • Mizzou Defensive Block Rate: 18.6%
  • Kansas Offensive Block Rate: 6.8%
  • Result: 10.9%

  • Mizzou Defensive Steal Rate: 13.4%
  • Kansas Offensive Steal Rate: 9.5%
  • Result: 11.4%

  • Mizzou Transition Offense: 21.1% Usage — 0.993 PPP
  • Kansas Transition Defense: 12.0% Usage — 1.000 PPP
  • Result: 14.5% Usage — 0.727 PPP

  • Mizzou Press Defense: 31.0% Usage — 0.677 PPP
  • Kansas Press Offense: 5.4% Usage — 0.865 PPP
  • Result: 47.1% Usage — 1.030 PPP

Mizzou did reasonably well at putting hands on basketballs on the defensive end, but neither their block nor steal rates were enough to truly swing the momentum.

What’s more, Mizzou struggled in generating transition chances and did pretty poorly at cashing them in. There were times when they found success:

There were others when they most certainly did not:

And finally, that press defense...woof. Not only did Mizzou fail to create havoc, they conceded more than they did in the half-court. We’ll have some more on that below.

Protect The Paint Defensively

Kansas has proven to be a well-balanced scoring attack in the early stages of the 23-24 season. But it doesn’t take much digging to see how they want to do damage. The Jayhawks are 8th nationally in three-point shooting but rate 299th in three-point attempt volume. They can certainly bury you by launching jumpers, but their preference is taking primo chances at the rim.

They do this in a variety of ways. They have a fairly robust transition offense led by Kevin McCullar and freshman Elmarko Jackson. Once set up in the half-court, they have a moderate level of involvement with their ball screen game helmed by Columbia native, DeJuan Harris — but it’s the only the starting point of their strategy. No, Kansas wants higher value shots than that. McCullar, KJ Adams and the shit-disturber du jour, Hunter Dickinson are well schooled in reading defenses and cutting for easy buckets against ball-watching defenses. Adams and Dickinson also been dynamic as ball screeners in pick and rolls, with Adams most keen to take lobs for dunks and Dickinson to pop for mismatches. That duo is also heavily used on the block as a playmaking hub for back to the basket buckets and kickouts for open three-point opportunities. When the kickouts occur, McCullar and Australian Johnny Furphy are there to convert.

Even if you do shut down the paint, Kansas still has weapons to make you pay. But if you don’t have success defending the onion bag, you won’t need to worry about anything else. A year ago, when Kansas arrived at Mizzou arena, they absolutely demolished Mizzou’s defense by getting the ball moving side to side and punishing the Tigers’ late rotations and slow recoveries. They will certainly attempt to do the same on Saturday, and Mizzou must be prepared and effective in defending the multiple ways Kansas will pressure the restricted arc.

  • Kansas Transition Offense: 19.7% Usage — 1.132 PPP
  • Mizzou Transition Defense: 16.4% Usage — 0.941 PPP
  • Result: 19.5% Usage — 0.750 PPP

  • Kansas Cut Offense: 13.4% Usage — 1.424 PPP
  • Mizzou Cut Defense: 7.6% Usage — 1.055 PPP
  • Result: 20.7% Usage — 1.059 PPP

  • Kansas PnR Roller Offense: 6.0% Usage — 1.098 PPP
  • Mizzou PnR Roller Defense: 1.8% Usage — 1.308 PPP
  • Result: 7.3% Usage — 0.667 PPP

  • Kansas Post Up Derived Offense: 14.1% Usage — 1.227 PPP
  • Mizzou Post Up Derived Defense: 5.1% Usage — 0.838 PPP
  • Result: 3.7% Usage — 1.000 PPP

  • Kansas Rim Offense: 44% Usage — 1.39 PPS
  • Mizzou Rim Defense: 37.2% Usage — 1.11 PPS
  • Result: 42.9% Usage — 1.083 PPS

Mizzou’s results here are a bit of a mixed bag. In transition defense, Mizzou largely did well suppressing the boost Kansas gets in home games from open court theatrics. Though there were certainly costly instances where they faltered and Mizzou’s press often served as a conduit for just that:

To Mizzou’s credit, they all but shut down any post-up game and ball screen roller actions Kansas typically relies on. In sum, you’ll probably take Saturday’s rim defense outing. It just wasn’t enough to offset their offensive struggles:

