Hold On To The Ball And Win: A Preview of missouri

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 01: Thomas Robinson #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks grabs a rebound during the game against the Oklahoma Sooners on February 1, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

By all accounts this is the game of the year. A win would give Kansas a huge leg up in the race to win an 8th straight Big 12 title, and as this is pretty much guaranteed to be our last visit to Columbia.

This is an interesting matchup personnel wise, as Missouri has the advantage on the perimeter but Kansas has an even larger advantage inside. Missouri sneakily shoots very well from inside the arc (2nd best in Big 12 play) but relies a lot on jump shots and its tallest regular player is just 6'8".

As Owen alluded to in his post earlier, this creates some matchup problems. Either Thomas Robinson has to chase Kim English around the three point line or one of he or Jeff Withey has to sit. Because of Missouri's guard oriented lineup, this might be a game in which Withey doesn't play a ton because of Missouri's six regulars, only Ricardo Ratliffe gets 40% or more of his field goal attempts at the rim.

The other option is to drag out the zone defense. While I doubt it will happen, it could be interesting to leave either Withey or Robinson in the middle and have four guards around the perimeter, cutting off the three. Missouri's whole offense keys on the three as they take the second most threes in the league, and are shooting 38% from beyond the arc on the year, though that number has fallen to just over 34% in Big 12 play. It could be because they're facing some tougher competition or it could just be a mini slump, but if Missouri shoots its Big 12 average on Saturday night that would be a huge advantage for Kansas.

Defensively, Missouri relies on steals perhaps more than any team in the country. They have the best steal rate in Big 12 play, and are 6th best in the nation at 13.8%. But more than that they excel at scoring immediately after stealing. This Basketball Prospectus article outlines just how well Missouri does after stealing, and Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Phil Pressey in particular. On the surface, it would seem that Missouri has a huge advantage here. But we can be optimistic a bit: With Kansas's huge size advantage inside, it will be more difficult for Missouri to pressure on the perimeter. It would likely lead to Ricardo Ratliffe being forced to guard Thomas Robinson one on one inside the paint, which is a huge advantage for the Jayhawks.

KU's steal rate against is 7th in the Big 12, so they'll need to watch that obviously, but they have been a lot better turnover wise lately, so there's some hope there. The bigger problem in this one could be perimeter shooting. Assuming Thomas Robinson gets some good looks early, Missouri will probably relax the perimeter pressure (or go to a zone) and pack it in a bit. That is going to leave a lot of room for players to shoot threes. Taylor at 44% is probably the one guy they won't leave open, but Teahan and Johnson look to get the bulk of the threes. The X-factor here is probably Releford. He has the ability to get into the lane against (presumably) Kim English and could pick up a couple fouls on him and he also has the ability to make the three, shooting 36% on the year.

This preview is a bit rambly, but it was for a purpose: This game, with all of its storylines and intriguing matchups, has a seemingly infinite number of twists and turns. Will Missouri be able to shoot the three well? Will Kansas get Robinson enough looks? Failing that, will Robinson be able to pass out of double (and triple) teams well enough?

In the end, two key things stick out in my mind: last year I watched Tyshawn Taylor time and time again get into the lane whenever he wanted to. This year he's even better, and I think Pressey or Dixon or Denmon or whomever tries to guard him will have a tough time staying in front. Secondly, although it hasn't been as pronounced of an advantage in Big 12 play, Missouri is 122nd in the country in defensive rebounding, and 158th in offensive rebounding. Kansas figures to have a lot more second looks at the basket, so Missouri will be under much more pressure to make jump shots.

Missouri's given a 52% chance to win this one, and it's close for a reason. Call me a homer, but I have seen Kansas come out on fire in big games too many times to go with anyone other than Bill Self in this one. It will be a game of runs, and will likely come down to whether the team who makes the first one can hold off the team who makes the second one.

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