Guest Spot, Rock M Nation

This could very well be the sound track for the Missouri Tigers this year. A team that appears to be just a schizophrenic as the Bearcats are. In a valiant attempt to make sense of it all I enlisted the help of Bill and Ross, the Big Dogs over at Rock M Nation to shed some light on this Tiger team. At the end of this you should have a much better idea about what to expect tomorrow night on TNT, or at the Verizon Center itself if you are lucky enough to be going to this game. Onward and upward.

Down The Drive: Marcus Denmon is the guy that the offense is run through. What are his strengths as a player and an area or two you think he needs work on?

RPT: "Marcus Denmon is the guy that the offense is run through." Let me stop you right there. Marcus Denmon is Missouri's primary offensive weapon and its most reliable scorer, but I'm not comfortable saying the offense runs through Marcus Denmon. When Missouri's offense it at its best, both the ball and the five players on the floor are in constant motion, so much that Mizzou doesn't appear to funnel the ball into any one single player's hands. Mizzou's first priority for offense will always be points generated by defense, but in lieu of those, they really don't ever seem to want to force the ball any one place. In fact, in any stretches in which Missouri is running the offense through someone (and it's generally Marcus), odds are that Missouri's having an off-night that forces one player to try to drag them along as far as possible.


But to answer your real question, Denmon has always let the game come to him -- and for so long that was both his strength AND his weakness. He could always tell what was working and not working for him on a given night and adjust to best fit his capabilities. But there were always stretches where he could just dominate, and at times, you just wanted him to take a game by the throat instead of letting it come to him naturally. 

Bill C: What Ross said.  The offense "runs through" Denmon in that he's the leading scorer, but that's about as far as it goes.  To see how odd Mizzou's offense is, go to Ken Pomeroy's team profile page (http://kenpom.com/team.php?team=Missouri).  The only "major contributor" in terms of pure usage is Mike Dixon ... the part-time point guard.  Like Cincinnati (I think), MIzzou doesn't really have a single guy who determines their offensive success.  There have been plenty of games where Denmon didn't score and Mizzou won, plenty where he put up big numbers in an overall poor offensive game.  When Mizzou is clicking, the whole thing is working -- Denmon, English, Dixon and P. Pressey are making open 3's, Laurence Bowers is making open jumpers, Ricardo Ratliffe is making the little, semi-no-look hook that he insists on taking.  And with Missouri's system, success breeds success breed success.  The more baskets they make, the more they get to settle into their press, the more turnovers they force, the more easy transition baskets they make, and the more the opponent wears down.  If they can't make the makeable, open shots, however (and sometimes they can't), then the defense ends up suffering as well.

In other words, there's a reason Mizzou's only played seven games decided by five points or less or in overtime.  When it works, it really works ... and when it doesn't, it really doesn't.

DTD: In reading your site I have seen numerous references to a good Missouri and a bad Missouri. As a fan of a fairly schizophrenic team myself I am always interested in what differentiates the two sides of the same coin. What does it for Mizzou?
RPT: The frustrating thing about Mizzou this season is that at some point in the season, every single facet of Missouri's game has looked spotless, if only for one game. It was the fact that A) Missouri could never put it together at the same time and B) sustain that for any stretch of games, that's what drove Missouri fans nuts. In a lot of games at home, Missouri's pressure defense frustrated the life out of opponents, Mizzou moved the ball well offensively, protected the ball offensively , and most importantly, just hit some damn shots. Mizzou's rebounding is incredibly schizophrenic though often inconsequential (Mizzou seems to gamble a little bit to take the ball out of your hands rather than off the glass), but Missouri's offensive flow just seems to have disappeared for a good portion of February and March. Combine that with forwards who can't afford to get in much foul trouble (but often do away from Mizzou Arena) and perimeter defense that has been a matter of concern for most of the year, and you start to get a picture of Bad Missouri. If open looks aren't falling for Mizzou and you see a couple of uncontested Cincy 3's off screens, it may be one of those nights.

Bill C: Part of it is the "success breeds success breeds success" thing.  Mizzou is a serious momentum team, for better or worse.  But sometimes the good momentum lasts 10 minutes and the bad lasts two ... and sometimes vice versa.  It really has been extra frustrating because of what Ross said -- we've seen everything we need to see from this team, we just almost never see it all at once. At least we haven't for a while.

