Scouting Report: Missouri

Defeat North Carolina. Check. Avenge last season's loss to Western Kentucky. Check. Win the "City Championship Game" over Belmont. Check. Protect Memorial Gym in non-conference play. Check. So far, with the exception of a final second 3-point shot by West Virginia, the 2010-2011 non-conference to do list for Vanderbilt basketball has been fulfilled.

Next on the list is earning a non-conference win on the road against a team from a power conference.
That opportunity comes Wednesday night in Columbia, Missouri.

Not counting a 2007-08 win at lowly DePaul (a team that went 11-19 that season), you have to go back to 2006 to find the last time the Commodores conquered a non-SEC power-conference foe on the road. VU went to Georgetown to defeat the Hoyas that year, 68-61. Big names in non-conference games have not been friendly to the Dores, especially on the road. The last two seasons have seen Kevin Stallings's club leave Nashville to play schools from both the ACC and Big Ten, only to lose to both Georgia Tech (2008-09) and Illinois (2009-10.)

VU gets another chance to finally make a statement when it takes on the No. 11 (ESPN/USA Today) Tigers. Let's just say that making a statement on Wednesday night in Columbia should put the Commodores back into the top 25 and in the driver's seat for the NCAA Tournament. Do not look for this one to be a cakewalk; the Tigers are 43-0 at home under Coach Mike Anderson in non-conference games, and they have a 50-game non-conference home winning streak that predates Anderson's arrival.

MISSOURI AT-A-GLANCE

Anderson's team has been one of the most entertaining in the early stretch of this season. A Nolan Richardson (of Arkansas fame) disciple, Anderson similarly employs a brand of the "Forty Minutes of Hell" full-court press. Mizzou likes to call it the "Fastest Forty Minutes in Basketball." Like Richardson's best Razorback teams, Anderson's Tigers are balanced in scoring, with five players averaging double figures, and deep, with 10 players seeing at least 10 minutes per game.

Missouri comes into Wednesday's game with a 6-1 record, its only loss coming in overtime to No. 14 (ESPN/USA Today) Georgetown. How impressive was Missouri, though, against the Hoyas? The Tigers were able to overcome an 18-point deficit and the Hoyas needed to hit 15 3-pointers and go 18 for 18 from the foul line to pull out the victory. Vandy fans know all about Mizzou's comeback ability from when these two schools matched up on Dec. 2 of 2009 in Memorial Gym. VU led by 14 with just over five minutes left when Missouri's frenetic pace pushed the Tigers on a 13-1 run to create a tense ballgame until the final buzzer.

Naturally, the first thing that comes to mind when you discuss the Tigers is the press. But as Hoyas' coach John Thompson III said after his game with Missouri, "their half court defense is just as effective if not more effective" than its press. The Tigers are ball hawks, constantly looking for opportunities to pressure the ball and "run-and-jump" trap, both from the ball side and the off-ball side of the court.

One thing Missouri does lack is interior height. Just like last season when A.J. Ogilvy had a two-inch advantage and used it to score 24 points, Festus Ezeli will have the same edge going for him when he steps on the floor.

Starting Lineup

Guard – Marcus Denmon
Junior, 6-3, 185; 2010-11: 16.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 56.4 % 3-PT

Denmon went from something of a question mark last year (at least at this time in the season), to a leader on the floor for the Tigers, as well as earning a starting spot. He is the current Big 12 Player of the Week. Denmon leads the team in minutes per game, shoots 55 percent from the field, makes 89.5 percent of his free throws and performed his best in the Tigers' biggest game this year against Georgetown. Given the pace at which Mizzou plays, thus increasing the number of possessions, Denmon figures to get a number of scoring opportunities. It is imperative for Vandy defenders to rotate to him when he runs out in transition, especially after a defensive rebound or turnover. After protecting the basket, finding Denmon is the Dores' first responsibility on defense.

