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.


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.

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-OU Preview

January 3, 2012

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

Missouri is Bragging for Third Straight Year

December 23, 2011

For the fourth time this season, Missouri faced their “first test” of the season. The first three times the Tigers were “tested” they won in such convincing fashion that the opposition was flat out dismissed as invalid. This time, that was not the case. This time, Missouri finally faced the test all the critics were waiting for, and they passed, beating Illinois 78-74 to move to 12-0.

It wasn’t the prettiest win in the world, and last 12 minutes of the game brought up plenty of concerns, but Missouri still won. They won a game where their two highest scorers, Marcus Denmon and Kim English, combined for 16 points. They won a game where they shot 44% from the field, eight percentage points below their season average. They won a game despite regressing back to the selfish offensive play that ruined them last season.

That last thing is, unfortunately, my big take away from last night. For the first time this season Missouri played a close game, and they responded in the way nobody wanted them to. The amazing ball movement and team work that has defined the season disappeared. It was replaced by contested shots early in the shot clock. Phil Pressey started forcing his shot, instead of looking for teammates. Despite getting the Illini in foul trouble early in the second half, the Tigers stopped attack and started jump shooting. The result was a 21-6 Illini run to turn a potential blowout into a hardcore basketball game.

The good news is, Missouri snapped out of their poor decision making in the final moments. Phil Pressey drove to the hoop in order to create for his teammates rather than look for a contested layup. The result was a sweet behind the back dump off to Ricardo Ratliffe. Another layup by Ratliffe, immediately after Illinois took a 70-69 lead, gave the Tigers the lead for good.

The play of the game, and the play that I’m sure is giving Illinois fans nightmares right now, came with about 30 seconds left. The Tigers were up four and had the ball. Rather than foul, Bruce Weber elected to let Phil Pressey dribble out the shot clock. The result was an easy driving layup for Pressey, and just 15 seconds for Illinois to score six points. It was the kind of super conservative coaching that Weber is known for, and it basically handed Missouri the win.

Missouri’s critics will point to the 21-6 run and offensive meltdown as evidence that Missouri is still the team they were last year. Missouri fans will say this proved the Tigers are ready for a big run in conference play, and that when it matters most, the team can get the baskets they need to win. Feel free to jump to your own conclusion.

Other notes

Steve Moore had his best effort of the season last night. The box score only gives a small picture. Moore was able to play 21 minutes of active defense, and made Ricardo Ratliffe’s early game foul trouble a non-issue. His emergence as a good defender and rebounder is as big a story as any for Missouri this year.

Marcus Denmon might catch some heat for not having a good game, but you won’t see that here. Denmon has been the best player against every major conference team Mizzou played this season. Won’t penalize a guy for having one off night, especially when the offense went away from him the whole second half.

Missouri is going on the road next week to play Old Dominion, then its on to conference play.

Ricardo Ratliffe Passes the Test

December 7, 2011

Last night the 10th ranked Missouri Tigers added another impressive win to their early season resume, taking down Villanova 81-71 at Madison Square Garden. While the Tigers had already passed their first “test” of the season in Kansas City, last night presented a new challenge for Mizzou, defending a legitimate big man.

With star forward, and defensive stud, Laurence Bowers out for the season, the big man duties fall squarely on the shoulders of senior Ricardo Ratliffe. Mouphataou Yarou has been enjoying a breakout season for Villanova, averaging almost 16 points and eight rebounds a game. He was expected to be the difference maker for the Wildcats yesterday, as it is generally perceived that interior defense is the Tigers’ greatest weakness.

Instead, Yarou wasn’t the difference maker at all, Ratliffe was. Not only did Ratliffe do an excellent job of defending Yarou, he dominated on the offensive end as well. In 33 minutes (a season high), Ratliffe scored 17 points on 8-8 shooting, and added 11 rebounds (five offensive). He held Yarou to just 11 points, and limited him to just seven shots on the night, all without getting into the foul trouble that has plagued him throughout his time at Missouri.

