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Inside The Enemy: Missouri Tigers

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You know Rock M Nation as one of the finest college blogs of any kind, and they're here to share their insights on Missouri in preparation for tomorrow's big game in Columbia. My answers to their questions can be found at RMN.

Please explain to Texas fans the "40 Minutes of Hell" philosophy they're going to see Wednesday night from Mike Anderson's Tigers.

Rock M Nation: If we're respecting copyrights, then technically the term "40 Minutes of Hell" belongs to Mike Anderson's mentor, Nolan Richardson. Whether it's a change in philosophy or simply more politically correct, Missouri has branded itself as "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball." More than anything, it means constant motion and constant pressure. As you might guess, it all begins with the defense. When on top of their game, Missouri guards aren't likely to let ballhandlers breathe much, as the system favors guards willing to take chances for steals on the perimeter. Mizzou is constantly looking to trap, and Missouri's forwards are coached to have the defensive skills of guards if caught out on the perimeter. It's not infrequent to see Keith Ramsey or Laurence Bowers defending guards at the 3-point line temporarily.

But as much as Anderson might not like to admit it, the pressure all starts at the other end of the court. When the system is clicking on all cylinders, Missouri will force A) turnovers/cheap buckets on inbounds passes or B) 10-second violations. The big problem here comes when a team is athletic enough to break the press and run right back at Mizzou, leading to a situation in which Brady Morningstar is leading a 3-on-1 fast break thirty times a game.

Offensively, the philosophy goes back to constant motion. Mizzou isn't the kind of team that's going to post anybody up, and it's not the kind of team that's going to take the air out of the ball. Any good look they get -- regardless of the time on the shot clock -- they're going to take. On a hot shooting night, all of this snowballs together perfectly: Good, quick shots rack up points and set up Missouri pressure on the inbounds. On a bad shooting night (which has been all too frequent in Big 12 play), the Fastest 40 Minutes system can get all out of whack.

Missouri is allowing opponents to rebound 37.6% of their own misses. The Tigers aren't a tiny team; is this a byproduct of their desire to get out and run?

Rock M Nation: To a certain extent, Missouri IS a tiny team. Most of their minutes at the PF/C positions go to guys who are 6'8, 205 (Laurence Bowers), 6'9, 210 (Keith Ramsey), and 6'8, 230 (Justin Safford), and the biggest guy in the mix, Safford, was a guard through most of high school before experiencing a very late growth spurt and suddenly becoming a forward. He clearly still has a guard's mindset and is the worst rebounder of the three. So yeah, I think size does become a bit of a factor in that they can get pushed around a bit while getting positioned for rebounds.

Of course, that alone does not tell the entire tale. Part of the issue truly is the style of play. If Mizzou is clicking at all cylinders, then they are sending at least two guards up the court for quick breaks after missed shots, leaving no more than three guys back to rebound. If they have to keep more people back to rebound, then they can't run as much as they want. They will always be vulnerable to a few more offensive rebounds playing this style, but if they counter that with plenty of break opportunities, they won't mind too much.

The other part of it, however, is instinct. Some of Mizzou's bigs just don't seem to be naturally skilled in terms of rebounds. At a per-minute level, Laurence Bowers rebounds at a higher level than either DeMarre Carroll or Leo Lyons did last year, but Ramsey and Safford lag behind, as does Steve Moore, the fourth big man. Mizzou fans have a lot of hope invested in Moore, who at 6'9, 260+ is unlike anybody else on the roster, but he is still quite raw, and his per-minute rebounding averages right now are actually worse than that of Ramsey or Safford.

Against Baylor, Mizzou kept more people back to help rebound, and in terms of expected offensive rebounds, it more or less worked for the game's first 39:54. However, it also kept the game well under 60 possessions, which isextremely slow and exactly the pace Baylor wanted to play.

 

The most interesting aspect of this game to me is that Texas under Rick Barnes thrives offensively by limiting turnovers and cleaning up the offensive glass. Missouri, of course, thrives by creating gobs of turnovers. What's your take on the more important factor: Missouri forcing turnovers, or Texas grabbing second chance looks?

Rock M Nation: Really, that probably depends on how well Mizzou's offense is doing. As we have learned multiple times this year, the Fastest 40 Minutes isn't all that fast when Mizzou's not making shots and can't set up their press. But if the offense is doing relatively well, I would say that Mizzou will be more than happy to press, press, press, and risk some second chance points. Even if Texas is scoring in that scenario, the pace is fast, and Mizzou will rely on you to wear out before they do. But if they are struggling on offense, then they will be limited to tough half-court defense, which leads to fewer turnover opportunities overall. If they're scoring, expect a heavier emphasis on trying to force turnovers. If they're not, they'll need to hang back, slow down, and try to keep Texas off the boards a little better.

The 6-6 sophomore Kim English is heavily involved in the offense, but hasn't been terribly efficient. Laurence Bowers has been a little bit less involved, but among the most efficient offensive players in the country. Tell us a little bit about these two players.

Rock M Nation: I joked the other day that you can tell how often an announcer has done a Missouri game by how much he talks up Kim English. If you've never done a Missouri game, you're going to talk about him as if he's obviously the best, most important player for Mizzou because he's the leading scorer, and by a decent margin. However, once you've done a few Mizzou games, you start to realize what/who truly is important.  Obviously when he's on, he can carry the offense for minutes at a time, but his offense hasn't really made or broken this team.  In the backcourt, getting offense from Zaire Taylor and/or Marcus Denmon has meant as much to this team as English.

Meanwhile, Bowers is very similar in style to Leo Lyons.  He is not as far along offensively as Lyons was last year, but he is leap years ahead of where Lyons was as a sophomore.  He has a soft shooting touch all the way out to the 3-point line, and he is a gifted athlete with a ton of jumping/dunking ability (hence his Rock M nickname, Party Starter).  Like Zaire Taylor, however, he is not altogether assertive within the offense.  If given an open opportunity, he will take it, but he is not much of a ball-handler or creator -- if he's not open, he'll happily pass it back out to others.  Mizzou has needed more individual aggressiveness at times this season, and he hasn't really shown that he can be the guy to deliver that just yet.  What makes Bowers such a valuable asset, however, is his well-rounded game.  He is a lovely passer with good vision; he can make both the interior pass and the skip pass from one side of the court to the other with ease.  He's good for 2-3 steals/blocks a game, 1-2 assists, and anywhere between about 3 and 12 rebounds.  He contributes into every line of the box score, and even though he doesn't produce nearly as many points as English, he is quite likely the team's most valuable player at this point.  The major question is, how much weight can he put on and still maintain 100% of his athleticism?  He was about 200 last year, I think, and he only made it to about 205 this past offseason.  Obviously another 10-15 pounds would help, but he might not be capable of keeping that on him.

Like most everyone in the Big 12 these days, the Tigers are beatable on the road, and very hard to beat at home. Share with us any insights you have on how the team plays in Columbia that may be relevant to the outcome.

Rock M Nation: Remember what I said about how everything in the Fastest 40 Minutes system snowballs when everything is working right? That snowball effect multiplies exponentially when Mizzou Arena is rocking during conference play. For as violently frustrated as I can get with fans at Faurot Field, I continue to be impressed by how attuned to Anderson's system the crowd at Mizzou Arena continues to be. As loud as the ovations are for big threes or for thunderous dunks, some of the biggest roars you hear at Mizzou Arena these days are for steals, shot clock violations, and forcing opponents into timeouts in their own backcourt. Just as Anderson has crafted himself a team built on defensive intensity, he's built himself a fan base that echoes that same value system.