Big 12 Key Questions: NCAA Tournament

Posted by dnspewak on March 14th, 2012

Despite hiding relatively under the radar for most of the regular season, 60% of the Big 12 will represent the league in the NCAA Tournament this week. Texas was the last team to cement its at-large bid, knocking off Iowa State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament to secure an 11 seed. Here’s a team-by-team look at the burning questions this weekend (apologies in advance for that Jim Rome reference):

Missouri

Will its lack of size eventually be its downfall? The Tigers have proven this season that they are capable of overcoming a thin frontcourt. If it was really such an issue, they would not have won a Big 12 Tournament title and finished with 30 victories. Still, when Frank Haith‘s team runs into a team with dominant bigs, it will simply have less room for error. A foul-ridden game by either Ricardo Ratliffe or Steve Moore could end Missouri’s season.

Can Frank Haith Continue To Highlight Missouri's Strengths & Hide Its Weaknesses?

Kansas

Will it overlook Detroit? Hard to say. The idea of “overlooking” anyone in the NCAA Tournament is a little trite, but the Jayhawks actually did draw a scary matchup in this instance. Nobody’s going to doubt Bill Self with all of his Big 12 titles and a national title to his name, but you have to take the good with the bad. He has suffered four fairly enormous upsets during his tenure: Bucknell (2005) Bradley (2006), Northern Iowa (2010), and VCU (2011). Will the trend continue? Probably not, but Detroit is a team that has high-major talent and underachieved in the regular season. Remember, they were a trendy pick to win the Horizon over the two-time national runner-ups.

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Insider’s Practice Report: Missouri

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage from the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak

The second they took the floor at the Sprint Center this afternoon, the Missouri Tigers started talking. And they didn’t stop talking until their 40-minute practice window ended. “Let’s be crisp this whole time,” Kim English told his teammates at the very beginning. “No mistakes.” With a top seed in the NCAA Tournament on the line this weekend and a potential Border War finale with Kansas on Saturday, the Tigers can’t afford to lose focus. They vocally encouraged each other and practiced with great tempo, completing each drill with a purpose and running from spot to spot with a hop in their steps.

Ever The Comedians, Missouri Joked Its Way Through Practice

Of course, whenever they caught a free moment, the Tigers became comedians. As Marcus Denmon worked on throwing a hail mary/long release pass off an inbounds play at the baseline, he likened himself to Peyton Manning. English started singing. Michael Dixon pretended to shoot a game-winning three with nobody covering him, and assistant Tim Fuller caught slack for throwing a terrible pass in a drill. Frank Haith actually had to use a few choice words at one point to settle his team down, and he urged them not to take this Big 12 Tournament for granted. “I emphasize this to the guys all the time: some players have unlaced their shoes for good already,” Haith said after practice. “The Big 12 Championship is a priority.”

The practice only reached moderate intensity in the final few minutes, when Haith ran a defensive shell drill. Listen to the communication by each defender:

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Big 12 Morning Five: Leap Day Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 29th, 2012

  1. Before the season began, Iowa State was one of the Big 12’s most intriguing cases. After a losing season, coach Fred Hoiberg banked on four transfers to lead him to the promised land. It worked. The Cyclones are all but headed to the NCAA Tournament now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still an underdog. Royce White, a major part of Team Transfer this year, say it’s a role the team enjoys playing. That’s a good thing, especially since ISU will visit Missouri on an emotional Senior Day tonight.
  2. Hoiberg isn’t the only coach not afraid to take transfers. His opponent tonight, Frank Haith, has a Team Transfer of his own set to become eligible for the 2012-13 season. Of course, I wrote about this very topic a few months ago, and it’s interesting to revisit. In terms of “The Transfer Effect,” Iowa State has clearly reaped the benefits of Division I transfers. Maybe it will work for Haith, too. We’ll just have to find out.
  3. In addition to several transfers, MU will also welcome back Laurence Bowers to its frontcourt next season. Unfortunately, that’s because he’s sitting out this season with a knee injury. The forward will now watch his fellow senior class compete at Mizzou Arena for the last time tonight, and it has to be difficult to watch his graduating class move on without him. He says the ride this year has been somewhat bittersweet, only because he cannot compete against Big 12 foes with seniors Kim English, Marcus Denmon, Steve Moore and the rest of the team.
  4. Sick of Iowa State/Missouri talk? So are we. With a disappointing Big 12 season winding down, Oklahoma fans may be looking to next season– and Amath M’Baye in particular. His teammates and coaches love him, and they say he’ll make a major impact when he becomes eligible next season after transferring from Wyoming. M’Baye, who averaged double figures with the Cowboys, seems to be able to do just about everything on a basketball court. With the bulk of a young team returning next year, M’Baye may be the missing piece for Lon Kruger.
  5. Here’s an interesting nugget: Apparently Kansas and Nebraska have been in very preliminary talks to start up a non-conference game in the near future. Scroll down to the bottom of this article to learn a little more. It sounds like the two sides had simply talked casually about the possibility, and it’s not going to happen as of right now. Still, considering KU’s refusal to play Missouri because it left the Big 12, it’s odd to read that the school still considered playing the Cornhuskers of the Big Ten.
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The Message From the Final Border War: KU and Mizzou Can Play With Anybody

