COLUMBIA — Nothing can make peoples' heads spin faster than numbers and statistical analysis.
But raw numbers can help us get a sense of a team's style of play along with their strengths and weaknesses. Sure, you can try to parse through coaches' quotes or a TV analysts' statements, but numbers about efficiency are more revealing.
For those readers new to this thinking, efficiency is how many points you score or give up per 100 possessions, according to kenpom.com.
If you click on each schools name, you can look at their entire statistical profile. While they look like a jumble of numbers and decimals, they tell an interesting story.
Mike Anderson preaches 40 minutes of intense defense and the numbers would seem to back up his mantra. The Tigers are eighth in the country in defensive efficiency, including eighth in turnover percentage and second in generating steals. They are in the top 25 at defending the 3-point shot. Better yet, their opponents don't shoot that many free throws, meaning Missouri applies pressure without committing too many fouls.
On offense, the Tigers are not flashy. Missouri is No. 19 in offensive efficiency.They are slightly above average in field goal percentage and No. 12 in the nation at not turning the ball over. Despite having a smaller line-up, not many of Missouri's shots get blocked. One weakness, though, is at the foul line.
The Big Red face a stiff test against Missouri. Steve Donahue's team is No. 81 nationally in offensive efficiency and No. 145 in defensive efficiency.
The Ivy League champions shoot the ball reasonably well, particularly the 3-point shot. The Big Red are a decent team at the foul line, ranking No. 35 nationally in free-throw percentage. The problem is that they don't shoot all that many of them. The team also turns the ball over roughly 20 percent of the time, with half of those turnovers coming in the form of steals.
There's a reason Missouri is the No. 3 seed and Cornell the No. 14 seed. The Tigers are tremendous at doing what they set out to do: apply pressure, force turnovers, play lock-tight perimeter defense and get solid looks on offense.
Cornell looks to get the ball to its two lead guards, Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale, who take over half the Big Red's shots. Jeff Foote, who at 7 feet tall is a presence inside, can be a third option at times.
Missouri's game plan will likely remain the same. The Tigers will pressure the ball and look to J.T. Tiller to shut down Wittman on the perimeter. Cornell will have to knock down open looks because they don't get to the foul stripe all that often and Missouri is good at avoiding foul trouble.
For the Big Red, the goal needs to be finding a way to disrupt the rhythm Missouri prefers. The Tigers showed in the Big 12 tournament that they can handle games that are grind-it-out affairs, but if they can't create enough turnovers or do a solid job on the offensive glass Cornell could prove pesky.