It’s that time of year again. You know, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas where we remember that Jeff Long decided he had the power to resume the Border War, albeit in the form of a meaningless non-conference game in which Kansas has nothing to gain.
Anyway, let’s talk about this weekend’s opponent, Missouri. While Mizzou’s football team came out of nowhere and put together a very strong season this year, the basketball team does not appear poised to do the same. KenPom currently ranks them 80th, which is up from their low point of 91 just a couple of weeks ago but considerably worse than their preseason ranking of 55.
First, the things they do well. This team can shoot, making 54.4% of their twos and 35.4% of their threes, combining for a top 60 eFG%. While they aren’t elite from behind the three-point line, they do rely heavily on outside shooting, taking nearly 47% of their overall shots from behind the arc. That means a hot shooting night can be a serious problem for the opposition.
They’ll also hit the free ones, as they are at 28th nationally due to hitting 77.2% from the stripe. They’ve somewhat limited their turnovers, but at 16.5% they’re fairly middle-of-the-road in that column. Their turnover numbers are much better on the defensive side of the ball, where they force opponent turnovers on 21% of their possessions, good for 55th nationally. They also defend shots well, as they are the second-best shot blocking team in the country, while also allowing opponents to make just 46.9% of their twos.
Of course, being ranked just 80th, there are things Mizzou struggles with as well. They’re downright bad on the glass on both sides of the court, ranking 263rd offensively and 273rd defensively. Their frequent three-point shooting also comes at the cost of getting to the free throw line, where their free throw rate is barely in the top 300 in D1 basketball. Opponent free throws haven’t been a big problem, but they do send opponents to the line slightly more than the D1 average as well.
In terms of results, Missouri is 7-2 this year. according to KenPom, the toughest team they’ve played was Memphis in the second game of the year. They weren’t even competitive in that one, losing 70-55. They’ve played three other teams in the KenPom top 100 and won of all of those, beating Wichita State (100th), Minnesota (99th), and Pittsburgh (47th). That makes their other loss of the season even more perplexing, as they lost a one-point game at home to Jackson State, who’s sitting at 262nd right now.
The main player to know for Missouri is senior guard Sean East. He’s scoring over 16 ppg for the Tigers, and he’s 3rd nationally in outside shooting, having made 13 of 21 attempts (61.9%). He doesn’t put up a lot of threes, but you certainly can’t leave him open, though it’s worth pointing out that he’s a career 31.7% 3-point shooter on 227 attempts, so even more of that 3P% appears to be the result of a small sample size than you’d think. Still, he hits 56.8% from inside the arc and 82.4% of his free throws, and manages an assist rate just over 22% as well. Despite his high usage rate, he has still managed a 122.3 ORtg, so through nine games he’s having a fantastic season. To top it off, East is 2nd on the team in steals on the defensive end as well.
Elsewhere, Missouri’s 6’8” center Aidan Shaw fouls too much and has had fairly limited minutes as a result, but he’s among the team’s top rebounders on both ends of the court. Additionally, he boasts a whopping 15.1% block rate. However, when Shaw is in foul trouble, Missouri has a pair of 7-footers they can throw at Hunter Dickinson as well, including 7’5” (not a typo) Oral Roberts transfer Connor Vanover. Vanover doesn’t see a lot of minutes and while he does block shots, he’s more of a perimeter player offensively, with 306 career three-point attempts (of which he’s hit 32%).
Given how many threes Missouri shoots, and the fact that nearly every player on the team appears to have a green light to shoot them, there’s always the possibility that they get hot and start to pull away. However, that’s likely their only realistic path to winning. Kansas is a poor offensive rebounding team, but Mizzou is unlikely to exploit that. While Mizzou will block some shots, they haven’t been good enough defensively overall to make me too concerned about KU’s ability to get shots at the rim.
Despite Missouri’s size, they don’t have a great matchup for Dickinson, and that can open up a lot of things for Kansas offensively. I’m mildly concerned about how good Mizzou is at forcing steals, especially given KU’s occasional turnover issues, but at the end of the day I believe talent will win out here, and there’s no doubt that Kansas has Missouri outclassed there. I see KU getting frustrated at times while struggling to really pull away, but I don’t see a loss here.
Kansas 80, Missouri 70