Posted 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.

Thomas Robinson Certainly Looked Like the Player of the Year on Saturday (photo by AP)

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.

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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.
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Big 12 Weekend Primer

Posted by dnspewak on January 21st, 2012

For the second time in less than a week, all eyes will be on the Big 12. Missouri and Baylor, both ranked in the top-five, will square off in Waco on Saturday afternoon in college basketball’s prime matchup. Elsewhere, Oklahoma will look to win its third straight game as it heads to College Station, while Kansas will renew its rivalry with Texas in Austin.

GAME OF THE WEEKEND

  • Missouri at Baylor, Saturday, 1:05 p.m. CT (ESPN)

Baylor Will Look to Celebrate Again When it Hosts Missouri(AP/C. Riedel)

The Ferrell Center will host two top five opponents for the first time on Saturday, and it’s not a stretch to say this may be the most important home game in Baylor history. Now in his ninth season, it’s amazing that Scott Drew has built a program prestigious enough to play a game with this kind of national attention. His Bears have not lost at home this season, and Missouri’s only loss came on the road at Kansas State. The Tigers quieted the critics a bit by winning at Iowa State, but they did not look comfortable in Manhattan and fell out of contention in that game immediately. Kansas State’s physical bigs held Ricardo Ratliffe to just one field goal attempt, forcing him into foul trouble and taking him out of the game entirely. And here’s the bad news for Missouri: The Bears’ big men are even more athletically intimidating. Ratliffe and Steve Moore are the only two scholarship forwards on this Missouri roster, but they’ll have to somehow deal with Perry Jones, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy, not to mention players like Cory Jefferson and Anthony Jones off the bench. If you’re counting, that’s five players taller than 6’7”, and most of them can dunk like they’re playing with a Fisher Price basket. The Tigers simply cannot compete with that kind of size. Perhaps we’ll see a lot of 2-3 zone out of Frank Haith, something he’s not opposed to doing. In fact, Missouri has zoned opponents on many occasions this season, and it’s been effective at times. The problem is, Baylor has the guards this year to deal with any kind of defense. Brady Heslip can burn teams who pay too much attention to the paint, and Pierre Jackson has changed the entire dynamic of this team with his ballhandling, penetration and passing skills. If Heslip can knock down some shots and Baylor dominates the paint, this game could be over by halftime. However, the Bears have trouble holding on to the ball sometimes, and they also did not play very well defensively in a loss to Kansas on Monday. Also, while Missouri may not have played very well in Manhattan, Waco is hardly the same environment. Yes, it’s an enormous game this weekeend. The crowd will not be weak, not by any means. But they don’t make many places like Bramlage Coliseum, and MU has never played well there. It won in Ames, and it should not be taken lightly on the road at the Ferrell Center.

The key individual matchup is… Missouri’s guards against Baylor’s forwards. Missouri is mismatched with every single team it plays. That’s just what happens when you start four guards. Against Baylor, though, that mismatched is magnified. The Bears start Jones, Acy and Miller on the frontline, and they almost always have three bigs on the floor at the same time. Missouri rarely even has both Ratliffe and Moore in the game at the same time. In fact, it’s be physically impossible for the Tigers to play three forwards unless they inserted walk-on Andy Rosburg or former football player Andrew Jones, and that’s not going to happen. But Missouri has compensated all year for this lack of size. On Saturday, it’ll be especially important for Marcus Denmon to try to take advantage of his favorable matchup with his quickness. It’s also important for the Tigers to rebound well as a team and make up for their lack of size with extra effort and energy on the boards.

