Missouri hangs on to beat Texas

January 31, 2012

Missouri beats Texas, 67-66

Missouri-Texas lived up to its prestigious billing as the Big 12’s Basketball Blog’s “Game of the Week.” But all joking aside, the Tigers and Longhorns gave the country a good show tonight.

First off, you really have to feel for Texas. In the past 5 games they’ve played Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri close but only have a win against Iowa State to show for their work. Such is the life of a young team in a good league I suppose. But that win over the Cyclones is starting to look like a good one.

Texas should still be encouraged. They’ve only got one game left on the schedule that would take the planets aligning to win: at Kansas. The other eight games are certainly winnable, with two games each against Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Also, Julien Lewis is turning into a solid two-way player, though he’ll need to improve his efficiency as he goes forward (35 percent FG, 32 percent 3FG on the year). You would like to have seen Myck Kabongo have more of an impact on the game (1 assist/3 turnovers) but Missouri’s guards do play good ball-pressure defense.

As for the Tigers, it looked for awhile late in the second half like they were following the same script from last week’s game against Oklahoma State: tight first half, surge out to a sizable second half lead, watch the lead shrink late as other team’s star player takes over, lose. That all happened, except for the lose part.

Missouri did get stagnant as they tried to run out the clock but there is a fine line to balance between milking clock and losing your offensive flow. There really is no right decision in that scenario. The potential turning point was Mike Dixon’s clear 2-shot-and-the-ball foul on Lewis. Why Kim English gave him the ball so quickly after Dixon had crossed halfcourt is a mystery. It pinned Dixon down and put him in a tough position.

But Dixon came back and made the go-ahead shot, and with Marcus Denmon struggling from the field (14-43 last three games), he’s probably the right man to take that shot. He’s fearless and seemingly plays with a lot of confidence. And especially so when he is near perfect from the field.

We are also finding out that Frank Haith is a good in-game coach, which is something you couldn’t always say for the stubborn Mike Anderson. It some cajones to pull out a zone for Texas’ final possession, and it certainly looked like it confused the Longhorns. Kabongo, however, eventually got a good look with a eight of nine foot runner, and I was surprised that he missed it.

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Big 12 weekday preview

January 30, 2012

Monday: Missouri @ Texas, 8 p.m. CST (ESPN)

Tuesday: Kansas State @ Iowa State, 8 p.m. CST (ESPN3); Oklahoma State @ Texas Tech, 7 p.m. CST (ESPN3)

Wednesday: Oklahoma @ Kansas, 8 p.m. CST (ESPNU); Baylor @ Texas A&M, 8 p.m. CST (ESPN2)

(Presumptive) Game of the Week: Missouri @ Texas

The weight of that #2 ranking seemed like it was just a bit too heavy for the Tigers to handle. Luckily for them, they avoided an absolutely catastrophic week by beating a game Texas Tech team on Saturday. The Tigers are still a very good team, but this will be another tough road game.

I don’t see the Tigers struggling in Austin simply because they lost at Oklahoma State. Missouri was in control of that game until the last few minutes. The Longhorns have a good chance in this game because they found something against the Tigers in the second half of their first game, winning it 43-41. And since then they’ve played K-State, Kansas and Baylor close. They haven’t given up as the losses have mounted. Rick Barnes’ young team is bound to break through sooner or later.

(Presumptive) Game of the Week, Part II: Kansas State @ Iowa State

I know I am kind of cheating by throwing two “games of the week” up here, but I just couldn’t resist. Hilton Magic is back right? Maybe, but this game screams of the “psychology of the schedule” idea that Fran Fraschilla talks about. Iowa State is way up and Kansas State is down after a disappointing home loss to Oklahoma.

In a match up between Fred Hoiberg keeping his team focused and Frank Martin sparking his team out of urgency, I’ll go with Martin. Nothing against Hoiberg, I just think that Frank Martin stare is pretty hard to top. And the Mayor looks like such a nice guy.

Under the Radar Game: Oklahoma State @ Texas Tech

The Cowboys got their moment in the sun with the big win against Missouri and its then-#2 ranking. They then showed up flat in College Station and lost last weekend. But despite the up-and-down week they are certainly more talented than Texas Tech and you’d think they’d have their way in Lubbock.

