When and where: Saturday (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET), Mizzou Arena (Columbia, Mo.)
Kansas breakdown: Despite some depth issues, Bill Self has one of only two teams in the country with a top-10 offense and defense in the KenPom.com efficiency ratings.
Kansas is a good passing team, and is resolute in getting the ball inside to Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey. The Jayhawks run a lot of ball-screen action, and a lot of high-low action to isolate their post players and get the ball into the paint, where they are more likely to have high-percentage shots and the opportunity to get fouled.
The Jayhawks are proficient inside the 3-point arc and do a solid, but not spectacular, job on the offensive glass.
When Kansas gets a shot, the Jayhawks are very good. When Kansas turns the ball over or makes a poor decision, the Jayhawks can be had. Kansas turns the ball over at a 20 percent clip, which ranks 123rd in the nation. Against Missouri’s pressure and fast-paced defense, Kansas cannot afford to have empty possessions and to give Missouri opportunities to attack the rim in advantage situations.
Without question, Kansas needs production out of its player of the year candidate Thomas Robinson and its senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor.
Robinson is averaging over 17 points and 11 rebounds per game, and he is the best defensive rebounder in the country. Robinson has a great motor, and works hard for deep post position. He moves his defender up the lane, and his guards will throw the ball up near the square from the hashmark on ball reversal to get it to him.
Taylor is averaging over 19 points per game in Big 12 play, and has been one of the very best guards in the country over the past month. Taylor is under control, making better decisions, and he is shooting over 44 percent from 3-point range.
While the Kansas offense has been very good at times, Kansas wins with defense. The Jayhawks are leading the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense at 38 percent, and with such good first-shot defense, Kansas has only to gang defensive rebound to take the ball the other way.
Missouri breakdown: I would pay to see Missouri play basketball.
The Tigers are one of the most fearless, unselfish, fast and dynamic teams in the country, and one of the most efficient offensively. Missouri is second in the nation in offensive efficiency, third in turnover percentage, and first in 2-point field goal percentage.
The Tigers share the ball, space the floor effectively, and really get up and down the court after a turnover, miss or made field goal. Without playing “chuck and duck” basketball, Missouri makes really good decisions on when to pitch it ahead and attack, and when to run half-court offense and exploit its quickness and speed.
The Tigers run a set-play, quick-hitting offense that takes advantage of cutting, ball screens, fade screens and driving closeouts after moving the ball. The Tigers at times appear as if they are tethered on a line. When the ball moves, they space the floor and cut and fill.
Even though Missouri is smaller, it plays bigger, and it gets the matchups in its favor and attacks. And the Tigers make their free throws, which makes them very difficult to come back against late in games.
Everything with Missouri starts with Phil Pressey, the point guard. Pressey is super quick with the ball and is a pass-first, pass-ahead point guard. He reminds you a bit of former Texas guard T.J. Ford, but he is not as potent of a scorer.
Pressey averages over 6 assists and 2.5 steals per game, and he can impact the game without taking a shot. His ball pressure is very good, and it is very difficult to stay in front of him.
Alongside Phil Pressey are three outstanding wings in Kim English, Matt Pressey and Marcus Denmon. English is having a tremendous senior season, and is one of the best and most efficient 3-point shooters in the country. English has hit more than 50 3s and is hitting nearly 50 percent of those shots, with half of his shots coming from behind the arc. His shot selection has greatly improved, and his confidence level is off the charts. And English is doing the dirty work this season, taking charges and getting on the floor for loose balls.
Denmon is one of the most courageous drivers and complete players in the nation. He is averaging 17 points, 5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals while hitting more than 50 3-point field goals and over 90 percent of his free throws. Denmon has not shot the ball quite as well over the past several games, but he is working for good shots and not taking bad ones. Missing good shots is not a problem worth worrying about.
Defenses: Both teams prefer man-to-man, but Missouri looks to pressure and deny more than does Kansas. The Tigers will gamble for steals, and can switch screens 1 through 4.
Kansas, on the other hand, rarely if ever switches a screen, but does put good pressure on the ball. The Jayhawks will hedge hard off of ball screens to change the dribbler’s path, and will pressure the ball and force cutters to run through their chests.
The Tigers will play some 2-3 zone, and can press full court in man or some 1-2-2.
Kansas will, at times, double or trap the post and can play some zone, and has also worked with some junk defenses, like a triangle-and-two. The Jayhawks also can play some 1-2-2 half-court zone, some 2-3 zone, and can extend on either.
Key matchup: Kim English and a Kansas big. Depending on who guards Ricardo Ratliffe and whom Ratliffe guards on his defensive end, the matchup with English will be really interesting to watch. How will Kansas attack English and force him to guard one-on-one in the post? How much ball pressure will Missouri have to heat up the ball and take away vision so passers cannot see openings inside? How will Kansas guard English out on the perimeter when a bigger player would have to follow him over fade screens, back picks and on drives?
Key stat: Kansas turnovers. The Jayhawks have turned the ball over at a high rate at times this season, and if Kansas coughs the ball up when Missouri is on defense, you can bet that the Tigers will run with it and get something easy. Kansas cannot play in spurts, and has to take good care of the ball against a chance-taking defensive team in Mizzou.
Key players: Denmon and Taylor. I don’t think that either team can be expected to operate at the highest efficiency without a big-time performance from its best player. Taylor is a great barometer for Kansas, and Denmon is the heart and soul for Missouri.
X factors: Withey and Ratliffe. Withey is one of the best shot-blockers in the league, and Ratliffe is having an extraordinary season.
Ratliffe is challenging a 30-year-old record for field goal accuracy held by Oregon State’s Steve Johnson by shooting over 75 percent from the field. He is working off a four-guard offense that provides him with space to operate inside, and he benefits from his teammates’ drives as well as his deep post positioning, outstanding hands, big body and his use of angles around the rim.
Withey has had a really nice season, and has blocked shots, rebounded and finished around the basket. How he is able to adjust to covering Ratliffe inside, rebounding and helping on drives will be fun to watch.