Coming into the season I thought Oklahoma be far and away the worst team in the Big 12. With a new coach and a lack of proven players, it seemed to be the easy choice.
Turns out, I could not have been more wrong. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State seem to be determined to battle it out for worst team honors, while Lon Kruger has the Sooners playing great basketball.
Junior guard Steven Pledger leads the entire conference in scoring, at almost 19 points a game. Forward combo Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald are both double-digit scorers, and lead the fourth best rebounding team in the country. Overall the Sooners average 77 points a game, which is more than enough to keep up with the high scoring Tigers.
The big question will be who on the Sooners can contain Phil Pressey. The Tigers’ super-quick guard is almost impossible to keep out of the lane, but the Sooners are one of the better defending teams in the league. It seems like the best way to defend Pressey is to give him space and tempt into shooting jumpers. Despite his remarkable ability to make plays, Pressey is still an average shooter, but often believes otherwise when left open. Contain Pressey, and Missouri becomes an easier team to defeat.
For the Tigers, tonight will be all about keeping things the same. Keep moving the ball, keep pushing the pace, keep scoring. Missouri is the best shooting team in the entire country at 51.7%. They are the second highest scoring team in the country at 86.2 points a night. With nearly 17 assists a night, they rank in the top 20. So the question is, can Missouri keep it up. Defense gets tougher in conference play, and it becomes harder to speed up the game, something that Mike Anderson found out quite a bit in his five years.
Expect Missouri to feed Ricardo Ratliffe early, which will keep the perimeter shot open. Ratliffe is one of the most efficient scorers in the country, making 76% of his field goal attempts. Marcus Denmon, the Tigers’ leading scorer, has been a bit off lately, shooting just 10-33 from the field his last three games. For Missouri to go where they want to go this conference season, Denmon has to be the National Player of the Year caliber player he was the first 10 games of the season.
After essentially playing flawlessly the first 11 games of the season, sophomore guard Phil Pressey has regressed at bit the last two games. His turnovers are up, his field goal attempts are up, and Missouri’s margin of victory is down. Pressey isn’t a good shooter, and needs to recognize that during the game. When he’s driving into the paint, it sets up all four of his teammates, and it also creates chances for Phil to get to the free throw line. There is no reason for Phil to lead the Tigers in scoring, not when he is surrounded by such good shooting teammates.
This is going to be a hard game for Missouri to win, but they should continue their unbeaten season. Mizzou Arena is a great advantage, and Oklahoma probably can’t stop Missouri enough. The Tigers are simply too deep and too good at shooting. The best way to beat Missouri is to limit their scoring, and play the game in the 60s. Oklahoma doesn’t really want to do that though, they prefer high scoring games, which plays right into Missouri’s hands. Missouri will start their final Big 12 season with a hard-fought win.
Missouri 85 Oklahoma 79