Missouri vs Kansas Basketball Preview

On Saturday (3:00 P.M., CBS), the #3 Missouri Tigers (25-3, 12-3) travel to Lawrence to take on the #4/#5 Kansas Jayhawks (23-5, 13-2) in a battle for first place in the Big 12 Conference standings.

On Saturday (3:00 P.M., CBS), the #3 Missouri Tigers (25-3, 12-3) travel to Lawrence to take on the #4/#5 Kansas Jayhawks (23-5, 13-2) in a battle for first place in the Big 12 Conference standings.

Missouri is coming off of a 68-78 loss to Kansas State, the Tigers second loss this season to the Wildcats.

Kansas comes home following a 66-58 road win over Texas A&M.

Kansas leads the all-time series with Missouri 171-95.

This is the last season that Missouri and Kansas will play in the same conference, and this is likely Missouri's final trip to Kansas. 

"There will be a lot of energy in the building (on Saturday),"  explained Kansas Coach Bill Self.  "Their players will be energized.  It will be a great atmosphere for both teams to play in, without question…………………………………… I haven't been here (at Kansas) that long, but I don't think there will be anything that compares to it.   I can't imagine many things that will compare to it, if any, going back to the opening of the building…………………………………. I don't know if there's been many since (the building was opened) like this will be Saturday."

"It's definitely going to be revved up,"  said Missouri senior Kim English.    "They'll definitely be excited for us to get in there…………………………………. But, the game is played between those lines.  Not one person in those stands on Saturday will have an (effect on the) outcome of the game.  It will be the ten players on the court.  That's with any sport.  The fans and all of that, it's fun!  But, the players decide the game."

Three weeks ago, the Tigers prevailed 74-71 over the Jayhawks in Columbia.  In that game, the Jayhawks were led by a pair of veteran all-conference type performers, in 6'10" junior Thomas Robinson, who dominated the first 16 minutes of the second half, on his way to 25 points and 13 rebounds, and 6'3" senior guard Tyshawn Taylor, whose driving baseline dunk with 3:25 remaining in the game had put Kansas ahead 71-63.

Robinson is the leading candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year, and he is a strong candidate for National Player of the Year.  He is the only player in the Big 12 who is averaging a double-double on the season, or in conference play.  He is averaging a league-leading 11.6 rebounds/game, and is scoring 17.2 points/game, in conference games. Taylor is averaging 17.5 points/game, 4.9 assists/game, and 1.5 steals/game in conference games.   During conference play, Robinson and Taylor have taken 46% of the field goal attempts for Kansas. 

Following his team's loss at Missouri, in which 7'0" junior center Jeff Withey was held scoreless, Coach Self really got after the big man in practice, and the Big 12's leading shot blocker has responded by playing the best basketball of his career over the past three weeks.  Over that 5-game span, Withey is averaging 16.2 points/game, 10.2 rebounds/game, and 5.4 blocked shots/game.  In conference play, Withey is shooting 82% from the free-throw line.

"Jeff (Withey) needs to be more aggressive,"  explained Coach Self, talking about what he needs from his junior center.   "He needs to be more of a presence."

Coach Self is also getting good production out of  6'6" junior guard Travis Releford, who is averaging 9.6 points/game, 4.9 rebounds/game, and 2.3 assists/game in conference play, and 6'4" junior guard Elijah Johnson, who is averaging 8.1 points/game, 3.2 rebounds/game, 3.6 assists/game, and 1.7 steals/game in conference play.

Kansas Starters (23-5) - 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. 17.4 11.9 1.9 1.1 Washington, D.C.

C 05 Jeff Withey  7-0 235  Jr.  9.6  6.6 0.8 0.7  San Diego, Calif.

G 11 Tyshawn Taylor 6-3 185 Sr. 16.5 1.7 5.0 1.2 Hoboken, N.J.

G 15 Elijah Johnson 6-4 195 Jr. 9.1 2.9 3.6 1.6 Las Vegas, Nev.

G 24 Travis Releford 6-6 207 Jr. 9.0 4.4 2.0 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 third on the team in 3-PT field goal attempts, and is scoring 4.5 points game.

A pair of front court players also come off of the bench for Kansas, 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.   

If Coach Self needs another ball-handler, he may turn to his ninth man, in little-used 5'11" freshman point guard, Nadir Tharpe.

Taylor has shot 39% from behind the arc during the conference season, and he's leading the team in 3-PT attempts.  During conference play, Johnson (29% 3-PT FG%) and Releford (40% 3-PT FG%) have provided Kansas with other 3-PT threats.  Teahan has made just 29% of his 3-PT attempts during conference play, but he's not someone that should be left alone behind the arc.  In addition, Teahan hasn't missed a FT in conference play.

As a team, Kansas doesn't really rely on the 3-PT shot.  In conference play, only 31% of the Jayhawks field-goal attempts have come from behind the 3-PT line.  In conference, Kansas has shot 34% from 3-PT land, the same percentage as their conference opponents have shot against them.  It's inside the arc where the Jayhawks get it done on both ends of the floor, as Kansas shoots 55% from inside the arc in conference games, while holding conference opponents to just under 40% from inside the arc.

In conference games, Kansas ranks first in the Big 12 in scoring defense (60.8 points allowed/game), and scoring margin (+12.7 points/game), and second in scoring (73.5 points/game).  The Jayhawks also lead in field-goal percentage (48%), and field-goal percentage defense (38%).