Guard – Kim EnglishSenior, 6-6, 200; 2010-11: 10.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg

English is both long and athletic, and he uses it to his advantage on the break. The key to slowing him is defensive transition because he has done very little scoring in the realm of half-court offense this year due to his poor shooting from long range. Don't be fooled by him, though, because he can get hot. English only needs 31 more 3-point baskets to join Mizzou's all-time top 10. He is deadly in a defensive trap situation due to his ability to get his long arms into passing lanes.

Guard– Michael Dixon Sophomore, 6-1, 180; 2010-11: 10.9 ppg, 4.1 apg

Point guard Michael Dixon's near 3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is impressive considering the number of possessions in a Missouri game. Dixon is most effective at getting the ball into the heart of the defense and feeding it to an open teammate, just like a coach wants from a sophomore point guard. He comes by those skills naturally; his father is the all-time assist leader at San Jose State. The key with defending Dixon is to make him more of a shooter than a driver. His outside-shooting game, while it has the potential to be very good, is quite inconsistent.


Forward – Laurence Bowers Junior, 6-8, 210; 2010-11: 6.1 rpg

Bowers is a guy who knows his role to play for Anderson. On a team known for its propensity to shoot threes, Bowers has attempted all of two. Bowers is very good on the defensive side of the court; he resides in the school's top-10 list for career blocked shots. The key to defending Bowers will be to keep him off the offensive glass, which will be a tough task for Rod Odom or anyone else replacing Andre Walker.

Forward – Ricardo Ratliffe Junior, 6-8, 240; 2010-11: 12.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg

The addition of Ratliffe to the Tigers' roster this season has greatly improved Mizzou. A two-time NJCAA All-American out of Florida, he has twice been named Big 12 Rookie of the Week this season. He was also the Big 12's Preseason Newcomer of the Year. Ratliffe has been dominant on the boards, becoming the first Tiger since 2003 to reach double figures in rebounding for four consecutive games. Naturally, Ezeli will match up with him. While Fes may have the height advantage, Ratliffe may be quicker. Whether it's Ezeli or another Vandy big guarding him, Ratliffe must be kept off the boards, especially with all of the long-distance shots taken by the Missouri backcourt.

Bench

The Tigers were No. 2 in the nation last year in bench scoring and haven't shown that aspect of their team-wide profile is going to deteriorate anytime soon.

Missouri's bench is highlighted by the Pressey brothers, junior Matt and freshman Phil, better known as Flip. They are the sons of former NBA player and current Cleveland Cavalier assistant coach Paul Pressey. Matt, a shooting guard, was a junior college All-American a year ago while Flip, a point guard, is the highest ranked recruit under Mike Anderson.

Justin Safford, the club's lone senior, and Steve Moore provide frontcourt depth. Safford recovered from a torn ACL a year ago and averages 4.1 rebounds per game off the bench. Moore stands 6-9, but is an excellent 3-point shooter, as many of the Tigers in fact are.

Keys to the Game

Beat the press. Duh.
A year ago the Commodores overcame 24 turnovers to beat the Tigers. Of course that was at home with a senior point guard in Jermaine Beal. Also missing for the Dores is the ever-steady Andre Walker, out with mononucleosis. When North Carolina coach Roy Williams applied a press in the second half of UNC's game against VU in Puerto Rico, Stallings countered by having Walker bring the ball up. That task must be carried out by Brad Tinsley and Kyle Fuller for VU to be successful.

One key to beating the Tiger press is to attack it. Teams get punished by Mizzou when they are content to just get the ball across the midcourt stripe. If VU is going to bring the ball across and slow down, Anderson will bring a variety of traps to Messrs. Tinsley and Fuller. Good fundamental teams such as Vandy can get easy baskets if they look to go to the basket instead of letting the backflow of the Missouri press recover to trap or poke out the basketball.

Keep going to the hot hand down low. Of course I am talking about Fes here. A year ago against Missouri, Vandy went to the foul line 31 times, making 26 shots. Twenty-three of those free throws were attempted by VU's frontline. How do you slow down a running team? Make it watch you shoot free throws. The best way for Vanderbilt to do that is to send Ezeli deep on the press break, and allow the Dores' most impressive and most improved player to take the ball strong to the basket.

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