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. Postgame additions in bold and italics.
If you thought I had left a lump of coal in your stocking after last week’s mid-season review, consider Friday’s result far more odious. A mostly lifeless Tiger squad was rolled over en route to a 97-73 Illini victory. The foes in orange appeared to have taken this one personally after last year’s drubbing. Terrence Shannon Jr., Coleman Hawkins and Quincey Guerrier paced the Illini with a combined 73 points, drawing even with Mizzou as a group.
While Mizzou’s performances through the first 50 days of the season had given some level of concern, everything finally fell apart at once before a sellout crowd at the Enterprise Center. It was a demolition from start to finish. So as to not entirely ruin your holiday, we’re going to give Matt Harris — our resident video coordinator — the holiday off and spare your vision from reliving the matter.
As the introduction strongly focused on, Braggin’ Rights is a unique environment in college athletics. The arena is never not loud. Nail a three pointer? It’s loud. Don’t get back in transition. It’s loud. It’s always loud. Momentum has proven to be an important factor in these contests.
Mizzou getting off to a fast start is imperative. Over the last 15 Braggin’ Rights games played in St. Louis, the eventual winner never trailed at halftime. In one of those contests, the teams were even at the break. In the other fourteen, whoever won the first 20 minutes won the game. During that time the average margin at halftime has been 9.8 points. The eventual average margin at the games’ conclusion is 9.2. Needless to say, what happens early is a strong indicator of what’s to come.
Mizzou has been plagued by inconsistency issues all season long. They saw a 9-point lead at Kansas get erased in favor of a 12-point deficit at half just minutes later. They led Memphis by 14 early only to see the lead evaporate and take a 15-point loss. The mounted a furious comeback against Minnesota, overcoming a 19-point deficit with 12 minutes to play.
Though Mizzou hasn’t yet been able to turn up the pressure in creating a stream of steals and open court conversions off of them, if ever there was a time to do so it’s shortly after tipoff Friday night. Whatever is needed to get the Tiger faithful on their feet early must be done.
Start strong. Stay strong.
The good news was that this key was on point. The bad news? Mizzou failed in every respect trying to achieve it. Noah Carter notched the first points of the contest after Mizzou secured the opening tip. The Tigers would never hold another lead. Dennis Gates’s squad trailed by 25 points at halftime. There was a time midway through the first stanza that a pair of Tamar Bates free throws cut the lead to 14-9. Mizzou proceeded to take three contested mid-range shots followed by missing three consecutive open attempts behind the arc. The outcome would never again be in question. Mizzou’s defense was anything but disruptive. The unit which has scuffled in generating thefts forced a mere 13.3% Illinois turnover rate. That figure represents the fourth lowest on the season for the Illini and the smallest in the Dennis Gates era.
Get the Ball Screen Offense Humming
Through eleven contests, Sean East II has easily been Mizzou’s most productive offensive player. As Sean goes, so too go the Tigers. Over his last six contests, East is averaging 19.7 points per outing, compared with 14 points per game in his first five. Sean is the engine that drives Mizzou’s half-court offense.
Parsing his data a Synergy Sports, a universal truth is discovered: Mizzou’s reliance on Sean East is largely driven by his work in the pick and roll. On the season, Sean’s ball screen offense usage his risen to 42.4% which rates 94th percentile nationally. His scoring efficiency on those actions is 1.068 points per possession, which rates 89th percentile. East’s work in the ball screen game has been nothing short of phenomenal. Yet, if a nerd on the internet can tell you this, the opponent assuredly knows it, too. Our esteemed colleague Matt Harris went as far as publishing a far more in-depth piece just two weeks back on this exact topic: Mizzou Hoops: How Sean East uses pick-and-rolls unlock to unlock his potential - Rock M Nation
Several opponents have had the ability to slow East down in these actions. Whether it’s icing ball screens — situating the on-ball defender to force East to the sideline — or hard-hedging high ball screens — where it appears the defenders may switch, but only momentarily, allowing Sean’s defender to recover after he’s pushed horizontally — teams have thrown a lot of defensive coverages his way. And some have been successful in spurts.
When it’s not Sean piloting these actions, Mizzou relies on Nick Honor to step up and take the lead. For a more in-depth read on Honor’s offensive profile, see: Mizzou Hoops: Nick Honor’s shot selection hints at a rotation under strain - Rock M Nation. Honor hasn’t been as dynamic but does offer the ever-present ability to punish defenders going under the screener or in instances of sloppy communication via the pull-up snipe.
Mizzou must have a counter to these looks, whether it’s slipping or popping the screener as Mizzou often does with Noah Carter. Or if it’s putting more faith in the 7’5” Connor Vanover to be an active rim roller and shooter, Sean’s partner in crime on these actions must be active and efficient. For if they aren’t, Illinois’ athletic — and efficient — defense will make quick work of the Tigers’ preferred form of half-court offense. And the Tigers have yet to get much traction out of their Point series this season that ripped the Illini to shreds last December.
- Mizzou PnR Ballhandler Offense: 16.3% Usage — 0.942 PPP
- Illinois PnR Ballhandler Defense: 19.8% Usage — 0.602 PPP
- Result: 16.5% Usage — 1.143 PPP
- Mizzou PnR Derived* Offense: 31.3% Usage — 0.970 PPP
- Illinois PnR Derived Defense: 31.7% Usage — 0.690 PPP
- Result: 31.8% Usage — 0.926 PPP
- Mizzou PnR Roller Offense: 5.0% Usage — 0.907 PPP
- Illinois PnR Roller Defense: 6.1% Usage — 1.180 PPP
- Result: 9.4% Usage — 0.875 PPP
*Includes offense produced on first passes from PnR sets.
