As the bard
once said, "Hope springs eternal in the human heart," and so it did for the
Missouri fans as this season began. Hope grew even more in the early season as
the Tigers reeled off nine wins in a row and were an imposing 11-2 in non
conference. Gone was the much heralded Quin Snyder whose regime at Missouri
began with great promise and ended in debacle. Enter Mike Anderson, who had
produced three NCAA Tourney teams in just four seasons at the helm of UAB.
Anderson was previously an assistant to Nolan Richardson, former coach at
Arkansas and mentor to Anderson. As such, Anderson is a devotee of the
Richardson philosophy of inflicting "40 minutes of Hell" upon your foes.
It appeared that all was well until Missouri ran into a meat grinder once the B12 season began.Before they could catch their breath, Missouri was 0-4. Included in that stretch were three narrow losses including a gutsy 77-80 loss at Kansas and two heartbreakers at home to Iowa State and Kansas State, 64-65 and 81-85, respectively. With their backs to the wall, Missouri pulled off a convincing win on the road against struggling Colorado, 79-65. This time Texas Tech is coming to town and Missouri can ill afford another home loss. Tech seems on a roll and is playing well. However, we all know how tough it is to win on the road. Just ask Tech about Baylor, although I might remind you that, according to the numbers, Baylor was a slim one point favorite because of the home edge.
When I was analyzing Arkansas as a Tech opponent, despite both Arkansas and Missouri having gaudy records, I realized that Arkansas seemed to be Missouri's sole win of note. I conjectured that either one or the other or both might be Paper Tigers. Arkansas has proven to be pretty good, but I'm still not sure about Missouri. Nevertheless, whichever is correct, Tech better remember that tigers, even paper ones, can be extremely dangerous when cornered. That is especially true in their own lair. To further complicate the picture, my research indicates to me that, in any event, Missouri is a better team than Baylor.
By the Numbers
In terms of relative strength, I use my Composite Power Rating, which indicates that despite having a better CPR, Tech is still a slim two point underdog. The only reason is the home edge. With regard to RPI, Tech's win over High RPI Texas A&M, despite being a home win, has moved Tech upward to its highest level this season, a rather heady #16. This would now be considered in the "excellent" range by the NCAA. To emphasize again, the RPI is not a power rating that is measuring how good a team is. Rather it is an indicator looked at closely by the NCAA. Its real utility seems to be in giving some insight into the difference between teams with similar profiles at NCAA Tournament picking and seeding time.
As I've said before, no loss is a good loss, except perhaps in retrospect in the arcane world of NCAA scrutiny, but a road loss is less damaging to one's RPI. The biggest damage would occur here because of Missouri's relatively high RPI in the 80's. On the other hand, despite the discrepancy in RPI, the NCAA formula inserted road win bonus should help keep Tech's RPI at least very close to the same level, or possibly move it marginally upward.
|Per Game Statistical Comparison (Rounded Off)|
here is the mandatory comparison chart for all to pore over. As per usual, the
numbers are somewhat skewed upward by inflation attributable to home wins over a
liberal sprinkling of éclairs on Missouri's schedule. This of course vastly
dilutes the numbers' utility as a prognostication device. In addition, from the
very mouth of Coach Anderson comes this truth, "We're a team that's going to be
unpredictable.", shortly after the Kansas game.
In my estimation, the main reason for this unpredictability is attributable to Anderson's almost single minded dedication to his "40 minutes of Hell" concept. The frenetic pace requires him to constantly send in fresh bodies to attack the opposition. The reviews are mixed as to how good the results are by exclusively using that system. In simplistic terms, some teams are more susceptible than others to the strategy, and there are tradeoffs. While sometimes it pays huge dividends by causing a great number of TO's, at
others it seems to disrupt his own team's continuity of effort resulting in low bench productivity especially in terms of scoring.
