The Jayhawks are coming off of a mid-week 84-62 home win over Oklahoma.
At the halfway point in the Big 12 Conference schedule, the conference race is starting to take shape. At this point there are inequities in the schedule that will even up over the next four weeks. Earlier this week, Kansas Coach Bill Self indicated that he thinks that a 15-3 record will likely win the conference title, and that a 14-4 record might win it.
"I think it's a coin toss," said Coach Self, discussing the conference race. "I really do. I think that you could make a case that we're in good shape, but we've still got to go to hard places. And, not too many people have had success there. You could certainly say that Baylor's right there. And Missouri, to be honest with you, I think has probably played as hard of a schedule as anybody thus far…………………………………….. I think that 14-4 would be a really good record, and 15-3 would be one that could win it outright."
The Jayhawks feature a pair of veteran all-conference type performers, in 6'10" junior Thomas Robinson, who is the leading candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year, and is a strong candidate for National Player of the Year, and in 6'3" senior guard Tyshawn Taylor. Robinson is the only player in the Big 12 who is averaging a double-double on the season. He is averaging a league-leading 12 rebounds/game, and is scoring 17.6 points/game, which is good for third in the conference. Taylor is fifth in the conference in scoring, at 16.7 points/game, and is fourth in the conference with his 5.3 assists/game. Taylor brings a 1.5 assist/turnover ratio into this contest.
"He's a warrior," said Missouri Head Coach Frank Haith, admiration evident in his voice, as he talked about Thomas Robinson. "He plays extremely hard. And when that ball goes on the rim, that's when he's at his best. It's hand to hand combat with him. And, you've got to be ready to take it on. When that ball goes on the rim, and he's trying to hunt offensive rebounds, he's a tough competitor…………………………………… He's great at establishing paint. We cannot allow him to get deep in the paint. He's virtually unstoppable if he gets two feet in the paint."
Taylor has really stepped it up in conference games. At times, he has carried the Jayhawks. During conference play, Robinson and Taylor have taken 46% of the field goal attempts for Kansas.
"Tyshawn (Taylor) is playing his best basketball right now, in his whole career," said Coach Haith, talking about the Kansas point guard. "He's a tough match-up."
Coach Self and the Jayhawks rely on these two great players to carry their team. That's not to say that Robinson and Taylor are alone. Coach Self is getting good production out of 6'6" junior guard Travis Releford, who is scoring 9.8 points/game, and is pulling down 4.3 rebounds/game, 6'4" junior guard Elijah Johnson , a 9.1 points/game scorer who is averaging 3.6 assists/game, and ranks third in the conference with his 1.7 steals/game, and 7'0" junior center Jeff Withey, who is scoring 8.5 points/game, grabbing 5.9 rebounds/game, and is the leading shot-blocker in the conference, at 3.1 blocked shots/game.
Kansas Starters (18-4) - Based on the most recent game
Pos. No. Name HT WT YR P/G R/G A/G S/G Hometown
F 00 Thomas Robinson 6-10 237 Jr. 17.6 12.0 1.7 1.2 Washington, D.C.
C 05 Je? Withey 7-0 235 Jr. 8.5 5.9 0.9 0.5 San Diego, Calif.
G 10 Tyshawn Taylor 6-3 185 Sr. 16.7 1.7 5.3 1.3 Hoboken, N.J.
G 15 Elijah Johnson 6-4 195 Jr. 9.1 2.8 3.6 1.7 Las Vegas, Nev.
G 24 Travis Releford 6-6 207 Jr. 9.8 4.3 1.9 1.2 Kansas City, Mo.
Coach Self regularly utilizes 8 or 9 players, but there is not a lot of firepower coming off of the bench for Kansas. Kansas' sixth man is a fifth-year senior, in 6'6" guard Conner Teahan, who is second on the team in 3-PT field goal attempts, and is scoring 6.6 points game. Teahan has made 35% of his 3-PT attempts this season, so he's not someone that Missouri wants to leave alone behind the arc.
Taylor is the Jayhawks' best 3-PT shooter, at 44% from behind the arc, and during the conference season, he's leading the team in 3-PT attempts. Johnson (30% 3-PT FG%) and Releford (36% 3-PT FG%) are Kansas' other 3-PT threats.
