Inside the Numbers: Missouri State Has a Tempo Problem

Anthony Downing could have been recognized for so much more this year. - Dave Weaver-USA TODAY Sports

Did Missouri State go from 3rd to 7th in the Missouri Valley because they played too slowly?

There is no Tempo Anonymous, but if there was, Missouri State would be on Step 1 of its 12-step recovery track. That is because the Bears had a definitive tempo issue during the 2012-13 season.

This is just the first of what will likely be several discoveries as we crunch through the numbers from the season that was. The Missouri Valley was the first stop on the Mid-Major Madness tour inside the data, and Missouri State gets to be the first poster child for what went wrong.

The Bears completed their second season under Paul Lusk as one of the 15 slowest teams in college basketball. Now that might not be an issue if your team can handle that kind of game. We see teams like Pittsburgh and Wisconsin excel at this every season by playing tough defense and winning with a strong inside presence run by smart point guards.

But Missouri State isn't that kind of team. They are small, even for the Missouri Valley, topping out with exactly one player over 6-7. And Anthony Downing was a good point guard, but all of the offense lived in the backcourt this season, with Marcus Marshall adding the rest of the firepower.

See, this isn't a team built to plod along. This is a team that was meant to play faster.

And the numbers bear this out, even if you just look back to the 2011-12 campaign. Two years ago, the Bears played slightly faster -- not average mind you, but closer to average than bottom 15. The team handled that much better, pulling together a balanced offense that gave them a fighting chance in the Valley.

Most of the value (as measured by HOOPWAR) was gone from that team this season, leaving a younger squad that no one expected to contend for much. But that doesn't mean they couldn't have been more effective. Downing gave them the perfect vehicle to use to turn up the tempo. After all, with one of the least experienced teams in the country, you are going to make mistakes. Turning up the tempo allows those mistakes to be smoothed over.

Missouri State didn't have the defensive efficiency to pull this slow speed off. They didn't score efficiently either. So why not take the chance to do something different. You don't even need a guard as good as Downing to do it. Look at what Florida Gulf Coast did with turnover-prone Brett Comer leading the charge.

It becomes even more clear how much value that Lusk left on the table when you delve into the HOOPWAR stats for the Bears this past season. As part of the calculation for HW30, we normalize every team to an average pace of play. That means that the Bears get a huge boost in terms of what they actually did on the floor (assuming they could have produced at the same rate in a faster offense).

Before adjusting, there were just four players giving positive value on the Bears: Downing, Marshall, Keith Pickens and seldom-used Ryan Carmichael.

After the adjustment, seven players -- six who got decent playing time, and Carmichael -- turned in positive value.

But it is also the size of the value that is important: a difference of almost 16 wins in value. That brings us to two conclusions. One, the Bears overachieved at their slow pace given the deficiencies on both offense and defense, and two, if they had pushed it a little more, this team could have flipped a number of games that went against them.

This may not have cured all ills. After all, this team was still undersized, and had some difficult foes on the schedule this season. Even if they had just turned in a middle of the road difference, maybe they could have grabbed three or four more wins and gotten close to a .500 team.

With that extra pace, what could have happened?

Well, possibly we would have seen what Anthony Downing was really worth for this team. As it was, he maybe was worth 4 wins to this team. But normalized, he turned in a 7.8 HW30 this season.

That isn't All-Conference honorable mention. That is first team quality.

He was the fourth most valuable player in the conference by the measure, behind Doug McDermott, Colt Ryan and Jackie Carmichael. That is a pretty good group to run in.

It is too bad that no one noticed given the Missouri State style of play.

Or what about Marcus Marshall, the Missouri Valley Freshman of the year, and one of the most valuable players returning in the conference next season. He scored a 4.5 HW30. That is the type of value from a first-year player that should be getting you seen on a national level, not just as the top frosh in the Valley.

Downing and Marshall probably deserved better this year, and it is the kind of thing that makes you scratch your head.

This coming season, Marshall and Pickens* will again lead a team that will be giving up a lot of size in the post. They will need to do something different to have a shot at competing with a strong Wichita State team and the climbing Northern Iowa and Indiana State.

The same methodology as this season won't work. The team just isn't built that way, and it can't keep leaving so much value unclaimed.

Someone might want to forward some of these numbers on to Lusk so that he can see for himself.

(Ed. Note: Pickens retired because of a recurring knee problem and will not return in 2013-4)

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