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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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Set Your TiVo: 01.11.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 11th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Will the number one team in the land survive a rivalry road test? Can Missouri bounce back from its recent beatdown to win an away game? Here’s what to expect from two Top 10 teams in tough spots tonight:

#1 Syracuse at Villanova – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (***)

Can Villanova Save Its Season Tonight by Beating #1 Syracuse? (AP Photo)

  • Undefeated Syracuse comes into this game playing as well as any team in the country, but their toughest away games of the season have been at NC State and Providence, so they’re not exactly road tested. The Orange will certainly have the advantage in this one, as their 2-3 zone defense has been incredibly effective this season at forcing turnovers and limiting paint opportunities. Nova’s a team that struggles in these two areas to begin with, and also a team that fires up a lot of threes (over 20 per game) at a low conversion rate (30%, ranked in the bottom 50 nationally). If Syracuse simply executes defensively and forces the Wildcats into a three-point barrage, they’ll have a huge advantage. Jim Boeheim’s team will come at Villanova with their deep array of weapons, where Kris Joseph (14.1 PPG) and Dion Waiters (12.5 PPG) should have opportunities to score in transition and on the wings against Villanova’s poor perimeter defense.
  • Villanova is in the midst of a year to forget, but they can change the outlook of the entire season with a win tonight. The Wildcats are dying for a victory of this caliber, and fans must be fired up in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center for this rivalry home game against the number one team in the land. If the Wildcats are going to have a chance to win, they need to stop chucking up threes, especially in this game against a zone defense that will encourage them to shoot from the outside. Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek each attempt over four three-pointers per game and both are shooting under 30% from deep! Instead, these talented guards need to play off of each other. Wayns (17.4 PPG, 4.75 APG) is one of the quickest guards in America and can penetrate the teeth of a zone defense, and from there he must make good decisions and find teammates moving amongst the trees for good shot opportunities. Jay Wright’s team also must stay out of foul trouble and defend the perimeter if they want to have a chance.
  • This seems like an uneven matchup on paper, but it could be a serious trap game for Syracuse. They haven’t yet played a good conference team on the road, and Villanova is a rival who will be fired up for this one. If Nova can find early success against the Syracuse zone, then they could have a chance in this one.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 01.05.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 5th, 2012

  1. You’re sick of hearing about Tyshawn Taylor‘s turnovers, and we’re all sick of writing about them. But after Kansas’s point guard turned the ball over eight times in a win over Kansas State last night, we simply cannot ignore the magnitude of the statistic. Sam Mellinger’s column provides the best analysis of Taylor’s situation. Instead of focusing solely on the turnovers, Mellinger argues that both “Good” Taylor and “Bad” Taylor go hand-in-hand at this point. You cannot separate the two identities — as Bill Self says, ““He makes plays you can’t coach, and he makes plays that look like he’s never been coached.” And that, folks, is how you sum up Tyshawn Taylor in 17 words.
  2. Four years ago, writers all across the nation put the spotlight on a young freshman named Kim English, a contributor for an Elite Eight team who was most famous for sleeping at Mizzou Arena in order to get shots up in the morning. But by his junior year, English had transformed from Lovable Kimmie to Frustrating Kimmie. He struggled through a tough 2010-11 campaign, but he’s back on everyone’s good side now. English, who scored 23 points against Oklahoma on Tuesday, is shooting 55% from three-point land and might be the most intriguing revitalization project in college basketball. Frank Haith‘s new coaching style is clearly having positive effects on English in particular, and he looks more energized and athletic this season. He’s throwing down dunks with ease this season, and most importantly, his smile is back.
  3. Speaking of Missouri, we’re a little late here with this news, but redshirt freshman forward Kadeem Green announced his decision to transfer earlier this week. No, Green was not a major contributor for Haith, but he had seen a little more playing time recently as a backup to Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore. Down the road, Green seemed to have a bright future as a shot-blocker with his long wingspan, but he’ll now take those talents elsewhere. Green says he’d like to be closer to his hometown of Toronto, and Columbia, Missouri, is certainly not anywhere near Canada. So although he leaves MU with just two scholarship forwards on the roster, the move is understandable. If Ratliffe or Moore find themselves in foul trouble at the same time, though, Frank is going to wish he had Green at the end of his bench.
  4. SI‘s Seth Davis included a few Big 12 squads in his Buy/Sell article this week, and here’s a big surprise: he’s buying Baylor. So are we. The Bears haven’t played particularly well yet this season, which sounds insane considering they are still undefeated. That’s probably why BU seems to have so much potential. Once Perry Jones finds his game, this team could be every bit as good as the 2009-10 team that reached the Elite Eight. As long as Pierre Jackson shows a little more consistency, BU has the guard play this year to win the Big 12.
  5. Finally, since we’re struggling to find a final piece of news for you, Big 12 country lost a fine man in Gene Bartow. No, Bartow did not coach at a Big 12 school, but he is a Missouri native who coached at several Midwestern schools such as Central Missouri, Valparaiso and Illinois. Bartow, most famous for succeeding John Wooden at UCLA in the late 1970s, is a graduate of Truman State University. He won more than 600 games during his career, and UAB‘s arena is named after him. Even if the Big 12 cannot claim him as its own, it would certainly like to.
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The Transfer Effect: What the Statistics Say about Missouri and Iowa State’s Recruiting Methods