Yarou had trouble all night getting good position down low. Often getting the ball far outside of the paint, or near the top of the key. Positioning is half the battle (as Ratliffe showed on the other end, he practically lived under the basket all night) and Yarou struggled to get the advantage. Same can be said for rebounding, Ratliffe stayed active on the glass and boxed out Yarou effectively. Good rebounding has always been Mizzou’s biggest problem, but last night, against a good rebounding opponent, it wasn’t. Credit Ratliffe.

Games like last night are exactly what Missouri needs from Ratliffe all season long, especially in Big 12 play. He showed he can defend a high level big man without spending most of the night on the bench. He controlled the glass, and kept a number of Missouri possessions alive. Offensively he was efficient, and he will have a chance to continue that all season, thanks to Phil Pressey and Marcus Denmon getting him open looks.

Missouri is going to be a major factor in the Big 12 this year, and their guards will win them a lot of games. To beat Baylor and Kansas though, Missouri needs inside play. Last night Ratliffe showed that he is capable of providing that, and then some. Perry Jones and Quincy Acy are a different animal than Mouphtaou Yarou, but its good to know Missouri has a big man capable of keeping up with the big boys.

Other Notes from last night

Phil Pressey’s shot comes and goes, but his passing and defense don’t. There will be some games during conference play where he won’t miss much, which should really scare the opposition.

Marcus Denmon is legitimately a first team All-American right now. He’s an elite scorer, great shooter, but also a really good rebounder. Not sure he ends up on the first team at the end of the year, but if he keeps playing like this, he’ll deserve to.

Missouri was able to beat a high major team, essentially on the road, despite most of the team shooting the ball poorly. Encouraging sign.

Missouri’s next game is Friday night against Navy.

Mizzou-Villanova: Mini-Preview

December 6, 2011

For the first time this season, the tenth ranked Missouri Tigers will be traveling outside the state of Missouri. The Tigers, and their undefeated record, are traveling to New York to face the Villanova Wildcats at Madison Square Garden.

Three things to watch:

1. Mouphtaou Yarou vs. Ricardo Ratliffe

Yarou is by far the best big man the Tigers have faced so far this season, giving us the first real chance to see how an inside presence disrupts Mizzou. Yarou is averaging 16 points a game on 57% shooting. He’s also a solid rebounder, at over eight a game, and has stayed out of foul trouble all season long. Expect the Wildcats to feed him the ball early and often, especially since Missouri’s big men tend to get into foul trouble.

Ratliffe has been solid for Mizzou overall this season, but also hasn’t faced a quality big man. Despite that, he’s spent most of the season in foul trouble, which has limited him to just 22 minutes a game. Missouri needs Ratliffe in the game, both to defend and score. Tonight’s matchup with Yarou will be an excellent test of Ratliffe’s ability to defend a good big man without spending most of the game on the bench.

2. Guards on guards on guards

Outside of Ratliffe and Yarou, this game is going to be guard oriented. Missouri obviously has one of the best collection of guards in the county, but Villanova has a strong group themselves. Maalik Wayns (does anybody on Villanova have an easily spell-able name?) is the best player for Villanova, averaging nearly 19 points a game. He’s not a great shooter, but is quite adept at getting to the foul line, and is shooting 90% from there this season. Dominic Cheek is a bigger guard, with an inconsistent shot, but another guy who scores a lot at the foul line (see a pattern here?). James Bell is the third guard for the Wildcats, and he’s the best three-point shooter (at least percentage wise) of the three.

Defense has been a big problem for the Villanova guards this year, not a good thing when the opponent is sixth in the country in scoring. Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon’s speed destroys teams that cannot guard them, which is exactly what happened two weeks ago in Kansas City. If Marcus Denmon and Kim English spend the night wide open, then it probably won’t matter how many fouls Ricardo Ratliffe commits.

3. Pace

Missouri obviously wants to play this game in the open court. While they have been ruthlessly efficient in the half court all season, a return to the 40 minutes of hell pace is the way to go tonight. Villanova will want to play slower, feed the ball inside, and attack off the dribble. The higher the score in the game gets, the larger advantage Missouri has. A game in the high 60s or low 70s probably goes Villanova’s way. Any higher than that, and Mizzou will win rather easily.

Prediction: Villanova attacks inside, but simply cannot keep up with Mizzou’s guards. The Tigers pull away late in the second half, and win 84-75.