Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- I previewed the first game in the Border War series, but with the Big 12 title on the line, I’ll take another look at #7 Missouri and #4 Kansas (23-5, 12-1), this time meeting in Lawrence.
Kansas had an up-and-down non-conference schedule, picking up good wins over Washington and Tennessee, but losing twice on a semi-home floor in Kansas City, including a surprise defeat to UMass. The only loss the Jayhawks have taken in conference play thus far was at Missouri, and they come in off a win against a Blake Griffin-less Oklahoma. Missouri has quietly put together a very respectable profile, with the worst of its 4 losses coming at Nebraska. This includes good road wins against Texas and Oklahoma St., but it faces its toughest test over the next few days, with Kansas and Oklahoma as its next two opponents.
Bill Self has done an excellent job with this very young Kansas team, managing to put together one of the Big 12’s more efficient offenses. The Jayhawks have trouble with turnovers, but do well on the offensive glass, and are excellent shooters, making 53% of two-pointers and a good percentage of long-distance shots as well. They also make 72.5% of free throw attempts, one of the better percentages in the conference. Kansas will need to shoot well, since Missouri will put it under a lot of pressure. The Tigers are one of the nation’s best teams at forcing turnovers, and should be able to cause a lot of havoc for the visitors. Missouri is also excellent at defending the three-point shot, though Kansas don’t shoot from behind the arc enough to be hurt too much by this. In the first meeting, Kansas had a lot of trouble with turnovers, as predicted, giving the ball up 24 times. They got some possessions back on the glass, but it just wasn’t enough to make up for a lot of missed shots.
Missouri features one of the country’s better offenses, a unit that depends on controlling turnovers and inside scoring, two areas where they are highly placed in the national rankings. Missouri makes 54% of its attempts from inside, and is the Big 12’s best team at holding onto the ball, despite playing at quite a fast pace. One thing to watch in the closing moments of the game is free throw shooting, as the Tigers are just 67% on the season from the line. Kansas should be an interesting defensive matchup for Missouri, as the Jayhawks are excellent at stopping opponents inside, setting up a good strength-to-strength battle in the paint. Kansas also do well on the defensive glass, but don’t force a lot of turnovers, and the turnover margin between the two teams will likely give Missouri a good number of extra possessions. In the first game, Kansas was as successful as expected on the glass, but Missouri’s ability to earn chances at the free throw line, where they attempted 27 shots, made up for a fairly weak percentage.
As mentioned, Kansas is a very young team, with only a single upperclassmen playing significant minutes, junior Sherron Collins. Collins’ role has substantially increased this season, but he’s managed to hold his percentages fairly even, while getting to the free throw line a lot more often. He leads the team in both assists and points, and has been key to Kansas’ offensive success. Cole Aldrich has also stepped his play, showing an excellent inside scoring touch and getting a good number of points from the free throw line. Aldrich has hit over 60% of attempts from the field, and sits first in the Big 12 in shot-blocks and second in rebounding. Tyshawn Taylor and Brady Morningstar start alongside Collins in the backcourt; Morningstar is a good three point shooter who commits very few turnovers, while Taylor is an efficient scorer from inside the arc, but hasn’t had a lot of success from three. Tyrell Reed is another good shooter who can come off the bench. The main help for Aldrich inside comes from the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus. Markieff is a decent shooter, and is good on the glass, but plays relatively little, partly because of his struggles with foul trouble. Marcus has been a solid rebounder, and has seen his offensive numbers improve somewhat in recent weeks. Both brothers are poor free throw shooters, the two worst on the team. Mario Little, one of the nation’s top junior college players last year, has seen his minutes come and go, and while he has shown some flashes of being a good inside scorer, has played only a handful of minutes since the first game with Missouri.
A pair of key players highlight a deep Missouri roster, led by senior DeMarre Carroll. Carroll is the team leader in both points and rebounds, and is very efficient in doing so, shooting 57% from the field, getting to the line quite often and getting a fair number of steals and blocks. The second key player is 6-9 senior Leo Lyons, who isn’t quite as good as Carroll, but is very solid, a good shooter and rebounder who does a lot of damage at the free throw line. The backcourt situation is a bit less clear-cut, with a lot of players getting minutes. Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller are the two regular starters; Taylor leads the team in assists, and can occasionally break out with big scoring games, while Tiller is a solid defensive player; both guys struggle with their long-range shot. Freshman Kim English has recently stepped into a starting role: he provides an excellent shooting option. Another freshman, Marcus Denmon can have some big scoring games, while Keith Ramsey is the main backup in the frontcourt, he had some good performances in mid-January but hasn’t done much since. Matt Lawrence is another solid shooter who started most of the non-conference schedule.
There wasn’t much gap between the two teams in Columbia, with Kansas’ turnover troubles offset by good rebounding, and a shot in the last five seconds being the only difference. With the game in Lawrence, I’d expect another narrow home victory, and hopefully as entertaining an encounter.
Winner: Kansas Margin: 2-6
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.