On Saturday night (8:00 P.M., ESPNU), the #11/#13 Missouri Tigers (17-3, 3-2) travel to Austin to take on the #7/#8 Texas Longhorns (17-3, 5-0), in Big 12 Conference action. The Longhorns come into this game off of a 61-46 mid-week victory at Oklahoma State. Missouri's been off all week, following an 87-54 shellacking of Iowa State last Saturday.
"Texas is an outstanding team," said Missouri Head Coach Mike Anderson. "Rick Barnes has those guys playing real well. They've got some outstanding individual players! They're one of the more outstanding teams in the country. They're playing good basketball."
For Texas, 6'7" sophomore G/F Jordan Hamilton (19.2 points/game, 7.4 rebounds/game), 6'8" freshman F Tristan Thompson (13.1 points/game, 7.4 rebounds/game, 2.3 blocks/game), and 6'3" freshman G Cory Joseph (11.1 points/game, 4.2 rebounds/game, 3 assists/game) are the outstanding individual players of whom Coach Anderson spoke, and all three are very likely to be playing in the NBA soon.
Hamilton is a much more well-rounded player than he was a year ago, but he still leads the Longhorns in shots taken, at almost 15 shots/game. Hamilton and Joseph are each shooting 43% from behind the 3-PT line. Thompson and Joseph are not just extremely talented. Both of the freshmen are very fundamentally sound players, who play with a high degree of intelligence, and excel on both ends of the floor.
Completing the Longhorns starting line-up is the very talented 6'6" senior F Gary Johnson (11.7 points/game, 6.9 rebounds/game), and 6'1" senior G Dogus Balbay (4.4 points/game, 2.5 assists/game). These two seniors appear to be providing the Longhorns with very good leadership, and are a big part of the reason, along with the two freshmen, that Texas, who is always very talented, is playing so well as a team this season.
The first guy off of the bench for Rick Barnes is 6'1" sophomore G J'Covan Brown (9.5 points/game). Brown is shooting 35% from behind the 3-PT line, and besides Hamilton and Joseph, is about the only other 3-PT threat for the Longhorns. Another back court player who comes in off of the Texas bench, and will occasionally attempt a 3-PT shot, is 5'10" senior G Jai Lucas.
Perhaps the hallmark of this Texas squad is the way they're playing defense. Balbay is an excellent defender, and the two freshmen, Joseph and Thompson, are both playing very good defense in their first season of Big 12 basketball. As a team, Texas is holding opponents to just 37% FG%, which ranks 4th nationally.
The Longhorns play with intelligence, but the temptation to run up and down with Missouri may be impossible for the Longhorns to resisit. That could prove to be their undoing in this game, as Coach Barnes relies heavily on about 6 players, and the Texas big men are capable of turning it over, especiually if the game is being played at Missouri's pace.
That appears to be the challenge for the Tigers in Austin. If Missouri can play with the requisite defensive intensity, and coax the Longhorns into playing at a frenetic pace, then the Tigers just might make it four in a row over the Longhorns.
Missouri comes in with five players scoring in double-figures, and with seven players averaging at least 7.2 points/game. The Tigers leading scorer is Marcus Denmon, who is averaging 17.3 points/game, despite his being the primary focus of opposing defenses. Denmon, who is making over half of his shots, and is hitting 49% of his 3-PT FGAs, is a super stat sheet stuffer, with 4 rebounds/game, 1.9 assists/game, and 2 steals/game. Not only is Denmon stuffing the stat sheet, but he's also Missouri's best back court defender, and the attention he attracts when Missouri has the basketball opens up opprtunities for his teammates.
However, the most important asset Denmon brings to the floor for the Tigers is the stability he lends to whatever line-up Coach Anderson wants to put out there with him.
Ricardo Ratliffe (11.8 points/game, 7 rebounds/game) and Laurence Bowers (11.5 points/game, 6.2 rebounds/game, 2.2 blocks/game) provide the muscle on the inside for Missouri. Michael Dixon (10.9 points/game, 4.6 assists/game, 2.1 steals/game) and Phil Pressey (5.6 points/game, 3.8 assists/game) give the Tigers a formidable duo at the point, to pair with Denmon. And, the Tigers' production doesn't end there. Justin Safford (7.3 points/game, 4.3 rebounds/game), Kim English (10.7 points/game), and Matt Pressey (7.2 points/game) are each making contributions. Rounding out Missouri's playing rotation is Steve Moore and Ricky Kreklow, each of whom have been providing stellar defensive play.
Coach Anderson talked about the formula for getting a win in Austin.
"We've got to defend," explained Coach Anderson. "We've got to defend, and we've got to make shots. Last time we were on the road, we made shots. But, we didn't get the stops that we needed...................... We've got to continue to value the basketball....................... We've got to play one of our better games."
Here's a couple of interesting statistics.
Missouri leads the Big 12 in blocked shots this season, with 5.9 blocked shots/game. The Tigers have blocked a total of 117 shots this season, and are currently on pace to break the school record of 160, which was established just last season.
Since the beginning of the 2008-2009 season, Missouri has thus far posted 71 victories, which places the Tigers in a tie with Purdue and Villanova for the 6th most wins in the country over that three year span. Only Duke, Kansas, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Utah State have won more games than Missouri over the past three seasons.
The school record for wins in a three-year span at Missouri is 75, which was established from 1988-1991. In other words, Missouri basketball has never been better than during this three-year period. And, the Tigers' on-court record indicates that Missouri has been one of the country's very best basketball teams.
FGM: 621 543
FGA: 1308 1179
FG%: .475 .461
3pt FGM: 156 117
3pt FGA: 408 304
3FG%: .382 .385
FTM: 302 339
FTA: 425 512
FT% .711 .662
Points: 1700 1542
Per Game: 85.0 77.1
Reb./Gm 38.3 41.4
Steals 10.0 6.3
Assists: 18.0 14.0
Blocks: 5.9 5.1