The Missouri Tigers (22-9, 10-6) begin Big 12 Tournament play against the Nebraska Cornhuskers (14-17, 2-14) on Wednesday afternoon (2:00 P.M., Big 12 Network) at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Should the Tigers prevail in this 5-12 match-up, they will then advance to play 4th-seeded Texas A&M (22-8, 11-5) on Thursday afternoon (2:00 P.M., Big 12 Network). The semifinals and finals will be played Friday and Saturday evening.
Missouri is 2-0 against Nebraska this season, winning in Columbia 70-53, before prevailing 74-59 on February 20th, in Lincoln. During the home win in January, Missouri received career performances from junior big man Justin Safford (9 pts., 11 rebounds, 33 minutes), and sophomore guard Miguel Paul (15 pts.). Safford and the Tigers also out-rebounded the Huskers (33-28), and shot very well from the FT line (18-21), on an evening when Nebraska was pretty effective at slowing down the pace of the game, and for the most part kept Missouri from really getting into their preferred up-tempo rhythm.
In Lincoln, Marcus Denmon poured in a career-high 24 points, on 12 FGAs in 24 minutes, and Laurence Bowers scored 12 points, as Missouri's bench outscored Nebraska's 41-17. Zaire Taylor added 18 points and 8 rebounds, and Keith Ramsey was again outstanding on both ends of the floor, with a final line that read 4 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocked shots. Missouri took control of the game in the second half, playing tenacious half-court defense, and sharing the basketball on offense, as the Tigers finished the game with 15 assists on 25 made baskets.
The Huskers are very good defensively, and try to control tempo to create a low-scoring, possession game. The Cornhuskers are allowing just 65.8 points a game this season, and are holding opponents to just 43% FG%. Senior Ryan Anderson leads his team with 11.0 points/game and 5.2 rebounds/game.
Nebraska has been very good shooting the ball from behind the arc (39%), and also do a good job of taking care of and sharing the ball. They're not a very good rebounding team, nor do they shoot well from the FT line.
Earlier, Coach Anderson talked about Nebraska. "They're going to hold the ball. They're going to make it a grinder. That's just what they do. They want it to be a possession game. They want it to be in the 60s, or the 50s, or even the 40s."
The Tigers completed the conference season with two double-figure scorers, in Kim English (12.4 points/game) and Denmon (10.9 points/game), and with five players who average over 8 points/game. The Tigers scored 73.1 points/game in conference play, shot 41% from the field, including 35% from behind the arc, and assisted on 51% of their field goals. But, the Tigers committed 12.9 turnovers/game, and were out-rebounded by 3.8 rebounds/game during conference play. Missouri forced conference opponents into 17.8 turnovers/game, and held conference opponents to 42% from the field, and 69.3 points/game.
Missouri's potential Thursday opponent, Texas A&M (22-8, 11-5) defeated the Tigers 77-74 in Columbia on February 3rd, in the two teams only meeting this season. In that game, the Aggies out-rebounded the Tigers 44-26, but were forced into 21 turnovers by the Tigers' swarming pressure. The Aggies had balanced scoring in that game, and shot the ball well from behind the arc.
During conference play, Texas A&M has been led in scoring by Donald Sloan (18.3 points/game), and Bryan Davis (11.0 points/game), who also pulls down a team-high 8.4 rebounds/game. The Aggies are very good on the defensive end, holding conference opponents to 65.8 points/game and allowing conference opponents to shoot only 41% from the field. The Aggies have out-rebounded their conference opponents by 4.4 rebounds/game, but have commited 12.8 turnovers/game during conference play.
In the two previous meetings against Nebraska, the Tigers have been able to pull away in the second half. That would be helpful on Wednesday, especially if it allowed Coach Anderson to extend his bench, and save a little for future battles. Should the Tigers get to Thursday, the Aggies will present a formidable challenge.