If there was a glimmer of sunshine in this game, it was that Sean East was able to put up a typical Sean East stat line. It wasn’t exceptional by any means, but 18 points on a 53% eFG while being at the top of the scout is solid work. Those numbers heavily influence the ballhandler results above.
As for the bad news, Sean wasn’t able to take flight until the second half, much too late to have any impact on the outcome. Worse yet, his partners in crime in the old-fashioned pick and rolls didn’t provide the needed oomph to make the Illini defense pay. What’s more, when I was constructing these keys I was under the assumption that Mizzou had established a consistent, if not impressive attack from beyond the arc. Mizzou made only one attempt in the first half. The results are circular. If Mizzou’s not holding defenders by knocking down jump shots, the ball screens are less effective. If the ball screens are less effective, the spot up shooters won’t get the prime chances. This was a case of the former. Instead, Mizzou was forced into attempting 23 contested mid-range opportunities in their half-court offense. They attempted just 50 field goals in total in their half-court sets.
Play Your Best Game Inside
Mizzou must recover from the bludgeoning that Seton Hall applied to the Tigers’ rim defense just five days ago. The Pirates were efficient in all manners in the paint, posting an absurd 18 of 22 in close range attempts. Not only must Mizzou recover, they must do it quickly. Illinois offers a similar — if not better — method of attacking opponents defenses that Seton Hall possessed.
The Illini seek to score in myriad of ways, but all roads lead to the rack. Brad Underwood’s group will take jump shots. Terrence Shannon, Luke Goode and Southern Illinois transfer Marcus Domask won’t shy away. Shannon, in the midst of an All-American start to his season, leads the way, and you’d be well-advised not to sleep on Goode, as both are capable of raining down backbreakers from beyond the arc. Yet focusing on any shooting prowess of Illinois’ squad seemingly neglects the bigger concern.
Illinois is going to punish the paint. Though the actions they use vary, Mizzou’s interior defense must be prepared. The Illini will post Domask and Kofi Cockburn’s mini-me, Dain Dainja. Both have been elite in converting chances on the block. Illinois will apply pressure in transition, most typically with Shannon racing the court on-ball, but most of Illinois’ deep squad is comfortable as well. Dainja, Quincey Guerrier and Ty Rodgers have been the Illini’s most common cutters away from the ball, with Guerrier in particular a concern due to his size and athleticism. Perhaps of most concern, Underwood’s team rebounds 35.2% of their own misses. Dainja, Guerrier and the versatile Coleman Hawkins lead the way in that category. For a Tiger team that has struggled seemingly for years in cleaning forced misses, this presents a massive challenge.
What it all adds up to is Mizzou will be facing a squad that attempts only 46.6% of their shots via jumpers and 42.7% of their shots at the rim. Compare with a Mizzou team who themselves attempts jumpers 53.6% and rim chances 36.7%. The right guys from Illinois can make you pay if you leave them open, but the directive is clear. And Mizzou must be up to the task if they care to brag.
- Illinois Rim Offense: 42.7% Usage — 1.22 PPS
- Mizzou Rim Defense: 39.6% Usage — 1.13 PPS
- Result: 23.1% Usage — 1.47 PPS
- Illinois Transition Offense: 18.1% Usage — 1.026 PPP
- Mizzou Transition Defense: 16.6% Usage — 0.952 PPP
- Result: 26.9% Usage — 1.375 PPP
- Illinois Post-Up Derived Offense: 9.7% Usage — 1.074 PPP
- Mizzou Post-Up Derived Defense: 5.2% Usage — 0.783 PPP
- Result: 4.5% Usage — 0.000 PPP
- Illinois Offensive Rebound Putback Offense: 7.4% Usage — 1.274 PPP
- Mizzou Offensive Rebound Putback Defense: 7.1% Usage — 1.270 PPP
- Result: 7.9% Usage — 0.857 PPP
- Illinois Unguarded Catch & Shoot Offense: 54.3% of attempts — 1.17 PPS
- Mizzou Unguarded Catch & Shoot Defense: 55.4% of attempts — 1.06 PPS
- Result: 75% of attempts — 0.714 PPS
Had you told me before the game that Mizzou would’ve posted the above figures, I probably would have said that Mizzou had a chance in the game. Well, except for one. Mizzou’s transition defense was simply non-existent. The Tigers allowed just two points in transition off of live ball turnovers yet managed to concede 31 additional points on the break. How is that possible? Well, it was a matter of neglect. Mizzou’s errant three-point shooting simply jumpstarted the Illini’s break. Mizzou defenders were consistently tardy in getting back, seemingly surprised that Illinois dare push off of Tigers’ misses.
In the half-court, Mizzou was well schooled in what to take away. Mizzou consistently helped, dug and rotated to stop dribble penetration. Unfortunately, the Illini were not going to be denied as they hit dagger after dagger from outside. Mizzou’s defense was slow to adjust — perhaps understandably — and conceded 21 uncontested jumpers off the catch. Frankly, Mizzou was a bit fortunate that Illinois didn’t convert more — Marcus Domask is mostly to thank for that. The Tigers DID suppress Illinois at the rim, at least in volume. What they gave up in the process was equally as damaging.