The Missouri Tigers have been one of the more pleasant surprises of this college basketball season. After being ranked only #25 in the preseason AP and Coaches’ Polls (though up at #10 in our 2011-12 college basketball preseason top 25), they had risen all the way to #2 this week.
However, last night the Tigers were upset at Oklahoma State in a game that highlighted one of Missouri’s obvious flaws — interior defense.
Missouri has a relatively rare combination of good shooting inside the arc, but mediocre interior defense. What does this mean for their postseason outlook?
Defining Missouri’s Strengths And Weaknesses
The Cowboys shot 28 of 39 from inside the arc, which works out to a frightening (if you’re a Missouri fan) 71.8%. The Tigers have allowed a 46.9% opponent two point field goal percentage on the year, which ranks only 149th nationally, and is one of the key reasons why they are only 66th in the country in defensive efficiency.
It’s uncommon to see such a disparity between offensive and defensive interior shooting percentages. Most teams with such a high 2PFG% achieve it partly via a physically dominating front court, which of course tends to lead to at least a decent ability to defend the paint.
Missouri, on the other hand, relies a smaller lineup filled with good shooters across the board — they rank #7 in free throw percentage and #32 in three point percentage. That and their good teamwork (#2 in assist-to-turnover ratio) leads a lot of mid-range jumpers and easy layups. Those are admirable skills, but not all that useful against big bodies inside.
Are there other teams from recent history similar to the Tigers? And if so, what can we learn from them?
Other Tiger-Like Teams
One of the coolest parts of our college basketball team stats section — and this is true for other sports as well — is that you can view team stats for any specific date in the past. (Just use the drop-down calendar button on any team stats page.)
That means instead of comparing current team stats to end-of-year stats for past seasons, you can actually do an apples-to-apples comparison by checking out team stats from the current date in past years.
To find teams similar to Missouri, I searched the stats from January 26 of each of the past 14 years (through the 1997-98 season), looking for teams that met the following criteria:
- Played in a major conference
- Two point shooting percentage of at least 55% (Missouri: 56.9%)
- Opponent two point shooting percentage of 45% or higher (Missouri: 46.9%)
- Offensive efficiency of 1.100 or higher (Missouri: 1.199)
- Defensive efficiency of 0.950 or lower (Missouri: 0.932)
That gave me a list of ten teams. Let’s see how each of those teams did before and after January 26th, plus in the postseason.
|Year||Team||2FG%||Opp 2FG%||Off Eff||Def Eff||pre 1/26||post 1/26||Seed||NCAA Result||Notes|
|2002||Duke||55.1%||46.0%||1.131||0.890||17-1||14-3||1||L in Sweet 16||Upset|
|2005||Oklahoma St.||55.4%||45.2%||1.115||0.895||14-3||12-4||2||L in Sweet 16||Upset|
|2006||Duke||57.1%||48.8%||1.153||0.892||17-1||15-3||1||L in Sweet 16||Upset|
|2007||Ohio St||56.1%||45.2%||1.137||0.899||17-3||18-1||1||L in Champ Game||Great|
|2007||Georgetown||60.5%||45.4%||1.119||0.913||14-5||16-2||2||L in Final Four||Great|
|2007||GA Tech||56.3%||48.2%||1.116||0.935||13-6||7-6||10||L in 1st Round||Decline|
|2009||Arizona St.||59.1%||45.7%||1.141||0.913||16-3||9-7||6||L in 2nd Round||Decline|
|2009||UCLA||55.6%||49.2%||1.148||0.922||15-4||11-5||6||L in 2nd Round||OK|
That table is a pretty mixed bag. There are a couple Final Four participants, but there are also several #1 or #2 seeds that got toppled in round two.
What might be a bit worrisome is that the teams that ended up with high seeds were those with better interior defense than Missouri, while the teams that ended up collapsing were generally poorer defending the basket.
What To Expect For Missouri Going Forward
This list certainly isn’t a reason to panic for Missouri fans, but it does seem like a touch of caution is warranted.
The Tiger defense has struggled since the start of Big 12 play, with their defensive efficiency rising from 0.885 (#38) to 0.932 (#66). They’ve had to outscore teams, and on nights where their offense wasn’t running on all cylinders, they’ve lost.
That recipe won’t work if the team wants to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. The offense will be forced into an off day at some point, and the defense will need to pick them up.
Whether that’s a reasonable possibility or just a pipe dream remains to be seen.