Missouri Head Coach Frank Haith talked about entering conference play.
"I think we're the only BCS conference in the country that (plays the true round robin)," said Coach Haith, referring to playing every team in the conference both home and away. "You're going to get a true champion. That just sets it up to be just a tremendous grind this year………………………………. League play is a little different……………………………… I think our league is as good as any league in the country…………………………………. We're ready to get started."
Oklahoma enters Big 12 play off of an 83-63 win over Northwestern State. The Sooners losses were to St. Louis and Cincinnati. Lon Kruger is in his 26th season as a head coach (489-206), and is in his first season at Oklahoma. He agrees that the Big 12 Conference schedule will "be a grind". So far this season, he's been playing with an 8-9 man rotation, but he mostly relies on about 7 players.
"I think Lon (Kruger) is one of the great coaches in the game," said Coach Haith, talking about Lon Krugers' team. "I have a lot of respect for him…………………………………. His teams always play hard. They're well-coached. They're disciplined on both ends of the court. They're going to come in here and they're going to execute. I mean, he's got this team playing at a high level……………………………..…… I anticipate those guys coming in here and playing at their very best on Tuesday evening."
Oklahoma leads the Big 12 with 42.2 rebounds/game, and the Sooners rank 7th nationally in rebound margin (10.4 rebounds/game). Oklahoma ranks 12th nationally and 2nd in the conference in 3-PT FG% (41% 3-PT FG%).
The Sooners have four players averaging in double figures in scoring, led by 6'4" junior guard Steven Pledger, who is scoring 18.8 points/game, which ranks 2nd in the Big 12, and is pulling down 4 rebounds/game. Pledger is shooting 55% from the field, including 48% from behind the 3-PT arc, and he is making 85% of his FTs. Half of his field goal attempts have come from behind the 3-PT line. Coach Kruger calls him "efficient".
"He's got a quick release," said Coach Haith, talking about Pledger. "He takes good shots…………………………………….. He does a lot of the other things, too. He's going to be a tough match-up for us. We've got to do a good job of getting him out of his comfort zone. Because if he gets his rhythm going, he's a tough match-up."
A pair of 6'8" junior forwards are averaging in double figures for the Sooners, including Andrew Fitzgerald and Romero Osby. Fitzgerald is scoring 12.3 points/game, and grabbing 5.3 rebounds/game. He's made 49% of his shot attempts. Osby is scoring 10.8 points/game, and is Oklahoma's leading rebounder, at 8.8 boards/game. He is shooting 47% from the field.
Oklahoma Sooners (10-2) - Based on the most recent game
Pos. No. Name HT WT YR P/G R/G A/G S/G Hometown
F 04 Andrew Fitzgerald 6-8 247 Jr. 12.3 5.3 0.3 0.7 Baltimore, Md.
F 24 Romero Osby 6-8 232 Jr. 10.8 8.8 0.9 0.6 Meridian, Miss.
G 01 Sam Grooms 6-1 203 Jr. 7.3 3.5 5.4 1.0 Greensboro, N.C.
G 02 Steven Pledger 6-4 222 Jr. 18.8 4.0 2.0 1.2 Chesapeake, Va.
G 21 Cameron Clark 6-6 198 So. 8.5 3.7 1.6 0.6 Sherman, Texas
Usually the first player off of the bench for Oklahoma is 6'7" sophomore forward Tyler Neal, who is something of a 3-PT specialist. More than two-thirds of his field goal attempts are from behind the arc, where he's made 43% of his 3-PT shots. He's also an 85% FT shooter.
On Monday, Coach Kruger was asked about Missouri.
"They're great! They're playing super! Frank (Haith's) done a terrific job," replied Coach Kruger. "They're playing with a lot of confidence. They're playing very aggressively. They're really moving the ball well. They're fun to watch, not so much fun to prepare for."
Missouri comes in off of a hard-fought 75-68 road win over Old Dominion, a game that tested the Tigers in their first true road game of the season, and that Monarch's coach, Blaine Taylor, seemed to consider a moral victory. For Missouri, this is the Tigers best start since the 19-0 start to begin the 1981-1982 campaign. In his first year at Missouri, Coach Frank Haith heads into league play with a senior-laden team that features four double-digit scorers, led by All-American candidate Marcus Denmon, who is averaging 18.7 points/game, 4.8 rebounds/game, 2.2 assists/game, and 1.6 steals/game. Denmon is shooting 50% from the field, including 45% from behind the 3-PT line, and is making 91% of his FTs. In addition, Denmon has a 3.2 assist/turnover ratio.
Missouri has completed their non-conference schedule undefeated for the first time in 39 years. A major contributor to the Tigers' successful start, and one of Missouri's most experienced players, is Kim English, who is averaging 15.5 points/game, and 4.5 rebounds/game. No Missouri player this season has undergone such a dramatic transformation from his past performance as has English, who through the first 13 games, continues to demonstrate a new-found approach to playing the game of basketball. English has become a team-first guy, and appears to be focused on doing the little things to help his team win. He's playing better defense, and helping out on the boards. As usually occurs, a team-first approach has resulted in more efficient production for English, evidenced by his 53% FG%. In addition, English is leading the nation in 3-PT FG% with his 54% 3-PT FG%. Still, there's plenty of room for improvement in the senior's play. His defense needs to continue to improve, and the Tigers need him, and everyone else on the team, to rebound better. And, English is one of just two regulars for Missouri with more turnovers than assists, an indication that he still tries to do too much with the basketball in his hands. He needs to defer to his teammates in that regard.
