Big 12 Weekend Primer: Kansas at Missouri

Posted by dnspewak on February 3rd, 2012

With College Gameday in the house, the Big 12 Conference lead on the line and a century-old rivalry nearing its end, the stakes could not possibly be any higher for Saturday night’s Border War showdown between Kansas and Missouri. It’s not just the league’s must-see game this weekend. It’s one of the most important regular-season games of the entire 2011-12 college basketball season, second maybe only to the rematch in Lawrence later this month. As for the rest of the league, Baylor must keep pace with a road game in Stillwater, while Kansas State will look to salvage its season when it hosts Texas A&M. 

GAME OF THE WEEKEND

  • #8 Kansas at #4 Missouri, Saturday, 8 PM CT (ESPN)
Years ago, Missouri earned a notorious reputation for knocking off Kansas in Columbia. In 1997, for example, the top-ranked Jayhawks left the Hearnes Center with a double-overtime loss, a game both programs will likely never forget. In recent years, though, KU has owned Missouri at Mizzou Arena, winning four of the last five contests — with the only loss came in 2009 on Zaire Taylor’s game-winning jumper in the waning seconds. That raises the anticipation for the 2012 version of the Border War, especially considering KU has vowed to discontinue the series because of MU leaving for the SEC. Since Wednesday, students have camped out for the best seats to College Gameday, making its first-ever trip to Columbia for a basketball game. It’s hard to count all of the storylines here, in fact. Both teams are ranked in the Top 10; KU leads Missouri by just one game in the Big 12 standings; they may never play at Mizzou Arena again; and, the entire nation will be watching to see the culmination of 100 years of rivalry.

Jeff Withey Could Be a Difference-Maker Against Missouri (KemperLesnik/B. Spurlock)

Expect some nerves in the first few minutes of the game. But once everyone settles down, this will be a terrific matchup between two teams with All-Big 12 talent at almost every position. We won’t see many substitutions — both Frank Haith and Bill Self play a very short rotation — but fatigue won’t be a factor in a game of this magnitude. For Missouri, it comes down to offensive execution, ball movement and a better defensive effort. Since earning a landmark win at Baylor two weeks ago, the Tigers have not played well in their last three games. First, they blew a late lead at Oklahoma State and allowed one of the league’s worst offensive teams to light them up. Then, last weekend, a poor shooting night kept Texas Tech in contention for much of the game, and on Wednesday, MU needed a game-winner from Michael Dixon to overcome yet another blown lead and a sluggish effort. Against the Longhorns, the Tigers’ lack of size became a major problem in the rebounding department.

That can’t happen against Kansas, who has one of the nation’s top players in forward Thomas Robinson. Missouri needs its entire team to shut him down, but that’s no  easy task. A National Player of the Year candidate, Robinson controls games by himself with his tenacity and rebounding. But if you’re going to accuse KU of being a one-man team, just stop right there. Tyshawn Taylor catches flack for his turnovers, but he’s played like an elite point guard all season. His matchup with Phil Pressey and Dixon could dictate this ballgame, as could Jeff Withey’s shot-blocking ability in the paint. Withey may not score much, but he can keep MU’s guards out of the lane and force them to jack up three-pointers. Haith’s team thrives when Marcus Denmon and the other guards can blow by defenders to get to the basket, so Withey’s presence may really come into play.The key individual matchup is… Ricardo Ratliffe vs. Thomas Robinson. Ratliffe is basically all Missouri has up front. Steve Moore is a contributor, but the Tigers cannot win without a solid effort from Ratliffe. Against Perry Jones and Baylor, Ratliffe dominated the matchup and led the Tigers to a road victory. But Robinson is even better than Jones or any of the Bears’ big men. He can score in a variety of ways: with his back to the basket, from the mid-range, or off an offensive putback. Physically, Ratliffe has the upper-body strength to handle Robinson, but the key here is to match his intensity. Ratliffe handled Baylor because he simply outplayed those guys. He has to feed off the energy of the home crowd and enjoy a productive night.

Kansas will win if… It dominates the boards and limits turnovers. The Jayhawks have an obvious size advantage. Missouri has actually handled that fairly well this season — exhibited by the Baylor game — but KU is different. Bill Self’s teams never back down from a challenge, and they always defend and rebound with as much energy as possible. The Jayhawks have to use their physical advantage to slow the Tigers and keep their speed from determining the outcome of the game. Also, in front of a rowdy crowd, KU has to take care of the basketball. Tyshawn Taylor’s leadership as a senior could make the difference here, as he will probably face the toughest road environment of his college career. With 15,061 screaming fans amped up for perhaps the biggest game in Border War history, Missouri’s disruptive defenders could cause a lot of problems.

Missouri will win if… It passes better and matches KU physically. You’ll often hear the Tigers described as “fun to watch.” That’s because when they play well, they pass the ball efficiently and play smart, unselfish basketball. During this rather poor three-game stretch, that offensive efficiency has faded. Players are doing their own thing, and the cohesion isn’t there anymore. Want to know why shots aren’t falling anymore? It’s not because the basketball gods have suddenly turned on the Tigers. It’s because the offense hasn’t played Frank Haith basketball the past few weeks. Get back to the basics and MU will be fine. And as far as physicality goes, Ratliffe and Moore have a lot to do with this. Those two cannot let big, bad Kansas intimidate this team. The Jayhawks have an edge in this series currently, but it’s up to those two to set the tone.

OTHER GAMES TO WATCH

  • Baylor at Oklahoma State, Saturday, 12:47 PM CT

The last time these two teams met, Baylor won by 41 points. The Bears can’t take OSU lightly in the rematch, though, especially since this same team beat Missouri in Stillwater. No, the Cowboys don’t have much to match Perry Jones, who has finally learned how to assert himself as an offensive player. And no, they don’t have the horses to handle Jones’ teammates in the frontcourt or Baylor’s overall team speed and strength. But they didn’t have the personnel to hang with Missouri, either. Right? That’s why this is a tricky game for Scott Drew. If Le’Bryan Nash finds his groove against and OSU defends at the level it has all season, this game could get interesting.

  • Texas A&M at Kansas State, Saturday, 3 PM CT

Once considered almost a lock for the NCAA Tournament, Kansas State is now fighting for its life. With two straight losses, the Wildcats sit at 4-5 in the Big 12 and can’t afford to drop anymore gimmes. The Aggies aren’t necessarily a “gimme” because they’ve played better lately, but this is not a game KSU should ever lose at home. A&M struggles so much offensively, and it’s hard to envision a scenario where it finds a way to win at Bramlage. Still, Billy Kennedy‘s team did not back down at Allen Fieldhouse a few weeks ago, so it’s not a slam dunk for Frank Martin here.

dnspewak (343 Posts)


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