While Mizzou’s efficiency in defending cuts was acceptable, the sheer volume of those inherently high efficiency attempts was problematic. No doubt this was a schematic adjustment by Bill Self considering Mizzou’s early ability to defend the restricted arc. Be it flash cuts or short rolls, Kansas manufactured precious space just beyond the reach of Mizzou’s backline defense. Mizzou’s defensive game plan here was solid. Kansas’s adjustment was better:

Bring Your Shooting Shoes

Mizzou’s offense has taken a small step back over a year ago, but much of the theory remains. Create high quality looks at the rim and knock down jump shots. Last year, Kobe Brown was the playmaker in Mizzou’s offense, creating opportunities for both himself and others. This year that mantle has been passed to Sean East. The two go about it in different ways, but the principles are the same. Exploit mismatches individually, find open teammates when help the defense reacts. Mizzou would be well advised to do both on Saturday.

The following areas are those that I’ll be paying particular attention to. East has been nothing short of dynamic in a high usage role in ball screens. His ability to manipulate defenses, penetrate the lane and use a wide array of finishing skills has been on full display. What’s more, his efficient mid-range pull-up game has translated behind the arc. East has been the straw that stirs the drink when the Tiger offense is humming and will be vital in this weekend’s affair.

So too will be Mizzou’s supporting cast of jump shooters. Kansas’s rim defense is exceptional. Teams are often resigned to heaving long range jumpers in order to put points on the board. Fortunately for Mizzou, their roster is filled with capable hands. How Mizzou performs behind the arc on catch & shoot opportunities will be paramount.

  • Mizzou Rim Offense: 37.0% Usage — 1.21 PPS
  • Kansas Rim Defense: 30.6% Usage — 0.98 PPS
  • Result: 27.6% Usage — 1.13 PPS

  • Mizzou Jumper Offense: 54.3% Usage — 1.01 PPS
  • Kansas Jumper Defense: 58.8% Usage — 0.83 PPS
  • Result: 43.9% Usage — 1.00 PPS

  • Mizzou PnR Ballhandler Offense: 15.2% Usage — 1.010 PPP
  • Kansas PnR Ballhandler Defense: 17.7% Usage — 0.789 PPP
  • Result: 21.1% Usage — 0.875 PPP

  • Mizzou Spot Up Offense: 26.3% Usage — 1.000 PPP
  • Kansas Spot Up Defense: 25.9% Usage — 0.829 PPP
  • Result: 22.4% Usage — 1.059 PPP

  • Mizzou Catch & Shoot Offense: 68.8% Usage — 1.02 PPS
  • Kansas Catch & Shoot Defense: 60.4% Usage — 0.94 PPS
  • Result: 52.0% Usage — 0.923 PPS

Mizzou’s rim offense never quite gained traction throughout Saturday’s contest. While the efficiency figures are indeed quality, a third of Mizzou’s points at the rack occurred with under 4 minutes remaining and Kansas unwilling to risk picking up fouls. Mizzou’s ball screen offense had a day that was good enough to make them competitive, but not good enough to win. They found some success using “euro,” ball screens — side ball screens with an empty side roller:

There were a few instances of finding success with staggered ball screens and high ball screens as well:

Mizzou shook loose a couple of times on ball screen roller actions, screen slips and driving closeouts:

Sean East and Nick Honor led the charge penetrating from the perimeter, but often encountered a Kansas philosophy apparently ok with conceding paint touches — but not shots in the paint — if that makes sense. The Tigers were often left dribbling deep into the trees and unable to make the Jayhawks regret this strategy with kickouts, cuts or lobs:

Comparatively, the Tigers did have a pretty decent day shooting the ball via jumpers. They were quality in converting spot up attempts, though their catch and shoot efficiency was slightly lower than you’d have liked to see. The biggest question — at least in my mind — did the Tigers pass up too many outside jump shooting opportunities to take lower percentage shots inside the arc? Mizzou averaged 1.000 PPP on 21 three-point attempts and just 0.762 on the same number of non-rim two-point attempts. A quick research project reveals that Saturday saw Mizzou take the 6th lowest number of attempts from outside the arc in the Dennis Gates era. In only one of those five games did Mizzou shoot as well percentage-wise as they did Saturday (33%).