In his second season at Missouri, senior F Ricardo Ratliffe is another one who has been very efficient. Ratliffe's 76% FG% leads the country. He's scoring 14.2 points/game, and pulling down 7.2 rebounds/game. But the Tigers need Ratliffe to do more. He has to rebound better, and improve at the FT line, where he's making just 58% of his FTs. And, Ratliffe's teammates need to do a better job of getting him the basketball in close. He's strong, and he has great hands on the catch.
Another guy who has really raised his game for Missouri is senior Matt Pressey. He's averaging 8.1 points/game and 4.5 rebounds/game. He's playing good defense, and is doing a much better job on the boards, as well as being much more efficient with the basketball. He's improved his shot selection, as evidenced by a 44% FG%, and 33% 3-PT FG%. He's not a great 3-PT shooter, but when he limits himself to the very best looks, especially from out on top, he's good enough to take them, and that's a big help in spreading the floor. Matt Pressey is averaging 1.9 assists/game, and has a 2.1 assist/turnover ratio.
Coach Haith and staff have done a real good job in the continuing development of Missouri's point guards. Phil Pressey is the starter, and he's playing over 30 minutes/game, third most on the team, just behind Denmon and English. Phil is a much better player than a year ago, and when he's playing well, Missouri is very, very tough. Phil Pressey is averaging 9.8 points/game, 3.1 rebounds/game, 6 assists/game, and 2.3 steals/game. He's had at least 5 assists in each of his last 8 games, which is a Missouri record. He has a 2.8 assist/turnover ratio. But, he's shooting 39% from the field, and just 24% from behind the 3-PT line. He's making 77% of his FTs. While the play of Phil Pressey has been a big part of Missouri's early success, the Tigers need him to continue to improve on both ends of the floor. Probably more than anything, he just needs to be more consistent, and avoid the occasional lapses, defensively and offensively, in addition to improving his shot selection.
Missouri Starters (13-0) - Based on the most recent game
Pos. No. Name HT WT YR P/G R/G A/G S/G Hometown
F 10 Ricardo Ratli?e 6-8 240 Sr. 14.2 7.2 0.7 0.8 Hampton, Va.
G 12 Marcus Denmon 6-3 185 Sr. 18.7 4.8 2.2 1.6 Kansas City, Mo.
G 24 Kim English 6-6 200 Sr. 15.4 4.5 1.8 1.2 Baltimore, Md.
G 03 Matt Pressey 6-2 195 Sr. 8.1 4.5 1.9 1.1 Dallas, Texas
G 01 Phil Pressey 5-10 175 So. 9.8 3.1 6.0 2.3 Dallas, Texas
Missouri's sixth man, combo guard Mike Dixon, is averaging 12.5 points/game, 3 assists/game, and 2 steals/game. He sports a 2.2 assist/turnover ratio. Dixon is making 91% of his FTAs, and is shooting 42% from the field, including 30% from behind the arc. Dixon is like a sixth starter for Missouri, and he gives the Tigers a formidable four-man rotation at their three guard positions. Those four combine for 49.1 points/game, 14.6 rebounds/game, 13.2 assists/game, and 7 steals/game. Those four players begin conference play with a collective 2.6 assist/turnover ratio, and they are a combined 84% from the FT line.
The Tigers' seventh man is Steve Moore, another player who has really raised his game this year for Missouri. Moore is playing almost 16 minutes/game. He gives the Tigers interior defense, and is efficient on the offensive end. Moore leads Missouri with 19 blocked shots on the season.
Missouri currently ranks among the nation's leaders in several statistical categories. Missouri leads the nation is scoring margin (24.3 points/game) and FG% (51.7% FG%). The Tigers also lead the nation is assist/turnover margin (1.71 A/T ratio), and are fourth nationally in steals (10.1 steals/game), fewest turnovers (9.8 turnovers/game), and turnover margin (+6.8 turnovers/game). Missouri is the only team in the country with more steals than turnovers.
"We've got to continue to rebound the ball," said Coach Haith, talking about what his team needs to do to get better. "Now, we're plus on the year. But our ability to be sound, and blocking out, and pursuing loose rebounds, we've got to continue to get better at that. I think that's something that this team has really got to strive on doing every night, and then guarding the ball. I think most of my concerns are what we're doing on the defensive end, our ability to be solid on that end of the court. I think that offensively, we share the ball. We shoot the ball well. But, when we don't shoot the ball well, we've got to be able to defend. And that's my biggest concern, is that we've got to have a defensive mentality night in, night out."
Record: 13-0 10-2
FGM: 390 336
FGA: 755 740
FG %: .517 .454
3pt FGM: 108 77
3pt FGA: 267 188
3FG %: .404 .410
FTM: 232 176
FTA: 303 241
FT % .766 .730
Points: 1129 925
Per Game: 86.2 77.1
Reb./Gm 34.9 42.2
Steals 10.1 6.6
Assists: 16.8 14.9
Blocks: 3.2 4.0