Posted by dnspewak on December 27th, 2011

No matter how established the program, every college basketball coach eventually takes a chance on a transfer. Jim Boeheim, for example, plucked Wesley Johnson from Iowa State and turned him into the Big East Player of the Year in 2009-10. Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski’s current rosters both include transfers with Brandon Wood (Valparaiso) and Seth Curry (Liberty), and in 1979, a former Indiana Hoosier named Larry Bird nearly won a title with Indiana State just a few years after quitting basketball (and Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers) altogether.

Hoiberg and Haith Are Recruiting Transfers Heavily to Their Programs

Normally, coaches take one or two transfers at a time to fill immediate holes, but that’s not everybody’s philosophy. Meet Missouri’s Frank Haith and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, a pair of coaches who have abandoned traditional recruiting methods at their new schools in favor of Division I transfers. Haith, hired in April to replace Mike Anderson, is using three open scholarships in 2011-12 on players who will not appear in a single basketball game this season by signing Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Earnest Ross (Auburn) and Jabari Brown (Oregon). Hoiberg, on the other hand, has four transfers on his roster in his second year with the Cyclones: Chris Allen (Michigan State), Chris Babb (Penn State), Royce White (Minnesota), and Anthony Booker (Southern Illinois). The two coaches have energized their fan bases by signing big names from major schools, but Haith and Hoiberg’s recruiting tactics cannot be accurately judged at this point. Iowa State’s Fab Four will begin Big 12 play next month, and Missouri’s three transfers will not all be eligible until December 2012.

Instead of speculating as to whether the two teams will suffer from dreaded chemistry problems with so many transfers, why not crunch the numbers to see if The Transfer Effect really exists? Although finding aggregate data for Division I transfers is virtually impossible, recent anecdotal evidence shows that the recruiting strategy is an enormous risk for both coaches. Seven teams from both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons welcomed three or more transfers to their programs at the same time, and only two teams (San Diego State and UNLV) finished above .500 in league play. Seton Hall, the only power conference team in the group, missed the NCAA Tournament.

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Tempering Expectations: Is Missouri Really This Good?

Posted by dnspewak on November 23rd, 2011

Forget the controversial hiring of Frank Haith or the ensuing scandal in connection to his Miami days. Forget the Laurence Bowers injury or the Mike Anderson departure. Missouri put every criticism to rest this week with two blowout victories in the CBE Classic. It was stunning enough to watch the Tigers dismantle a consistent Notre Dame program by 29 points on Monday. The Irish are young, but they’re trying to replace Ben Hansbrough and they probably just got overwhelmed by an experienced MU team. Right?

Kim English

Kim English Took Four Charges -- In One Half

But one night later– after Missouri then beat Pac-12 favorite California by 39 points — there were no good words to describe the Tigers’ performance. They’ve been brilliant. CBE Classic MVP Marcus Denmon scored 26 points against the Irish and managed 18 against the Golden Bears. Even in a relative “off-night” (6-13 overall, 2-8 from three-point land) against Cal, he still finished with four assists. Revitalized senior Kim English led the team with 19 points, but more impressively, he took four charges in the first half. MU shot 58% from the floor during the tournament, tallied 30 team assists and dominated the defensive end by forcing turnovers. The Tigers had run away with both games by the second TV timeout.

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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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