A deeper look at unbeaten Missouri ahead of Saturday’s latest edition of the Border War rivalry vs. Kansas
There’s been a recent push — it seems mostly from Missouri fans — for the unbeaten Missouri Tigers to be ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 men’s basketball poll.
This week, Mizzou picked up two votes in the poll, which means two voters had them 25th or one voter had them 24th. So, it’s clear they’re closing in on cracking the poll for the first time in a while. And it’s possible that a win on Saturday over the 6th-ranked Jayhawks could be enough to vault them ahead of others receiving votes and into the next week’s poll.
Clearly, the Tigers (9-0) will have their hands full with an 8-1 Kansas team that will be rested and ready for the first game between the two bitter rivals in Columbia, Missouri since the 2011-12 season.
It’s been nearly 13 years since that Feb. 4, 2012 game won by the Tigers in the closing minutes. That one was a battle of Top 10 teams, with KU ranked 8th and Missouri at No. 4. And it preceded one of the best games in Allen Fieldhouse history a few weeks later, which was won by the Jayhawks in overtime in the final game played between the two programs until the rivalry was renewed last season.
Enough about the past, though. Let’s take a quick look at this year’s Tigers, along with their resume, to see what Kansas is in store for on Saturday. The game is set for a 4:15 p.m. tipoff on ESPN from Mizzou Arena.
Let’s start with KenPom.com, which has MU ranked 48th even with its 9-0 record.
The biggest reason for Mizzou not being closer to the top is seems to be the Tigers’ strength of schedule ranking, which KenPom has at 361st nationally.
A look at the names on the schedule make it easy to see why.
MU’s best win to date is an 88-84, overtime victory at Wichita State, which is ranked 88th by KenPom. Other than that, the Tigers have not played anyone with a KenPom ranking better than 173rd and that was a seven-point home win over Penn back on Nov. 11.
Here are the rest of their wins under first-year head coach Dennis Gates, who replaced Cuonzo Martin in the offseason:
• No. 236 Southern Indiana, 97-91 (home)
• No. 173 Penn, 92-85 (home)
• No. 347 Lindenwood, 82-53 (home)
• No. 213 SIU Edwardsville, 105-80 (home)
• No. 361 Mississippi Valley State, 83-62 (home)
• No. 200 Coastal Carolina, 89-51 (home)
• No. 342 Houston Christian, 105-69 (home)
• No. 88 Wichita State, 88-84 OT (away)
• No. 255 Southeast Missouri, 96-89 (home)
Added all together, Missouri’s average margin of victory this season has been 19 points, but it has come against an opponent with an average KenPom ranking of 246th.
For a point of reference, KU’s current SOS ranking, for a schedule that has featured two ranked teams, is 73rd and the average KenPom ranking of the Jayhawks’ nine opponents so far is 128th, with KU already facing No. 2 Tennessee, No. 13 Duke and No. 39 Wisconsin in addition to NC State (55th) and Seton Hall (64th).
Missouri’s schedule to date reminds me of those old Bill Snyder Kansas State football schedules, which were full of cream puff opponents in the non-conference that the Wildcats pounded and gained confidence from beating. I’m not knocking the approach. It worked great for K-State and Snyder and it was probably the best thing for Gates and the program at the start of his time in Columbia.
I’m sure Gates’ Tigers have a fair amount of confidence heading into this game with Kansas, and 9-0 is 9-0 no matter how you slice it. Being unbeaten has a way of getting people’s attention and that, too, is good for the long-suffering Tigers program as a whole.
There’s no need to get into too much of a compare and contrast just yet. The teams will show how similar or different they are on the court on Saturday.
So, let’s get back to looking at what the Tigers will bring to the fight.
It’s clear by looking at those outcomes that the Tigers can score. MU is ranked 12th by KenPom.com in offensive efficiency and the Tigers are averaging a nation’s-best 93 points per game so far this season.
That includes a 51.6% shooting clip from the floor and 35% shooting from 3-point range. A lot of the Tigers’ offense has come from their defense, which likes to create havoc and chaos and turn the game into a track meet.
To that point, Missouri has turned the ball over just 11.8 times per game while forcing 21.3 turnovers per game from its opponents.
A few other KenPom statistics point to the style of basketball the Tigers like to play.
MU is third nationally in effective field goal percentage (59%) and second in 2-point percentage (63.8%). Mizzou also ranks 22nd nationally in turnover percentage on offense (15.3%), fourth nationally in turnover percentage on defense (27.8%) and 10th in non-steal turnover percentage (6.7%), which means, at least to date, they have not had many self-inflicted and careless turnovers.
In short, the Tigers like to play fast, create havoc for their opponents and do a good job of taking care of the basketball themselves. MU leads the all of Division I with 127 steals (14.1 per game) so far this season. The Tigers are also first in KenPom’s steal percentage ranking at 18.4%.
KU is tied for 70th nationally with 77 total steals, 8.6 per game and has a steal percentage of 12%, good for 51st in the country.
Like Kansas, the Tigers do not have a true big man that they play through inside. Kobe Brown, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound senior and one of just three returners from last year’s team, has decent size and isn’t afraid of physical contact, but he has played more on the perimeter this year than he did a year ago.
The Tigers start Brown and 6-6 forward Noah Carter, a transfer from Northern Iowa, at the forward spots in their starting lineup, which has been the same for all nine games this season.
Nick Honor, a 5-foot-10 graduate transfer from Clemson starts at the point for MU and D’Moi Hodge, a 6-4 guard who came with Gates from Cleveland State also starts in the backcourt, with Wisconsin-Milwaukee transfer DeAndre Gholston rounding out the transfer-heavy starting five.
The Tigers typically go nine or 10 players deep, with five bench players averaging more than 9 minutes per game so far this season.
Two of them are names that might have a familiar ring for Kansas fans.
Aidan Shaw, a 6-8, 195-pound freshman wing from Blue Valley High, was recruited by Kansas for a little while early in the recruiting process. The Top-60 prospect according to 247 Sports was the highest-rated recruit to commit to Mizzou since 2017 and he was the third-highest rated player in the state of Kansas in his senior class.
He has appeared in all nine of Missouri’s games so far this season and is averaging 4.8 points and 3 rebounds in 13.3 minutes per game. Shaw is the only true freshman on scholarship on MU’s roster this season.
The other name KU fans might remember is Isiaih Mosley, a transfer from Missouri State, who grew up in Columbia and has been a lifelong friend — basically family — of KU point guard Dajuan Harris Jr.’s.
The 6-5 Mosley has appeared in seven of the Tigers’ nine games so far this season, averaging 9 points and 2.4 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game.
Mosley played high school ball with Harris at Columbia’s Rock Bridge High. The two were also teammates in the MoKan AAU program.
After Mosley committed to Missouri last summer, Harris was asked about the matchup, which, at that time, was still several months down the road.
One day before Mosley committed to Missouri, he and Harris were talking about his plans on the phone and the playful jabs began then.
“I already told him, ‘All that stuff you think you’re (going) to be doing, it ain’t working. We’re going to lock that up,'” Harris joked in June.
The KU point guard could not stop smiling when thinking about matching up with his “best friend.”
“We’ve been playing together since fourth grade,” Harris said in June. “We know a lot about each other. We’re just going to have fun, though.”