But this may be Tech’s best shot a conference win this season. And though they didn’t beat Missouri this weekend, they frustrated one of the better teams in the country to the point that they were  within striking distance in final minutes. You might say, “okay, so what?” Well the way Tech’s season has gone that is something. Billy Gillepsie should be able to get enough out of the Red Raiders to pick up a win here.

Jordan Tolbert had his best game in conference play against Kansas State last week but was hit with foul trouble against Missouri. His second-highest scoring output during conference came against the Cowboys, so he may be ready to have a big game.


OU wins in Manhattan, shocker

January 29, 2012

Oklahoma’s 63-60 win at Kansas State flew under the Big 12 radar yesterday. That tends to happen when Kansas loses a conference game, because it seems that, well, Kansas never loses a conference game.

Lon has "1" now: One win over a ranked team at OU.

But I’d go out on a limb and say that Sooners win in Manhattan was the most surprising of yesterday’s result. The Kansas loss wasn’t totally unexpected: you knew Hilton would be jazzed up, the Cyclones had played the Jayhawks tough in Lawrence, and when crunch time came Royce White could exchange blows with Thomas Robinson.

Texas giving Baylor a run for its money in Waco wasn’t a shocker either because the Longhorns had been playing better as of late even if they were getting wins. And Missouri not blowing away Texas Tech at home raised an eyebrow, but it seems the Tigers may have hit a bit of a cold patch. The way they were shooting all season that isn’t totally unexpected.

The Sooners gave the Wildcats their second home loss of the year, and in the process picked up the first win over a ranked opponent in the Lon Kruger era. Steven Pledger (3o points, 11-17 FG) gave one of those super-human performances you generally need to beat a good team on the road. And he especially needed to play like that because K-State did a good job limiting Andrew Fitzgerald (3 points, 1-7 FG).

It’s odd to see a K-State Frank Martin team lose at home, but especially to see that in a game that should have been a “taking care of business” affair, and especially when they need to keep piling up wins to really feel secure about a NCAA bid. They are probably still safe right now but they certainly can’t afford any more slip ups. And I’m sure Martin will make that crystal clear in his own special way over the next few days.

The Wildcats still have trips to Columbia, Waco and Austin on their schedule as well as a home game with Kansas. That’s definitely no picnic.

As for the Sooners, I am sure Kruger is pleased his team was able to pick up at least one win in a brutal 5-game stretch against the conference’s five best teams. After playing Baylor and K-State, they’ll now head to Kansas and then get Iowa State and Missouri at home.

If they complete a state of Kansas sweep then I will be floored and declare Kruger the “Kansas killer.” But Iowa State could be a winnable game at home, and a 2-3 mark in that stretch would be an encouraging thing.

 


Big 12 Weekend Report

January 23, 2012

Now three weeks in, the Big 12 picture is starting to really clear up. Kansas, Missouri, and Baylor appear to be head and shoulders above the rest of the conference. K-State and Iowa State look to be in position to make the NCAA tournament. Texas could make a run too, if they continue to mature and improve.

Winners of the Weekend

Missouri: The Tigers made the biggest statement of the Big 12 season Saturday, beating Baylor 89-88 in Waco. While the score was shocking enough, the way Missouri won was the story. They out-rebounded a team that had a massive size advantage. They ran the offense through Ricardo Ratliffe, who was finally able to stay on the court and out of foul trouble. Missouri survived a somewhat off-day from Marcus Denmon because of Ricardo, and it is no somewhat conceivable that Mizzou can win games where they aren’t shooting lights out from three.

Kansas: It looked like the Jayhawks were going to suffer their first conference loss on Saturday, but they were able to pull out a close win against Texas. The Jayhawks don’t have too many potential losses left on the schedule. 15-3 or 16-2 in conference play is a real possibility.

Losers of the Weekend

Scott Drew: Baylor had a real tough week, and while they ultimately may end up with a dream season, they have some work to do. It starts with the coach, who doesn’t seem to know his team’s defensive identity. Both games this week Drew started out in zone defense, switched to man when the zone got beat, only to have his team exposed for not practicing man defense enough. Given the athletic ability of Baylor, there is no reason for them to not be a solid defensive team capable of playing man defense. That all falls on Scott Drew.

Perry Jones: Eight points against an undersized Missouri team. Jones drifted in and out of the action, and once again preferred the jump shot over drives to the hoop.

Texas: Couldn’t finish off a win against Kansas at home. Missed some shots in the final minute to put the game away. Going to be an uphill battle to make the NCAA tournament this year.

