"Forty Minutes of Hell," indeed.
I assume Mike Anderson and his Missouri Tigers didn't intend to end up on the double-hockeysticks end of Monday's game, but Kansas made sure they did by limiting Missouri's open looks to a nearly ridiculous degree.
KU's 32.4 percent eFG% defense started with center Cole Aldrich. The junior blocked a season-high seven shots and influenced many more possessions with the threat of his presence in the paint. When Missouri fed the post, points didn't come easy. When the Tigers hoisted shots from the perimeter — especially in a disastrous first half — the offense was even uglier.
• Missouri's starting bigs, Justin Safford and Keith Ramsey, combined to produce nearly one point per possession, mostly by virtue of Safford's 8-for-10 mark on free throws. That pair shot on 42 percent of Missouri's possessions.
• Starting guards J.T. Tiller and Michael Dixon each created less than 0.76 points per trip. That pair shot on 60 percent of the Tigers' possessions. Missouri guard Kim English, never one to shy away from a shot, used a team-high 38 percent of possessions for shots and scored 0.70 points per possession.
From my vantage point, Missouri seemed scared of Aldrich and KU forward Marcus Morris from the outset. When Aldrich started blocking shots left and right, the Tigers became even more timid and resorted to shooting bad shots from 18 feet and out. The KU guards — especially Brady Morningstar — did a solid job of denying these deep looks and Missouri ended up shooting 25 percent en route to a 20-point halftime deficit. By the time Safford started playing well offensively KU had the game in hand.
A graphical look at how KU built a huge lead (compliments of StatSheet.com).
M.O.J. (Most Outstanding Jayhawk)
No contest here. Cole Aldrich played a beautiful game (and no, I did not consult the Aldrich-enamored Bob Knight/Brent Musberger combo before making this decision). Aldrich did what he has done all season: Played an excellent all-around game, complete with efficient scoring (1.28 points per possession), outstanding rebounding (45 percent Rebound Rate), and All-America-caliber defense (18 percent Block Rate).
Aldrich's per-possession offensive numbers Monday fell basically in line with his season-long stats, but the center seemed to turn up the volume on defense and the glass, nudging everyone else out of the spotlight. Undoubtedly and very deservedly, he'll get plenty of love for this one. There will be plenty of talk about his big "turnaround," and that's certainly a good story. Truth be told, he's been KU's best player for the past season-plus. In terms of Efficiency per possession, Aldrich has had two sub-par games all season: back-to-back contests in November against Central Arkansas and Oakland.
Room for improvement
The end result was a solid 1.15 points per possession for KU, but certain components of its offense didn't gel Monday. The Jayhawks turned the ball over on 31.5 percent of their possessions, about 50 percent more often than average and more than four times as often as Missouri did Monday. Of the eight Jayhawks who played more than 10 minutes Monday, only forward Marcus Morris committed a turnover on less than 25 percent of his possessions used. Guards Sherron Collins (40 percent Turnover Rate) and Xavier Henry (50 percent) proved particularly turnover prone.
Hard luck line
The fact that Sherron Collins fought through his worst game of the season and KU still routed a borderline-Top 25 team is a good thing. Collins went 2-for-11 from the field, posted a 0.5 assist-to-turnover rate and scored six points in 29 minutes. The senior certainly was aggressive despite his cold shooting hand: He used 26 percent of KU's possessions for shots during his minutes. Luckily for KU, the newly-polished Marcus Morris took shots on 29 percent of the team's possessions and produced 1.36 points per possession used.
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/26/ku_bkc_mu_nk_05hz.jpg KU prevailed despite a rough night for Sherron Collins — Nick Krug/LJW Photo
The Bottom Line:
Monday's game showed just how large the gap is between the Big 12's elite (Kansas, maybe Texas, maybe Kansas State) and the conference's second tier (Baylor, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas A&M). I know this sounds like a broken record, but in my mind KU is far and away the best team in the nation.
Kentucky is unbeaten but unimpressive in terms of per-possession efficiency. Duke is solid on the perimeter but lacks a veteran post presence. Syracuse now seems like the only team in KU's neighborhood.