DTD: What is the focal point of the Tigers, what is the one thing they have to do well to win ball games.
RPT: Is "score more points" a copout? Because I want to go with that answer. Bill, feel free to disagree with me, but I'll lean in favor of ball security. Awhile back, Bill created the "Ball Control Index" (BCI) to truly gauge how Missouri played according to the style of play it prefers. The stat is the sum of steals and assists divided by turnovers. If Mizzou is playing its brand of basketball, Mizzou will A) take the ball, B) share the ball, and C) protect the ball, all the while minimizing your teams ability to the same. Unless Mizzou comes out and shoots 29 percent from the field (yes, it happened), the BCI is usually a pretty good indicator of whether or not Mizzou got the type of game it wanted.

Bill C: With Mike Anderson's system, it always comes down to defense.  As I mentioned above, the offense helps the defense out by providing enough buckets to press, but Anderson always talks about defense first, second, third and fourth, and offense fifth.  That has to have made this season extra frustrating for him.  In losing J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor -- big, strong, defense-first guards -- and replacing them, basically, with Mike Dixon and Phil Pressey, Mizzou has gained quite a bit on the offensive end and lost quite a bit on defense.  They rack up quite a few steals, but when they aren't racking up steals, they're letting their man into the lane, leading to either fouls on the bigs or an open 3-pointer.  (That said, Mizzou still ranks 53rd in overall KenPom defense ... our version of bad defense is still decent thanks to the turnovers.)

DTD: Missouri is the only team in the country to be top 20 in turnover rate for both offense and defense. The defensive number is expected for a pressing team but how does this offense keep turnovers so low given the pace that they play at.
RPT: It's actually a little bit baffling to me, because we've seen some really dumb (yet hilarious) turnovers at times when Missouri begins playing a little too fast. Missouri really does have quite a bit of talent at the guard position with Denmon, sophomore Michael Dixon and freshman Phil "Flip" Pressey. If they're going to turn the ball over, Pressey will do it by trying to get away with something a bit too flashy (and/or making a ridiculously slick to an unsuspecting forward), and Dixon will do it by dribbling himself into trouble. 

Bill C: As Ross said, you'll find Pressey and Dixon making careless, 'youthful' mistakes, so to speak, but when their brains are in place correctly (not always the case for a freshman and a sophomore), they are very, very good ball handlers.

And yeah ... Pressey really does make some of the most gorgeous passes to unsuspecting big men you can imagine, especially Ratliffe.
DTD: From what I can tell it's PG by committee for the Tigers with Michael Dixon and highly touted Freshman Flip Pressey splitting minutes almost 50/50. How is that working out? and is there any discernible difference in terms of how the team flows offensively switching from one to the other?
RPT: I may have answered this to an extent above. There's definitely a difference in feel and flow, but I shouldn't insinuate that "different" has to necessarily mean good or bad. In a way, Dixon always felt like a 2 guard who just had the capacity and ability to play the 1. In fact, at times in Big 12 play, Mike Anderson started throwing Dixon and Flip on the floor at the same time. Like I said, there's somewhat of a "Showtime" element to Pressey, who is a high flyer, a sticky defender and an potentially dynamite shooter from long range (and I mean NBA-style long range). Dixon brings a more visceral toughness to the floor. He's gotten more physical as the season has progressed, and seems to be the only Missouri guard willing to try to get to the free-throw line.

Bill C: I can't think of anything to say that Ross didn't.

DTD: What is the all time starting five, and a sixth man, for the Tigers?
RPT: I'm going to go ahead and defer this question to my colleague, if only because it will give my tremendously verbose comrade a chance to wax poetic for a while.

Bill C: I'll give you a full, 11-man rotation!  The backup center is NOT one of Mizzou's best of all-time ... but it would be really fun having a 6'11, 330-pound tree coming off the bench.

PG: Melvin Booker, Jon Sundvold, Larry Drew
SG: Willie Smith, Anthony Peeler
SF: Derrick Chievous, Ricky Frazier
PF: Doug Smith (really a center, but still), DeMarre Carroll
C: Steve Stipanovich, MONTE HARDGE PARTY BARGE

So there you have it. The Missouri Tigers in a nutshell. Thanks again to Bill and RPT for giving the time to answer my trifling little questions. Keep coming back to Down The Drive as my opinion on this game shall be coming either tonight or tomorrow.
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