Monday, January 16, 2006

Preview: Kansas at Missouri

Apparently, the defense was propping up the offense to an even greater extent than I thought. The zone offense was dreadful but that should (can only?) improve as the Jayhawks will surely face a steady diet of zone defenses from here on out. More disturbing to me was watching everyone, save Russell Robinson, become tentative (I'm purposely disregarding Darnell Jackson's Jerod Haase impression due to its ineffectiveness) as the game became difficult.

There's no doubt that Kansas allowed the game to get difficult. The defensive execution in the last 13 minutes against Kansas State looked like a reprise of the complete defensive breakdown over the last 23 minutes of the St. Joseph's game only worse. Kansas State ran its offense almost entirely inside the three-point line and the Kansas defenders still couldn't get out on shooters. Even without taking into account the experience gained over last several weeks, it's far worse to be burned by Dramane Diarra's open looks from 15 feet than Chet Stachitas' open looks from 20 feet and beyond.

Missouri is 2-1 in conference because they're scoring 1.12 points per possession. Missouri has limited their turnovers, shot a high percentage from the floor, and gotten to the free throw frequently against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and Colorado. This is the best offensive team Kansas has faced since the California game. Even if Kansas keeps Missouri about 15% below their current scoring output the Jayhawks will have to score a little more than a point a possession to win the game. Barring a return to the defensive form shown in the first 27 minutes against Kansas State and the entire games against California, Yale, Kentucky, and Colorado, it will take an offensive performance equal to that delivered in the relatively comfortable victories against California and Colorado (in which Kansas scored only 1.03 and 1.05 points per possession, respectively) to squeak out a win in Columbia.

Kansas can't settle for three-point shots against the zone I assume Missouri will feature. The Jayhawks will have to convert their transition opportunities and their offensive rebounds to make up for lackluster half-court execution. Kansas can further improve their chances of winning by keeping Missouri off the free throw line.

I expect the game to be close. I have no reason to believe Kansas can win a close game right now. They will be able to do so eventually, of course, and I'm comfortable being wrong by underestimating the team.

Prediction: Missouri 64 Kansas 62

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