Preview Missouri at Kansas

A month and a day ago, I predicted that Missouri would sneak past Kansas in Columbia by a score of 64-62 because, even with a good defensive performance, I didn't think the Jayhawks could score enough points to beat the Tigers. It's difficult to remember now, but Missouri looked more like Iowa State than Baylor through the first four games of the conference season. They couldn't stop anybody from scoring, but their offense was good enough, most nights, to allow them to compete. Both Missouri and Iowa State have shown this to be an unsustainable method for success (even in the weak Big 12).

Missouri scored and allowed 1.11 points per possession in their first four conference games. (Granted, nobody pays to me to meet a deadline, but this is another reason, beyond a simple glance at the schedule, that the mid-January stories about the resurgent Tigers were poorly though out and less than convincing.) Missouri has maintained that defensive performance over the last seven games, but they've stopped scoring. Missouri has averaged a mere 0.90 points per possession since the Kansas game.

That night in Columbia was so long ago that Christian Moody played twice as many minutes as Julian Wright and Sasha Kaun combined.

Micah Downs contributed a missed shot and a turnover. Melvin Watkins hadn't won a Big 12 game since 2003.

It was a weird night as well. Kansas scored 1.16 points per possession. Missouri scored 1.09 points per possession. Missouri won because they had seven more possessions. That demonstrates that 1) possessions derived from the final box score rather than from play-by-play are estimated possessions and 2) Kansas may have blown even more chances that it seemed.

Still, Kansas would have won, despite their poor endgame, had Thomas Gardner not had the game of his life. Gardner shot 75 eFG% (rest of team: 41.1%, Gardner in rest of conference play: 52.6%) and 78% from the line (rest of team: 70.5%, Gardner in rest of conference play: 75.6%). The only thing Missouri can reasonably hope for Gardner to duplicate in the return match is something near the eight turnovers he committed in Columbia.

Since that game in Columbia, Kansas has increased the pace at whch they play, improved their field goal percentage, opponent's field goal percentage, free throw percentage, free throw rate, opponent's free throw rate, defensive rebounding, turnover percentage, points per possession, and opponent's points per possession.

In a month and a day, Kansas vs. Missouri has gone from a toss-up game to the Big 12 North's version of Baylor at Texas. Unless the Jayhawks suffer a complete reversal of temperment, Missouri can't even hope to gain an emotional advantage as either a rival or an underdog. The Jayhawks, even when they've played poorly this year, haven't lacked for effort. In the buildup to the re-match they sound determined to make up for giving the game in Columbia away.

The only positive I can find for Missouri is the chance that Jeff Hawkins might not be healthy enough to play his usual backup role. Even then, I'm not sure Thomas Gardner could get open and score against Stephen Vinson right now. Jeremy Case, maybe.

It won't be close. It will be fun. Missouri will serve as the canvas for Julian Wright's SportsCenter submission.

Prediction: Kansas 81 Missouri 60