Ricky Paulding is suddenly becoming what many believed he would be before the season started. Namely, Missouri's number one offensive option.
Paulding has been quietly consistent in his production and contribution for Missouri in 2003, however, he has hardly been the player that has left Oklahoma and Kansas State in ruins in consecutive games. Sweet Ricky put up 23 points on the Wildcats on Saturday.
Lucky for Missouri that Paulding has suddenly exerted himself because Arthur Johnson has been attracting the bulk of the defensive attention recently. Combine that with Rickey Clemons' bad left paw and Josh Kroenke's bad wheels, coach Quin Snyder's Tigers don't have many other places to look for production.
We would be remiss if we also didn't mention the renaissance of Travon Bryant, who was virtually a non-entity for much of the season. The former McDonald's all-american even lost his starting job to freshman Kevin Young due to his passive, ineffective play. Suddenly, Bryant has become noticably more aggressive, and he has, at least for the moment, kicked his alergy to the lane.
Jimmy McKinney also seems to be back in the swing offensively. McKinney, who has had his own physical issues this season, appears to have broken free from his mini shooting slump earlier in the month.
While not a factor in the K-State game, Kevin Young has been a god send for Missouri. Young has injected a large dose of bravado and slama-jama into the Tigers insider game. Once considered a project, Young has shown recently that he's too valuable not to have on the floor for at least 20 minutes a game, if he can stay out of foul trouble.
So where are the Tigers right now?
Missouri is 18-7 and 9-5 in conference. Given their RPI ranking, it appears certain that Missouri is playing for ranking and a favorable tournament position at this point.
While the Tigers have to feel good about where they stand in conference right now, they must not ignore that they are paper thin at almost every position right now. Nothing can be taken for granted at this point.
Even with their depth issues, Mizzou lives and dies by one factor...their level of aggressiveness on the court. Oddly enough, in the games in which they are aggressive, MU turns the ball over fewer times and generally plays smarter basketball.