To get to the heart of the matter, to me the game turns in the degree to which the Red Raiders are adversely affected by the full court pressure. In addition, assuming Tech appears at an early stage to handle the pressure, will Anderson doggedly persist or will he adapt and improvise? The problem for Anderson is that both approaches have worked. Against Stetson, in a 66-45 home victory, Missouri was actually behind 25-27 at the half but persisted with the pressure. They proceeded to outscore Stetson 41-18 in the second half and their Coach Waugh freely admitted, "They maybe wore us down a little more mentally than physically, facing that pressure all the time, all the time, all the time." Against Arkansas, the pressure worked quickly and devastatingly. The Razorbacks committed 24 TO's in the first half in a 64-86 defeat and could not recover from a 44-28 deficit. Against Kansas, while not a win, Anderson finally decided a more measured approach was better. The Tigers seldom pressed and still were able to cause 17 TO's while hanging close to the end. In fact, due to a Kansas miscue, Missouri had an opportunity to tie it on a 3 pointer at the buzzer but Matt Lawrence who otherwise kept them in the game with 19 points, put up an airball.
To the degree that throwing as many 14 players in an unrelenting manner affects Missouri's offense, here are some contradictory examples which may simply relate to the level of competition. Against 11-6 Stephen F. Austin, not a bad team and competitive in their own pond, the Missouri bench in an 85-56 home win, produced 40 points, against Lipscomb, in winning 89-69 also at home, an even better 49 points. On the negative side, against Iowa State, using a mere 12 players, Missouri's bench produced only 11 points on 4-21 shooting. Unfortunately, the starters good shooting of 18/37 went for naught in that loss.
Free Throw Shooting
After the A&M game, I'm wary of calling a team's free throw shooting ability a strength or a weakness. I considered it to be strength by a team that had been shooting over 80% in the face of virtually all good opposition. They proceeded to shoot a less than sterling 13-21 FT's for 62% against Tech, mainly attributable to Joseph Jones. Jones, an over 85% shooter, only converted 3/7, including several critical misses near the end of the game.
Given that, I'll only give you the facts without comment. In several Missouri defeats, free throw deficits have played a major role. Against K St, in a foul plagued game, Missouri, while shooting their best FT % of the year, 77% on 23/30, K St outdid them with a superlative 37/43 or 86%, always a bad omen when the opposition makes almost double the FT's than it attempts. Versus Illinois, in the tough home loss, the Tigers made a poor 10/18 FT's. Illinois didn't do much better at 62%, but managed to make 6 more on 16/26.
Despite what that pesky comparison chart may indicate, this would seem an opportunity for Tech. After surprisingly out-rebounding K St on the road and staying close to even with Kansas, Tech was out-rebounded by 10 by the Aggies. This game against Missouri would seem to be an opportunity to at least stay even. The Tigers are somewhat undersized and were out boarded by their first three conference opponents by average of 10/game. Included in this was an huge negative difference of 17 to 41, against K St at Missouri. Again, while comparative numbers can be deceptive, this is the same team
that Tech out-rebounded in a superlative road effort. Missouri did much better against Kansas 42/41 against Kansas, but against Colorado in their latest winning effort, they again fell short by 41-36. How well Missouri does in this department may depend upon 6' 9" Junior Center Kalen Grimes. He has had three big double doubles and most recently had 12 rebounds against Kansas. However, once a consistent starter, he was relegated to the bench in favor of 6' 9" Sophomore Leo Lyons, apparently for offensive deficiency reasons. However, Coach Anderson reinserted him as a starter in the last two games, including in a new lineup alongside Lyons in the Colorado game, with mixed results. We shall see if the experiment continues.
3 Point Shooting
I think I got it right in my last Scouting Report in saying that this is an area where it is hazardous to predict what will happen. I was lucky enough to disclaim, "I started to say this probably would not be a deciding factor, but in the very close game I anticipate, that would not be a true statement, since it could be." While it is difficult to attribute a win to any single factor, it certainly played a major role in Tech's victory over the Aggies.
Here the most usual suspects to have success on 3's on the Missouri team are Juco Junior Guard Stephon Hannah and Sophomore Guard Matt Lawrence. Neither one is shy about putting them up as the most prolific Missouri 3 point shooters. Lawrence is making a sterling 49.5% and Hannah a decent 36.8%. J.T. Tiller is making them at a 40.9% rate but on relatively small numbers of 9/22. Jason Horton is another one to keep a special eye on. He is at 38.9%, but he is looking to shoot the 3. Of the only 68 shots Horton has attempted this season, 36 have been 3 pointers.
About all than can be said is that I would favor the Tech shooters. They have more threats, a better overall average and in their last couple of games seem to have found the range again with a 10/18 performance against A&M, 6/13 vs. Baylor, and even 6/16 for a 37.5% against Kansas, which still translates to about 56% on 2 pointers. This against a Missouri team that in 3 out of its last four games has shot 7/30 against Kansas, 6-20 against K St., and 7/22 against Texas.