By contrast, while Missouri leads the Big 12 in scoring (73.7 points/game) during conference games, the Tigers are fifth in scoring defense (66.7 points allowed/game).  And, while Missouri is second in scoring margin (+7 points/game), second in field-goal percentage (48%), second in free-throw percentage (77%), and third in 3-PT field-goal percentage (37%), the Tigers are last in the league in field-goal percentage defense (47%), and last in 3-PT field-goal percentage defense (41%) in conference games. 

So, while the taller Jayhawks, who get it done on the inside on both ends of the floor, are the best defensive team in the league, the Tigers are arguably the worst defensive team in the league, at least from the standpoint of opponents' shooting percentages.  

"Because of our (lack of) size, we've got to be so good at not letting that ball get close to the basket,"  explained Missouri Head Coach Frank Haith.  "The closer the ball is to the basket, the worse we are.   The farther the ball is away from the basket, the better off we are.  Those lanes to the basket, and those opportunities closer in, we've got to defend those a lot better.  What I mean by that is we've got to do our work early and not allow the ball that close to the basket."

On the offensive end, Missouri relies much more on the 3-PT shot.  Just under 40% of the Tigers field-goal attempts in conference play have come from behind the arc.   Missouri is the most efficient offensive team in the country, averaging 1.172 points/possession on the season.

Three weeks ago in Columbia, with a little over 2 minutes remaining and his team trailing 71-63, Marcus Denmon scored 9 straight points to put Missouri ahead.   Steve Moore had drawn a charging foul in the lane on Robinson, and Michael Dixon drew a charging foul on Taylor, before stepping up to hit a pair of FTs with 10 seconds on the clock to provide Missouri with the final margin of victory over the Jayhawks.

Denmon is a special, special player.  In conference games, he's averaging 17.1 points/game, 5.3 rebounds/game, 2.3 assists/game, and 1.4 steals/game.  But, Denmon is so much more to his team than just a stat-sheet stuffer.  He's the ship's rudder.   This team has taken on Denmon's identity more than anyone else's;  the selflessness, and the work ethic.   The way that he lets the game come to him, so much so that at times his teammates seem to forget that he's their go-to guy, has rubbed off somewhat on some of his teammates.   When he's on the floor, which is almost always, and when he's touching the basketball, which needs to be every possession, Missouri just functions better as a team.

Missouri Starters (25-3) - Based on the most recent game

Pos. No. Name HT WT YR P/G R/G A/G S/G Hometown

F 10 Ricardo Ratliffe  6-8 240 Sr. 13.5 7.2 0.7 0.6 Hampton, Va.

G 12 Marcus Denmon 6-3 185 Sr. 17.8 5.1 2.3 1.5 Kansas City, Mo.

G 24 Kim English 6-6 200 Sr. 14.0 4.1 1.6 1.4 Baltimore, Md.

G 03 Matt Pressey 6-2 195 Sr. 6.5 3.1 1.7 0.9 Dallas, Texas

G 01 Phil Pressey 5-10 175 So. 9.9 3.4 6.0 2.1 Dallas, Texas

Denmon is 19 points away from passing Rickey Paulding, and moving into ninth place, on Missouri's career scoring list. He's the best player on a team full of seniors who have won more games (102) over the last four years than in any other four-year period in school history.

Michael Dixon comes off of the bench for Missouri, but in conference games, he's been the Tigers second-leading scorer, averaging 13.2 points/game, and 3.1 assists/game.

In conference, Missouri has 5 double-digit scorers, including Kim English (12.8 points/game, 3.4 rebounds/game), Ricardo Ratliffe (12.9 points/game, 7.2 rebounds/game), and Phil Pressey (10 points/game, 3.7 rebounds/game, 5.9 assists/game, and 2 steals/game). 

Missouri needs everyone to play at the top of their game on Saturday, especially Phil Pressey, for it is when he is at his best on both ends of the floor that he is capable of raising the Tigers to their highest level as a team.

On Thursday, Coach Haith was asked what Missouri needs to do to win at Kansas?

"We've got to rebound and defend,"  replied Coach Haith.   "When we have success in defending and rebounding, we usually do pretty well………………………………….... We've got to get back and set our defense.  Our transition defense wasn't great the other night.  We've got to be ready to get back and set our defense." 

"And we've got to be tough enough to come down and execute and run offense,"  continued Coach Haith.   "Because we've got to make other teams play defense. There's no question about that.  Our ability to be able to do that on the road, we've done it for the most part all year, but we're going to have to be at our very best on Saturday afternoon." 

English was asked about some of his experiences of playing in Allen Field House?  He said that he remembered getting ready to take the court, and he and his teammates were being heckled by fans.  Some things were being said to them, mean-spirited things, that sounded like they had a history to them.  Then Marcus Denmon, a Kansas City native, turned to him and said, "It's the Border War!"

Comparative Statistics

Missouri   Kansas

Record:  25-3  23-5

FGM:  773  748

FGA:  1551  1550

FG %:  .498  .483

3pt FGM: 223  168

3pt FGA:  581  484

3FG %:  .384  .347

FTM:  457  425

FTA:  595  612

FT %  .768  .694

Points:  2226  2091

Per Game: 79.5  74.7

Reb./Gm 32.2  37.4

Steals  8.5  7.6

Assists:  15.9  15.8

Blocks:  2.8  5.8

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