SCOUTING THE TIGERS
Head coach Mike Anderson's "Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball" approach was extremely effective in his 10 seed's opening round win over Clemson. The Big XII's Tigers forced 20 turnovers and 15 steals and managed to slow CU interior threat Trevor Booker. Missouri's continual full court pressure allowed it to rally, and gave swingman Kim English (6-6, 200 lbs.) numerous transition chances with which to amass his 20 points. The sophomore leads the team at 14 points per outing, with 3.5 rebounds per and a handful of assists all season. English attacks the basket well and, though he isn't incredible from the outside, has made 66 of 177 threes. His game is getting up and down and using the full court to create slashes to the bucket and good scoring chances from outside the arc in transition. Because of the movement and flow of Missouri's pressure, the Tigers often give up easy baskets as well as get them. Foes don't often have time to setup, and the style quickly develops into a rather well-organized playground game. But make no mistake: The Tigers are experienced and talented enough to cause West Virginia major issues, especially if it doesn't protect the basketball and manage a slow down style. Despite the tag of the "Fastest 40," it's the Mountaineers who actually want the clock to run continually – while they operate in the halfcourt and slow the scoring and pace. This is a game of opportunities and intelligence. Take the former when it's there, and use the latter to know when it is.
Besides English, Missouri has two other players averaging double figures in scoring with reserve guard Marcus Denmon (6-3, 185 lbs.) and starting forward Lawrence Bowers (6-8, 205 lbs.), both at 10 points per game. Denmon is a very good outside shooter who combines good rebounding and all-around touch to pack a punch off the pine. He'll use transition chances to get to the rim, but isn't a driver in the traditional sense. He also has among the fewest steals on a team that gets them in bunches. Bowers, the power forward, averages a team second-best 5.6 rebounds per game (no player has more than 5.8). The sophomore has taken 25 threes this year, and will shoot it if it's available. But he operates mainly on the inside, where he is making 57 percent. He is long and shows great athletic ability, and should be a match for the Mountaineers on the defensive end. Five man Keith Ramsey (6-9, 217 lbs.), one of three seniors to see major time, is the team's best shot blocker and will get to the bucket with power and strength in transition. He averages just 6.3 points and doesn't get to the line much, but his 54 steals and 5.8 rebounds per game are key on a squad that needs as much defensive ability in an athletic big man as it can get. The other starting guards – J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor – are both seniors. Tiller (6-3, 200 lbs.) is among the premiere defensive players in the tournament and was named the Big XII Defensive Player of the Year. This is a tough draw for Truck Bryant, who has handled the ball well against pressing tams, but them forces the action to the hoop too much. If WVU head coach Bob Huggins again chooses to play Joe Mazzulla the majority of the game, fans could see among the best head-to-head defensive point guard contests in the tournament. Both players bring a "bulldog" style and will continually harass the other. Mazzulla might be more physical, while Tiller is quicker. Officiating style could dictate much here. Tiller hits for about nine points per game and, like Mazzulla, is a driver rather than a shooter. For players with varying physical gifts and traits, this is very close to a mirror match-up. Taylor (6-4, 189 lbs.), out of Staten Island, has the length to bother WVU. His assist-to-turnover ratio is down to two-to-one from the three-to-one of last season, but he makes good decisions with the ball and gets to the line decently. He isn't shooting as well this season (37 percent from the field) as last, but because of Missouri's added depth and scoring punch, has been able to concentrate on his defense – leading to a team-high 61 steals.
Anderson will mix in three other players to give the Tigers roughly a nine-man rotation, which is needed with the up-and-down style. Guards Michael Dixon (6-1, 175 lbs.) and Miguel Paul (6-1, 172 lbs.) average 16 and 12 minutes, respectively, and seven and 3.5 points. Paul is a sophomore, and as such is trusted a bit more in tight game situations that his freshman reserve counterpart. Paul is quick off the dribble and is challenging players toward the basket effectively. Listed as a "change of pace" player, Paul is at his best when matched one-on-one in space. Dixon, a Kansas City native, was the Show Me state's top prep player last year. He has eight starts this year, and can hit from all over at 46 percent, 35 from three. His game is still developing, but this appears to be Anderson's player of the future. WVU needs to stay in front of him and force contested jumpers. Center Steve Moore (6-9, 265 lbs.) gives Missouri some inside muscle. He has increased his agility across the lane and floor, and has started changing more shots and attempts because if this. If West Virginia handles pressure, Moore could be called upon for more than his usual 10 minutes per game to help lessen some inside size and skill edges WVU has.
|Sun. March 21
2:40 p.m. EST
|Sirius Channel: 90|
WVU – 4
UM – 47
Missouri wants to press and play uptempo. West Virginia wants a halfcourt game. Whichever team can impose the will upon the other will have a significant advantage that could decide the game. WVU needs to keep composure and realize that it might take eight seconds to safely move the ball across halfcourt. That leaves less time on the shot clock, but in the way that Missouri will work on defense and pressure, the Mountaineers must work on focus and within motion sets. Getting good, close-in shots is a must. Settling for long threes causes lower percentages and long rebounds – leading to runouts and transition points. West Virginia must attack when the intelligent option is to do so while realizing when it would be prudent to pull back and run the halfcourt game. This one calls for a lot of feel and realization of situations, especially on the side of the two-seed. Missouri is never out of a game, though it also rarely seals a contest because of the potential for turnovers and quick scores for the opposition. It's a live-and-die setup that has allowed UM success for the most part. But the Tigers have not often been forced to rebound and show patience against somewhat methodic sets run with talent and length. Either team could get frustrated in this game, and how that is transferred to play is key. West Virginia has the experience edge in close, competitive games. This one could be another.
West Virginia will attempt to reach the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six NCAA Tournament appearances dating to 1998. The Mountaineers will also attempt to tie the school record for single-season wins with a 29th. The 1959 NCAA runner-up team also won 29 games.
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Missouri and WVU have met once before, that in 1992 NCAA Tournament play in Greensboro, N.C. The Tigers, 89-78 winners, were seeded 5th in the dreaded 5 vs. 12 match-up. West Virginia led two separate times only to have the arena lights go out during a thunderstorm. The Tigers, with the shorter bench, used the rest to regroup and win. The Mountaineers also lost a game with a power outage earlier that season at Rhode Island.
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Missouri ranks first in Division I in steals per game with 11.1. It is second in turnover margin (plus-6.8).
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Bob Huggins is 2-0 against Missouri. Both games came when Huggins coached at Kansas State. He is 4-1 versus UM head coach Mike Anderson.
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WVU is 24-0 this season when holding foes to less than 70 points. It is unbeaten in nine neutral court games this year.