Big 12 Alley-Oops and Airballs: Week Ten

Posted by cwilliams on January 20th, 2012

Big 12 Alley-Oops and Airballs is a weekly article examining what’s hot and what’s not in Big 12 basketball.

A lot can change in ten weeks of basketball. Pundits who wrote off Missouri after the loss of forward Laurence Bowers are eating their crow. Texas A&M has gone from Big 12 championship contender to a conference bottom dweller, playing with the offensive ability of my 1998 YMCA team. And at the same time, many things haven’t changed. Kansas is still unstoppable at Allen Fieldhouse, Frank Martin is still fiery, and J’Covan Brown continues to score almost all of his team’s points. Hard to believe, but Selection Sunday is only seven weeks away.

Will the Tigers be Celebrating in Waco This Weekend? (Photo by Chris Lee / clee@post-dispatch.com)

Alley-Oops

  • A Fear of Phog’s: Monday night’s marquee matchup of Baylor at Kansas proved that no matter how the Jayhawks roster is shaped up, they will always be the favorite when playing in front of the raucous crowd of Allen Fieldhouse. The previously undefeated Baylor Bears were the latest team to learn this, as they fell 92-74 in front of a revved-up group of Jayhawk faithful. Kansas has not lost since the Davidson debacle in Kansas City, and looks to continue its eight-game winning streak this weekend in Austin.
  • Top 7 Heaven: Yes, I’m biased, but I truly believe the Big 12 is getting overlooked in the “best conference” discussion. The Big 12 has the most schools in the Top 10. In fact, they have three schools in the Top 7, with Missouri, Baylor and Kansas. All three teams have players on the Wooden Award finalists list (Marcus Denmon of Missouri, Perry Jones of Baylor, and Thomas Robinson from Kansas), and all appear to have the necessary utensils for a deep tournament run come March.
  • National Love: On Monday, A&M and Missouri squared off on ESPN in the late afternoon. Later that night, Kansas hosted Baylor in a highly anticipated matchup, one that had college basketball pundits examining it all weekend. Every source of media you go to, you’ll see the college basketball experts writing about Kansas, Missouri and Baylor. This weekend is another highly anticipated ESPN matchup, when #5 Missouri visits #3 Baylor. Heck, even A&M is getting love on ESPN, being mentioned as the 2011-12’s biggest disappointment. Too soon?

Airballs

  • Oklahoma State: While some folks are still saying it is not time to write off the Oklahoma State Cowboys, I’m going to go ahead and do so, especially after Saturday’s embarrassing 106-65 loss to Baylor. I don’t see the Cowboys finishing .500 in conference play.
  • Texas’ Postseason Streak: The Texas Longhorns, who haven’t been left out of the field of 64 65 68 since the 1997-98 season, are in jeopardy of not dancing. While I’m ready to give up on the Pokes from Stillwater, I think Texas still has an opportunity and the ability to continue their dance marathon. However, they will need to learn to not rely on J’Covan Brown so heavily, and if Myck Kabongo and the other burnt orange youngsters are going to mature their game this season, now is the time to do so.
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Night Line: Missouri Plays Through Adversity in Rebound Victory

Posted by EJacoby on January 12th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

If Missouri is going to be a serious contender by the end of this season, they’re going to need to win several games in the fashion that they did on Wednesday night. Playing with just five available players in the final minutes and with their leading scorer having an off night, the No. 9 Tigers still found a way to pull out a road win over streaking Iowa State in Ames. Mizzou was coming off a 16-point loss in Kansas State’s raucous arena in their last game, so defeating ISU under adverse conditions was huge for this team’s confidence. “We had a tough loss at Kansas State, and when we came back the next day in practice, the whole week we focused on being mentally tough,” said senior Matt Pressey, and that toughness is exactly what carried the Tigers to the 76-69 victory. While tougher challenges lie ahead, Missouri found out on Wednesday that they can win on the road even when things don’t go their way, a great sign going forward.

Matt Pressey Showed Big Time Toughness in Mizzou's Win Over Iowa State (AP Photo)

Everything went right for Missouri during non-conference play, to the point where many pundits thought they were playing better than anyone in the country. The Tigers were dominant in victories over Cal, Notre Dame, and Villanova, and also defeated Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game on way to a 13-0 start. But reality has quickly struck for Mizzou, who, in addition to getting spanked by K-State in its first conference road game, found out that freshman Kadeem Green requested to transfer out of the program. Though not a major contributor, Green was part of Frank Haith’s eight-man rotation as the third big man alongside star forward Ricardo Ratliffe and reserve Steve Moore that could bang inside and grab some boards (he averaged 3.4 rebounds in 10 games). Now, Haith plays just seven guys per night, only two of whom stand taller than 6’8”, so there will be plenty of times when the undersized Tigers have little margin for error against their opponents.

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Night Line: Missouri’s Unselfish Offense Leading the Tigers to Success

Posted by EJacoby on December 7th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanJacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games. [ed. note: Jacoby was in MSG last night, so this necessarily ran a little later.]

After defeating another quality opponent on Tuesday night, undefeated Missouri improved its already-impressive offensive numbers on the season. In the win over Villanova at the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden, the Tigers assisted on 23 of their 28 field goals, a tremendous rate, and also improved their assist average to 17 per game for the season (#13 nationally). Phil Pressey was the catalyst on both ends, recording 12 assists and three steals in just 24 minutes of action. Backup point guard Michael Dixon relieved him to the tune of seven assists and two steals in 25 minutes. While Pressey and Dixon don’t get the national publicity of some of the other big-name lead guards across the country, they are extremely valuable pieces to the nation’s leading offensive attack.