Other thoughts

Kansas State got a much-needed win against Oklahoma State, thanks in part of a 49-27 advantage on the boards. The Wildcats probably can’t win the conference this season, but they are in solid position for a five or six seed in the tournament.

Iowa State continues to chug along, under the radar. They need to get a signature win or two (beating Kansas at home for example) to firm up their resume, but it looks like the Cyclones are in position to sneak into the tournament.

Oklahoma State continues to fall, and Travis Ford will be lucky to survive the season. Le’Bryan Nash looks lost and useless. They have a hard time generating easy offense, and aren’t playing the super-tight defense they were in non-conference play.

Finally, the new rankings are out. Missouri is the top ranked team in the conference, checking in at #2 in both polls. Kansas is #5, Baylor is #6, and Kansas State is #22. Baylor is #7 in the coaches poll.


Baylor’s Undefeated Season Ends in Kansas

January 17, 2012

As we get deeper into the Big 12 season, one thing has become clear, it helps to be at home. It also helps to have Thomas Robinson. Kansas ended Baylor’s undefeated season in impressive fashion, using Robinson and the home crowd to win 92-74.

Robinson scored 27 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and spent most of the night frustrating a very good group of Baylor big men. He was helped on the outside by Tyshawn Taylor, who despite still having five turnovers, generally controlled the game. He finished with 28 points, including 4-6 shooting from three, and six assists. It was the kind of game Kansas needed from their point guard in order to beat the Bears.

Kansas got off to a hot start thanks to Baylor playing a weak zone defense. Robinson was able to do whatever he wanted inside, and didn’t show signs of being stoppable until Scott Drew finally switched to man defense. Switching to man helped Baylor get back into the game, and even take the lead for a few minutes. Bill Self responded by tightening up his defense, tempting Baylor’s big men into taking outside shots, and eventually Kansas pulled away.

This game is not at all a knock against Baylor though. Nothing I thought about them has changed based on last night. They are still a great team, they will still win a ton of games, they are still held back by their coach. Perry Jones is an incredible talent, though at times he seems to be hesitant to really bang inside. The same can be said for Quincy Miller, though he is at least more of a small forward than Jones. Still, the two of them combined for nine three point field goal attempts, which is too many.

Scott Drew will have to work on cleaning up his offense, and perhaps spend some time coaching man to man defense. His roster is stacked with guys that have defensive talent, he just needs to use it. He can play zone against Missouri on Saturday, but if the Tigers are shooting lights out from three, it will be another long day for the Bears.

For Kansas, there were things to be learned. Taylor’s continued development into a leader is crucial for the rest of the season. He’s been really good recently, not just as a player, but as a leader. He makes Kansas go from a one man show, to a legitimate threat to make the Final Four.

The play of Jeff Withey cannot go without mention either. He’s about as solid a defensive center as there is in college right now. His presence at the rim was part of the reason the Baylor big men were drifting outside all night, and his work on the offensive glass is stellar. He keeps possessions alive, which helps cover for the Jayhawks streaky shooting. His NBA future is questionable, but he is a great college center.

Kansas moves on to play at Texas this Saturday. Baylor goes home and will face Missouri.

Just remember, and this is important for fans of both teams, NCAA Tournament games are not played in Lawrence


Mizzou bounces back with win in Ames

January 12, 2012

For about 30-35 minutes it sure looked like it was Iowa State’s night. The Cyclones were hot from the three-point line, Royce White was asserting himself and they even got a half-court heave to go down. And what a statement it would be.

After intra-state losses to Drake and Northern Iowa early in the season, the Cyclones could begin conference play 3-0 with a win over a team ranked in the top ten. But it was not to be. Missouri stretched the lead just out of Iowa State’s grasp within the last six or so minutes of the game, and ran disciplined offensive sets to keep it there.

Iowa State used a lot of NBA-style isolation with White and good three-point shooting (12-23) to test the Tigers. This is a formula that should win quite a few games for the Cyclones, especially at home. But Missouri’s scoring depth and balance really shone tonight. Marcus Denmon was shut down (6 points) but the Tigers still had six players in double figures.

White had a stretch where he was easily getting to the basket in isolation, but Missouri started running a guard at him at the top of the key. After White mishandled it once Hoiberg seemed to go away from it. White was also in foul trouble so constantly having him run at guys was dangerous. But there are few players in the conference that can defend that, and Hoiberg can always go back to that look if the Cyclone offense is stagnant.