Coach Anderson started the year with a consistent group of starters. The starters were 6' 6" Junior Forward Marshall Brown, Center Kalen Grimes, Guards Hannah, Lawrence, and Horton. As mentioned, Lyons replaced Grimes beginning with the Illinois game. It may be that after getting hammered on the boards in conference, Anderson may again go with Grimes with or without Lyons.
Hannah and Lawrence are major offensive thereat, but like the team, their performance is unpredictable. Hannah is averaging 15.3 points overall and Lawrence 12.3. Lawrence may also be back on track with 19 points against Kansas and 14 against Colorado with 4/8 3 pointers. Brown is averaging 10.9, but may have emerged as a consistent performer in conference with consecutive performances of 19 points against Iowa State, 24 against Texas, 28 against K St., and 14 against Kansas. He only scored 7 points in the big win against Colorado, but only in 16 minutes on 2/4 FG's and 3/3 FT's, to go along with 5 rebounds. Keon Lawrence, a highly regarded freshman guard, has even scored 17 in a game, though his other offensive performances have been sporadic. Others off the bench with significant minutes are the aforementioned Freshman Tiller, a tenacious defender, and Jucos 6' 7" Junior Forward Darryl Butterfield and 6' 8" Junior Forward Vaidatos Volkus. Interestingly, the Lithuanian Volkus was previewed as a possible long range
threat, but has yet to shoot a 3 pointer.
Hannah and Horton are adept assist men Hannah has more, but Horton has a better A/TO ratio.
One thing worthy of note about Hannah is that he is one of the best, if not the number one thief in the country. While his numbers per game have gone down recently, the team numbers have stayed up, so this is a pitfall of which Tech must be very wary.
The X factor is Grimes. He had three double doubles including two back to back early on, and a couple of other close ones. However, as pointed out, he has more recently been ineffective offensively. The big question is will Anderson start him or not, and either way will his rebounding prowess, if he can bring it to bear, be a significant factor?
Given my premise that the deciding factor is most likely to be Tech's ability to handle the Missouri pressure, there is not much more to be said about the Missouri Schedule. They have lost to the best teams except Arkansas and Mississippi State at home. So that indicates not much except that it confirms what is already abundantly clear, that there is a home court advantage.
They have played some good, even very good teams, close on the road, Purdue closer than the final score indicates and Kansas most recently. Was Kansas still in shock from the Tech upset? Who knows? On the other hand, the Tigers lost to a resurgent K St at home. In that game an interesting note is that the K State players said they had an extra incentive because Coach Huggins told them, in the midst of a three game losing streak, he had never lost four in a row either as a player or as a coach. But to get back to the main thread, just how good is Missouri?
A problem for me is that I still haven't figured out with any degree of precision how good Missouri really is. Though I have not mentioned it previously, I know that at critical junctures, Missouri has made some serious mental errors, such as untimely lane violations. They have also allowed teams to make huge runs at them, some fatal, some not, that show a serious lack of concentration. But then that may be an overly harsh judgment, since most teams do the same at times. On the good side for Tech partisans is that I now believe that the Raiders have evolved into a good and perhaps a very good team, with a lot of momentum. This is especially true with the emergence of the forecourt into as they say, "a force to be reckoned with.." More specific to the Missouri pressure, the few times that Tech has been pressed, it did not seem to bother them. In fact, they seemed to welcome it as an opportunity to get the numbers because of the opponent's defensive over commitment. The addition of Charles Burgess, a sure handed ball handler and a cool one under pressure, has certainly been a great help.
An X factor on the Tech side is how well Jarrius Jackson will perform offensively. In my estimation, if Jackson is anywhere close to full capacity, Tech will win, unless Missouri performs at a higher level than they have previously exhibited. The problem is that Jackson so far has not seemed to have regained his full hop since he severely sprained an ankle.
That said, in any event, I believe this is an very winnable game by Tech. It may actually be a blessing in disguise, though I'm sure not for Jackson, who has had to bear with the injury. The fact that Tech has had to depend on other players and that they have carried the load in several great wins bodes well for the rest of the season. Of course optimal performance is dependent on Jackson's recovery.
In sum, I believe Tech is the better team and the only impediments to winning are that pesky home court advantage and the fact that the Tigers have their backs to the wall.