The Message From the Final Border War: KU and Mizzou Can Play With AnybodyPosted by dnspewak on February 27th, 2012
In the aftermath of Saturday’s epic finish between Missouri and Kansas, discussion in the mainstream media has focused on everything from the officiating to the drama of the Border War/SEC controversy. Out in the always-entertaining Twitter world, established analysts like Jay Bilas and Doug Gottlieb have criticized late-game foul calls tilted in Kansas’ favor, and just about every outlet has run a story begging the Jayhawks to continue the series despite Missouri’s departure from the Big 12.
It seems they’re talking about absolutely everything except for the actual basketball game. And, for the record, the actual basketball game was pretty darn appealing to the national college basketball audience. We can quibble about how Missouri blew a 19-point lead and we can argue about how vulnerable Kansas looked during that atrocious stretch at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second. Regardless of all that negativity, it was obvious from the opening tip that this was an even matchup between two elite teams. The first five minutes set the tone: Kansas and Missouri each threw a first punch, matching the other basket for basket. Mistakes were limited. Defense was top-notch on both ends. It was simply two terrific basketball teams playing as hard as possible in a game that mattered so much — for so many reasons.
By the time Kansas escaped with an 87-86 overtime victory, there should have been no doubt that both teams on the floor can win a national title in April. On the Jayhawks’ end, they proved that they are more than capable of limiting their turnovers and executing offensively like a classic Bill Self team. Tyshawn Taylor, the point guard who crumbled in the face of pressure at Mizzou Arena on February 4, redeemed himself with a flawless performance in Lawrence. Accuse Kansas all you want of being a two-man team, and Taylor and Thomas Robinson form a heck of a duo, but they’re actually not alone. Connor Teahan became a dangerous option on Saturday, emerging off the bench to make all four of his three-point attempts. The Jayhawks looked lost defensively for a bit, but Self’s team never wavered. Eventually, with the roar of the Allen Fieldhouse home crowd behind it, it was KU’s ability to get critical stops in critical moments that allowed it to escape with a comeback win.
On the Missouri side, we learned once again that Frank Haith‘s team can score with anybody. On a neutral court, there’s no reason they can’t beat Kentucky, Syracuse or anybody else for that matter. When they pass well and share the basketball, they’re virtually unstoppable on that end. That’s because Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon are as dynamic a point guard duo in college basketball. With 12 assists, Pressey changed the game when he stepped on the court Saturday. Marcus Denmon also showed again that he’s a big-time player in the final minutes. Despite the loss, he stepped up to make two gutsy shots in overtime and did not look intimidated at all by the grand stage. Ricardo Ratliffe was a bright spot too, refusing to back down against the size and talents of Robinson and Jeff Withey. He and Steve Moore held their own against one of the nation’s top frontcourts, and the entire team swarmed to the ball on the boards to outrebound Kansas by four.
One thing we did learn is that foul trouble may doom Missouri. The Tigers also broke down defensively in a lot of key situations, but their strengths outweigh their flaws. The same goes for Kansas, which also has similar depth issues and has struggled with turnover problems in its five losses. If the college basketball gods are listening, please pit these two teams on a neutral floor in Kansas City next week in the finals of the Big 12 Championship. Then, we’ll get a better idea of how powerful Missouri and Kansas can look on a neutral floor in a tournament setting.