Early in the college basketball season it’s not uncommon to see a high-scoring game, at least for one of the teams involved in any particular matchup. With a diet heavy in cupcakes in the early going, elite teams are given an opportunity to light up the scoreboard at least a few times as they simply overpower weaker opponents and work on the jump shots and fast break drives they hope to use later in the season in a more limited fashion. However, there are times when two top level teams get together well into the season and have a good old fashioned shootout. Such was the case on Monday night in Lawrence when the Kansas Jayhawks played host to the Missouri Tigers.
The final score on the night was 103-86 in favor of Kansas. The Jayhawks shot a blistering 60.7% from the field and 57.9% from three, which is always going to give you a good shot at picking up a W. The Kansas scoring was complemented by an impressive 23 assists, and for good measure the team recorded 38 rebounds, 14 of which came on the offensive end. The Tigers’ field goal percentage of 51.7% would draw the praise of most coaches and commentators on a typical night, but on this date it simply wasn’t enough. Missouri bested Kansas in the free throw department, shooting 18-22 from the line, but only logged 20 rebounds and ended up having three different players foul out before the game was over.
So what can be learned from this game in which the age-old concept of “the team that scores more points wins” truly was embraced by the players on the floor? Well, for one thing, these two Big 12 heavyweights can really shoot the ball. Kansas currently ranks 6th in the country in points per game (while also shooting a national best field goal percentage), and Missouri is right behind them in the 7th spot. Monday night’s game showcased the ability of these teams to rack up points in a hurry, and this was not a case of an individual player on either side suddenly going off for a monster outing. Marcus Morris for Kansas led all scorers with only 22 points, a nice total to be sure, but nothing to write home about. Rather than having one guy carry the scoring load (known in some parts as ‘Jimmering’), Kansas and Missouri spread the wealth around.
This year we have taken pride in the exciting potential for any one of our Ohio State players to lead the team in scoring on a given night. Lighty, Buford, Diebler, Sullinger, Craft, Thomas – all of these guys can be the high-man for a night. However, we don’t often see all these guys putting the ball in the hoop on the same night (Sunday’s game that saw five players with 10 or more was a big deal), and this represents one aspect of the Kansas and Missouri squads where they have superiority. All their guys shoot the rock, and they definitely don’t segregate the guards and the forwards when it comes to places on the court from which players will launch it. Kansas’ two most prominent players, the Morris twins, are formidable in the post. Marcus checks in at 6’9 and 235 while Markieff stands 6’10 and tips the scales at 245. With all that size, you’d think that these two would never leave the paint, yet Markieff has put up 38 three-point attempts on the season while Marcus has taken his chances from downtown 51 different times! To give you a comparable, Jared Sullinger has heaved it from deep on only 10 occasions, and a couple of those have been lofts at the buzzer.
If this “impressions” article seems a bit stats-heavy, it’s because watching these two teams didn’t cause anything in particular to draw a huge focus. Everyone knows about the Morris twins, and it’s almost like they balance each other out so that neither one stands out, while if they were on separate teams they would both be their respective team’s featured star. They get great post position and have good ball skills to go along with their bruising frames, although they do demonstrate a tendency to get a bit hot under the collar, which could lead to picking up cheap fouls. The Kansas guards are very solid and can effectively knock down the three-ball and the midrange jumper. For the game against Missouri, the Jayhawks were without third-leading scorer Josh Selby, who was out with a foot injury.
Given Kansas’ ability to score, and their overall balance across the board, they would represent a truly difficult matchup for Ohio State. Unlike with most teams, we wouldn’t have a great height advantage on the outside against Kansas, and it would be difficult to run our smaller lineup with Craft and still defend both Morris twins down low. Against Kansas, there would possibly be an opportunity to go to a zone defense and clog the middle of the paint as much as possible. On the offensive end of the floor, Ohio State would probably benefit from employing the Northwestern/Wisconsin tactic of slowing the pace down. While this doesn’t seem to be the natural way for our team to play, Aaron Craft could effectively run our offensive playbook, and our experienced lineup could be depended on to execute in the half court set. Patience would be the name of the game, moving the ball quickly until the right moment came to drive for the open shot or to pick up the foul. Interestingly, if Kansas has one flaw it may be an over-eagerness to take the chance and go for the steal, which Ohio State could take advantage of to great effect if we played intelligent ball.
Turning our attention to Missouri, things become a bit simpler. While Kansas and Texas represent the cream of the Big 12 crop, Missouri is one notch below. They too have balance and can fill it up on offense, but they lack the precision of Kansas, and the Tiger guards can get a bit out of control at times. The Missouri guards are very explosive and can create off the dribble with a fair amount of success. The team only turned the ball over 8 times against Kansas, suggesting that they take care of the ball, too.
Make no mistake – Missouri is a dangerous team. They were good enough to handle Illinois earlier this season, and despite their struggle in conference play (4-5 record now), the Tigers could fly under the radar and suddenly find themselves competing deep in the tournament. They play with good team chemistry, perhaps due in part to the fact that they start brothers (but not twins) Matt and Phil Pressey. However, Ohio State could likely handle Missouri, especially if the Tigers are lax on defense and allow Ohio State to run and rebound like Kansas was able to do on Monday night.
In the end, as always, basketball is a game of matchups, and between these two teams Ohio State would match up very favorably with Missouri. In contrast, Kansas may present the most difficult pairing I’ve seen to date. While facing them in the tournament could spell the end for the Buckeyes, it would be very intriguing to see the coaching duel between Thad and Bill Self. Having seen Monday’s game, a win over the Jayhawks would feel even more rewarding than a win over another major conference opponent.