A pair of front line players come off of the bench for Coach Self, in 6'9" sophomore forward Justin Wesley and 6'8" junior forward Kevin Young. Wesley and Young each average around 10 minutes/game, and neither provide a lot of production.
It seems unlikely that Coach Self will turn to his ninth man off of the bench in a big road game in a tough environment, especially when that player is a little used 5'11" freshman point guard, Nadir Tharpe.
So, basically this is 8 Kansas men against 7 Missouri men.
Immediately noticeable for those who will be watching is the size disparity between these two teams. The average height of the 8 Kansas men is over 6'7". The 7 Missouri men average under 6'4" in height. Of course, playing against taller teams is not new for this Missouri squad.
Make no mistake! This is no friendly sporting engagement. Kansas and Missouri have been doing this for over a hundred years. Kansas leads the all-time series 171-94.
This is the last season that Missouri and Kansas will play in the same conference, and this is likely Kansas' final trip to Mizzou. The Tigers are slated to play in Lawrence later this month, and the Tigers and Jayhawks could very well meet again in Kansas City next month in the Big 12 Tournament.
Kansas leads the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense. They've held opponents to a league-low 38% from the field. The Jayhawks are second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing opponents to score just 60.7 points/game. They are also second in the conference in blocks, with 5.7 blocked shots/game, and they're third in the conference, with 7.7 steals/game.
Obviously, Kansas is a very good defensive team. Interestingly though, Kansas is last in the conference in defending the 3-PT shot, allowing opponents to shoot a league-high 35% from behind the arc.
The Jayhawks shoot 48% from the field, good for third in the conference, 34% from behind the arc, and 69% from the charity stripe. Compared to Missouri, Kansas takes a higher percentage of their field goal attempts from inside the 3-PT line. Just under 32% of the Jayhawks' field goal attempts are from beyond the arc, while almost 36% of Missouri's field goal attempts come from 3-PT land.
Missouri is second in the Big 12 conference in 3-PT field goal percentage, as the Tigers are connecting on almost 38% of their 3-PT field goal attempts.
On the other side of the ball, Missouri is last in the conference in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot a league-high 43% from the field. And, the Tigers are ninth in the conference, ranking just ahead of Kansas, in allowing opponents to shoot 35% from behind the 3-PT arc.
On Thursday, Coach Haith said that Marcus Denmon is feeling better, after having been ill for most of last week. He also said that Denmon is taking extra shooting practice, in an attempt to break out of what Coach Haith has referred to as a "shooting slump".
Missouri Starters (20-2) - 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. 14.8 6.9 0.7 0.9 Hampton, Va.
G 12 Marcus Denmon 6-3 185 Sr. 17.8 5.3 2.5 1.6 Kansas City, Mo.
G 24 Kim English 6-6 200 Sr. 14.4 4.3 1.5 1.2 Baltimore, Md.
G 03 Matt Pressey 6-2 195 Sr. 7.9 3.8 1.9 1.0 Dallas, Texas
G 01 Phil Pressey 5-10 175 So. 9.7 3.5 6.1 2.4 Dallas, Texas
Missouri has had the same starting line-up in every game this season.
Sixth man, Michael Dixon, is averaging 12.1 points/game off of the Missouri bench. Coach Haith said that recently someone asked him, "When is Michael Dixon going to start?"
"I think we're 20-2 with him coming off of the bench," explained Coach Haith. "I don't think he's going to start anytime soon………………………………. He's still playing starter minutes."
Coach Haith pointed out that each of his seven players know their role, and that they all have a pretty good idea of what is going to be asked of them.
During conference play, Missouri is making more free throws than their opponents are shooting. The Tigers are shooting 80% from the free throw line in conference. Ricardo Ratliffe is hitting 83% from the free throw line in conference games.
Record: 20-2 18-4
FGM: 619 596
FGA: 1243 1232
FG %: .498 .484
3pt FGM: 169 135
3pt FGA: 4446 393
3FG %: .379 .344
FTM: 380 336
FTA: 489 487
FT % .777 .690
Points: 1787 1663
Per Game: 81.2 75.6
Reb./Gm 33.4 37.5
Steals 9.3 7.7
Assists: 15.9 15.9
Blocks: 3.1 5.7