Phil Pressey Led the Tigers' Efficient Offense to a Win in MSG (US Presswire)

Missouri now ranks first in the nation in offensive efficiency (124.8) and points per possession (1.25), fueled by the unselfish play of their primary ballhandlers. Not only does Mizzou rack up assists at an impressive rate, but it also turnsthe ball over as infrequently as nearly any team in the country. They turn it over just under 10 times per game, good for the sixth fewest miscues in the nation. Add up these two factors, and it’s no surprise that the Tigers lead all of Division I with a 1.79 assist-to-turnover ratio. While it’s hard to envision this team keeping up its scorching shooting for the rest of the year, what won’t change is this team’s style of play. Tremendous ball movement and valuing possessions will put the Tigers in a position to score points against anyone.

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Night Line: Four Guard Attack is Working Wonders for Missouri

Posted by EJacoby on November 23rd, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanJacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

When forward Laurence Bowers suffered a season-ending ACL injury in an early practice this season, the preseason buzz surrounding Missouri was quieted a bit. Anytime a team loses its second-leading scorer, it’s a big blow, but Bowers was especially important because of his role as one of the few inside scoring threats on the team. He was also their leading returning rebounder and shot-blocker. But Frank Haith’s Tigers have adapted well to his injury, deciding to go with a four-guard starting lineup in order to get their most effective players on the court regardless of size. The result? Mizzou, under its new and somewhat embattled head coach, is now 5-0 while thrashing Notre Dame and California at the CBE Classic to the tune of 29- and 39-point wins, respectively.

Kim English

Guard Kim English is Excited About Missouri's Hot Start (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Saying that Missouri has been impressive through five games is a massive understatement. They just stomped on unbeaten No. 18 California, perhaps the best team in the Pac-12, by 39 points. No, that’s not a typo; thirty-nine points. How’d it happen? For this team, when it rains, it pours, and the Tigers have been liquid from the perimeter all year. Coming into tonight’s game, Mizzou had already been one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation, averaging 84 points per game while shooting 50% from the field. Those numbers will improve even more after the 92-53 beatdown they just gave to Cal. During the ESPN2 telecast, Dick Vitale noted that the Tigers truly love sharing the ball. There’s nothing that makes a guard-heavy attack run smoother than such a trait. If selfishness could slow the Missouri offense down, unselfish passing makes it go. And Missouri is in full ‘go’ mode early on this season.

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The Fabric of Their Lives: Part Three

Posted by cwilliams on October 17th, 2011

Today, we finish the uniform rankings of the Big 12, as we reveal #4, #3, #2, and #1. First, I want to touch on the most important feature of a college basketball uniform: uniqueness. The more unique the uniform is, the more it is that they will be talked about. However, introducing a unique uniform is high-risk and high-reward. UNC’s jersey is, in my mind, the best uniform in college basketball. It’s uniqueness with the argyle and phenomenal color scheme make it impossible to beat. On the contrary, teams like Oklahoma State or Marquette, whose attempts for uniqueness involve bright and obnoxious colors, are some of my least favorite jerseys. A strong uniform becomes an identity of your program, and a strong program should have a strong uniform.  So here goes… the top four.

#4. Missouri

Needs More Jersey Patches, I'd Say.

History: 7. Mizzou got new threads last year, but they simply modernized their jersey. No change was substantial, and their jerseys have remained true to their school colors of black and gold for decades.

Color Scheme: 9. Missouri’s black and gold has become one of the most recognizable color scheme in the world of college sports, up there with Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, and Notre Dame.

Script:4. Unfortunately, the script is the downfall of Missouri’s aesthetics. The text looks like a font from Cartoon Network, and does not induce fear or intimidation upon its opponents.

Final Score. 20

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Laurence Bowers’ ACL Injury: Missouri Speedbump or Roadblock?

Posted by cwilliams on October 11th, 2011

Missouri fans have had an interesting past week. Whether they are fans of the idea of jumping to the SEC or continuing their loyalty to the Big 12, the fans are anxious to see what their athletic department’s next move is. So, when they heard about forward Laurence Bowers‘ recent ACL injury, one that will sideline him for the entire 2011-12 season, their heightened level of anxiety only rose. Bowers, a dynamic frontcourt player who brought athleticism and leadership to the Tiger basketball team, will certainly be missed this season.

The Tigers Will Miss Bowers' Athleticism

Many pundits have picked the Tigers as strong contenders for this year’s Big 12 championship. Led by a senior class with three years of postseason experience, Missouri has been deemed a promising NCAA Tournament contender. Athlon’s College Basketball Preview ranked them #24 in their preseason projections; Lindy’s College Basketball Preview ranked the Tigers #21; Andy Katz ranked them #22 in his pre-season Top 25. With this injury to Bowers, however, those pundits are likely re-thinking those projections. Senior Steve Moore is expected to take Bowers’ spot in the starting lineup. He has developed into a solid role player, but lacks the athleticism and basketball IQ that Bowers possesses. With conference realignment rumors swirling and Frank Haith’s issue of possible infractions at Miami (FL), this season will be interesting enough for the Tigers. With Bowers’ injury, it seems the hits just keep coming.

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