Blogger Spotlight: Inside Kansas-Missouri with Upon Further Review

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This weekend’s not just about the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. Well, at least not in the Kansas City area.

No. 2 Kansas travels to Columbia, Mo., Saturday for their annual second showdown with longtime rival Missouri. And there’s reason for Jayhawks fans to be concerned despite the Tigers’ recent woes in this rivalry.

Will Kansas lose focus after clinching a share of the Big 12 title on Wednesday? And how will it fare at a place where the Tigers are

For answers to those questions and more – like the greatness of statistics when measuring teams – I turned to Martin Manley for this week’s Blogger Spotlight. He writes about the Jayhawks, Tigers and Wildcats for Upon Further Review, a blog owned by the Kansas City Star.

Q: Kansas owns this rivalry lately. Is Bill Self’s system a bad matchup for Mike Anderson’s style, or are the Tigers on the verge of making this competitive again?   

A: I don’t think Self’s system or style of play is a variable in why KU is somewhat dominant. It mostly boils down to the fact that KU has superior players. Anderson’s style works extremely well against lesser quality teams because they can press them and create a lot of turnovers. That’s why they are usually at the top of the NCAA charts on opponents’ turnovers. But, good teams can manage that press.

Q: Do the fans care more about the rivalry than the players and coaches? That must drive Norm Stewart nuts.

A: I think the majority of fans care more than the coaches simply because part of the mindset of any coach is to try to avoid making one game more important than another. Every coach wants to keep his team mentally prepared at all times. Sure, they will give a little extra locker-room rah, rah when playing a major rival, but it’s really nothing compared to the intensity that fans have – especially in Kansas City – especially between Lawrence and Columbia, civil war and all.

Q: OK, aesthetics and sheer enjoyment : Which team’s more fun to watch?

A: In recent years, I have considered Mizzou to be more enjoyable to watch – just a lot more action. Self’s teams, on the other hand, are more disciplined and based upon setting up in the half court.

However, I have to say this particular season, KU is incredibly fun to watch – easily the most enjoyable of Self’s teams at Kansas. It’s not because they run a lot, but because the half court offense is the best I have ever seen in college – amazingly efficient. It reminds me of the 1980’s Celtics.

Q: You’re right about the offense. Kansas has so many offensive options – and underrated players on a national level such as Tyrel Reed – that this seems like the first year when the offense is overshadowing the always solid defense. (Though, I’d say the defense is far from its usual intimidating self.) Are you a believer that defense, not offense, wins titles? And will this year put that to the test?

A: I recently did a study on defense winning titles and there is no doubt that it does. Kansas always has a very good defense based upon points allowed per possession coupled with defensive FG%. Typically, it is their defense that wins most of the time. In 2011, it’s more their offense.

Q: Does Kansas give you some pause about their national title hopes then? Or is the offense that good?

A: You have to realize KU has been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 at some point in all but four seasons since 1991 and yet they have only won one title in that span. Of course, there are 340+ teams too.

The bottom line concern for Kansas fans is that they have had some very disappointing early exits from the tournament. Only the most optimistic would default to a national championship (2008) over an early exit (multiple). The superior offense gives reason for hope in 2011, but KU has had better defenses and still fallen way short. So, it’s pure guesswork.

Q: What’s with Missouri and its road woes? Should that be a warning sign for March Madness? 

A: Missouri’s style of play feeds off the fans. It’s 40 minutes of hell…ter skelter. The fans get involved and it helps MU and hurts their opponents. They don’t have that advantage on the road. Even so, the jury is out on neutral courts. They are 3-1 this year with their only loss being a last second collapse against Georgetown.

Q: A promising sign for the NCAA tournament then. Is Missouri’s ceiling going to depend on their seed, then? Or is this a team that’ll max out in the Sweet 16 regardless of seed?

A: I’m not a believer in seeds having much to do with any team’s ceilings. We talk a lot about who is seeded where and if they are too high or too low, but that always means one position at most. Suppose MU is a #8. Does it matter if they are a #9 instead… or a #7. I don’t think so. The advantage Mizzou has is that their style is unique and other teams don’t plan for it. That should help them no matter where they are seeded. On the other hand, their big disadvantage is that they don’t bang well and that can be important in the tournament.

Q: Kansas City loves its Chiefs. But when it comes to hoops would it be a Jayhawks backer or Tigers backer?  (And is K-State ever going to be on that level of fan interest?)

A: In Kansas City, there is a larger KU presence than MU, but not by a lot. K-State is third. I suppose the Cats could be on the Hawks or Tigers level of interest, but they would have to be very good at basketball to make it so. MU is the major school in the state, so people on the Missouri side are partial. Lawrence is very close to KC, so the Kansas side is heavily influenced by the Hawks.

Q: Upon Further Review isn’t afraid to whip out the stats. Do find you’ve cultivated an audience that expects this from you? Or do they still want some of the sports clichés?

A: As to Upon Further Review, all I can say is that I write about what interests me – and that means it’s going to be predicated upon statistical evidence the huge majority of the time. UFR is not about subjectivity and unsupported opinion. Just the opposite. Sports clichés, tweets, quotes, typical reporting are all unacceptable.

The only thing that matters to me, and the vast majority of UFR readers, is what can be quantified and what can be proven. Of course, even within those parameters, there is room for debate. If a person wants something else, there are 10,000 other places to go on the net, but there is only one UFR.

Q: Are there any college hoops misnomers or myths you find people cling to? And how long until advanced statistical analysis makes those myths go away?

A: I’ve dealt with a lot of “myths” on UFR over the years. There are still a lot of them that people cling to. One I’ve been dealing with recently is how even the media clings to the notion that whoever had the most points in a game “led the team to victory”. Almost nothing irritates me more than that.

I invented the Efficiency Rating (EFF) in 1985 – not to be confused with John Hollingers Efficiency Rating. The NBA adopted EFF a few years ago. It’s overwhelmingly more accurate in determining which player was the most valuable in a game than simple points scored. The media (mainstream) is too lazy to look beyond points, but someday, somewhere in another land far, far away… perhaps EFF will become commonplace. In baseball, stats like OPS are starting to become more widely known, so there is hope.

Q: How did you get into blogging and how does it fit into your “real” job?

A: I work for the Kansas City Star. I’m primarily responsible for statistical information in the paper. Newspapers are, as everyone knows, struggling. So, more and more emphasis has been put on kansascity.com – which is owned by The Star.

A few years back we began UFR as a place thinking people could congregate – a place removed from the “your team sucks” mentality that is so pervasive so many other places. Upon Further Review concentrates on the Kansas City area – primarily Chiefs, Royals, Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State.

However, there are quite a few stories on Big 12 football and basketball as well as NFL, MLB and NBA. I’m the primary contributor and do all the behind the scenes work, but we also have reader contributions that I post from time to time.

You can read more of Martin’s work by clicking here.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.