Steve Moore put in a nice effort and helped the Tigers not get demolished on the glass like they did against Kansas State. Missouri outrebounded Iowa State 36-25, but that isn’t too much of a surprise considering the matchup.

Ricardo Ratliffe’s efficient, reliable post-game (12 points on 6-8 shooting) is something that can really set Missouri apart as the season goes on. He’ll never dominate a game, but it seems if the Tigers can get him the ball in a decent spot near the paint, he’ll find a good shot. Kim English also had a couple of 15-footers while rolling off screens, which isn’t something he’s been great at in his career. That could also be a nice weapon for Frank Haith.

As for Iowa State, their future for this season certainly looks good. Assuming they win the gams they are supposed to, all they’ll need is a win over Kansas, Baylor or Kansas State to really feel good about their NCAA chances. I have a feeling they’ll get one of those teams at Hilton. Oh the beauty of the complete round robin.

Chris Babb did a great job on Denmon tonight, and with his size and athleticism Iowa State has a guy that can frustrate any opposing wing. And then there is White, who might be the singularly most dominant player in the conference behind Thomas Robinson. However, you almost wonder if teams should start to use a hack-a-Royce strategy. He was 2-8 from the line in this game and has gone 12-29 in Big 12 play.

 


Missouri looks to bounce back, I-State to keep building

January 11, 2012

The Tigers found out they weren’t invincible on Saturday by getting thrashed at Kansas State. The loss wasn’t a hard one to see coming, considering Missouri has historically laid eggs in Manhattan and struggled just a week before in their first true road game against Old Dominion. 

Image

Will we see Hilton magic tonight? Image courtesy iowacyclonefantickets.com.

Missouri isn’t as dominating as it looked against California, but it also isn’t as bad as it looked Saturday. The Tigers, however, will have tough time bouncing back against Iowa State tonight. The Cyclones will be bringing a ton of confidence into tonight’s game as they are off to a great conference start with wins over Texas and Texas A&M. 

Texas may be a bit down and A&M has been disappointing, but there is still something to be said for beating two teams that have been good in recent years, especially when you haven’t. Iowa State doesn’t match up as well against Missouri as it doesn’t have the abundance of size Kansas State did. Royce White (6-8) and Melvin Ejim (6-6) see the majority of the minutes in the front court. I’d expect Percy Gibson (6-9) and Anthony Booker (6-9), who both average 11 minutes a game, to exceed that average tonight.

This isn’t exactly going out on a limb, but White could do a lot of damage in this game, especially if Ricardo Ratliffe gets into early foul trouble. That has been and will continue to be the theme with Missouri, but it becomes that much more important when the other team’s best forward is as good as White. White has done a decent job at getting to the line this year (6.6 free throw attempts per game) and should be banging up against Ratliffe early trying to draw those fouls. 

This will also be a game the Tigers will very much miss Laurence Bowers. White is an especially athletic big, and it’ll be tough for the plodding Ratliffe and Moore to keep up with him on the perimeter. 

For Missouri to do well it will need to be patient and get some easy looks early, and not revert back to their contested-three safety blanket. Iowa State’s guards have done a good job not turning the ball over this year, so it is unlikely the Tigers will get the easy transition baskets they’ve thrived off of this year. If they get off to a cold start it will spur the crowd and the Tigers will find themselves in a hole like they did in Manhattan.  

That being said, the Tigers will undoubtedly still throw up a lot of three’s, whether they are good shots or not. The game should be filled with three’s, as Chris Babb, Marcus Denmon, Chris Allen and Kim English are in the conference’s top ten in three-point attempts. That doesn’t even include Scott Christopherson or Mike Dixon.

Prediction: I’ve been going back and forth on who I think will win this game, and the flip-flopping deals with Missouri’s seniors. Part of me thinks that their road struggles from the last few years haven’t disappeared and they’ll continue tonight. But another partthinks that because they’ve been around, the Tiger seniors can change that tonight. 

White may be the best player the Tigers have faced this season, and it’s great news for Iowa State matchup-wise that he is 6-9. I think that Missouri will again find itself in a big hole, through a combination rushed shots and mounting frustration. I think they’ll fight back and make a run, as they did against Kansas State, and that Iowa State won’t be able to re-stretch the lead. But I don’t think the Tigers will have enough, and it’ll be a close loss for Missouri. Let’s say 66-62 in favor of Iowa State