Missouri’s Path to A Road Win in Border War FinalePosted by dnspewak on February 25th, 2012
We’ll remember this date: February 25, 2012. The day the Border War ended. The day Missouri and Kansas played their 267th and final game against each other. The day more than 100 years of hatred ended, the day the 2012 Big 12 Championship may be decided and the day that determined eternal bragging rights.
It’s a big day. The biggest ever at Allen Fieldhouse? That’s a tough call, according to coach Bill Self. From the Lawrence-Journal World:
“No, probably not,” Self said, asked if it was the biggest home game in his tenure at KU. “We’ve had other games where we had to win that game to win the league. In fans’ minds and our players’ minds since they beat us the first time when we felt we had them down the stretch, I believe it’s probably in everybody else’s minds, maybe other than the coaches’, the biggest game we’ve had.”
Define the game however you’d like. At the very least, it’s a top five matchup between two teams vying for a Big 12 regular-season championship at one of college basketball’s most historic venues. Yet just about everybody is writing the Tigers off at Allen Fieldhouse, perhaps for rational reasons. They haven’t won in Lawrence in 13 years — January 24, 1999, to be exact, when point guard Brian Grawer scored 18 points and the Tigers limited arch-enemy Ryan Robertson to 1-10 shooting. Unless you’re a Kansas or Missouri fan, you’ve either never heard of those players or faintly remember their names simply because you followed college basketball at the time. That’s how long its been since Missouri last won a road game against Kansas, and it will have a difficult time handling the energy of the home crowd in the Border War finale on Saturday.
Rightfully so, the Tigers are an underdog. But even after a discouraging effort at home in a loss to Kansas State earlier this week, it’s not as though Missouri needs some sort of miracle to win this game. Frank Haith‘s team is ranked in the top five for a reason, after all, and it already owns one win against the Jayhawks in Columbia after a late-game flurry. Who’s to say it can’t happen again?
The Tigers do not have much margin for error, but they’ve got a shot if they do the following:
- Don’t be afraid of Jeff Withey: With Jordan Henriquez manning the paint on Tuesday against Kansas State, the Tigers shied away from the seven-footer and jacked up ill-advised three-pointers. Along with porous defense, that’s what cost them the game: an 8-26 performance from beyond the arc as a team. We can’t simply explain that with the mysterious “one-of-those-nights” theories of cold shooting. That’s a cop out. Missouri lost because it executed poorly and took bad shots. Jeff Withey is even better than Henriquez from a shot-blocking standpoint, so it’s important for the Tigers to attack him immediately. Get him in foul trouble and make him work. He’ll get his fair share of blocks, but rushed three-pointers aren’t going to get the job done. Getting to the rim will.
- Good point guard play: Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon make this team go. Marcus Denmon may be the star with the capability to take over a game (just refer to the first meeting as an example), but the point guard tandem must keep this team focused and steady. The Tigers won earlier this month because Dixon and Pressey made better decisions than Tyshawn Taylor in the final three minutes of the game.
- Don’t fall behind early: If Kansas starts the game on a convincing run and gets this crowd going, things could get ugly in a hurry. That’s happened to a lot of teams over the years at Allen Fieldhouse, including Missouri. If the Tigers can match the Jayhawks energy and the intensity of the building, though, they are more than talented enough to pull off a victory. In Mike Anderson‘s first season in 2006-07, his undermanned team quieted the crowd by running efficient offense in the first half and nearly pulled off a monumental upset. On Saturday, we’re talking about the third-ranked team in the nation, not a team that eventually wound up missing the post-season. The first five minutes of the game are so important here for Missouri.
- Use Ricardo Ratliffe and keep him out of foul trouble: Again, Missouri has little room for error, especially with Ratliffe. It will already have trouble defending Thomas Robinson as it is, but if he’s on the bench, kiss this game goodbye. It’s key for the Tigers to get him involved early and let him go to work. Against Baylor in Waco, that was the recipe for a road win, and it’s the recipe here, too.
We’re not in the business of making predictions, but let’s hope for one heck of a matchup on Saturday. College basketball fans deserve to witness a historic moment in the game’s history. And make no mistake, Saturday is historic, no matter what anybody else says.