Published on February 17th, 2012 | by Bryant West, Columnist0
Team of the Week: Missouri
If you looked at the Missouri Tiger’s roster on October 5th, you’d be forgiven if you’d thought their season was over before it had even began.
Senior big man Laurence Bowers had just been sidelined for the year with a torn ACL, and he left the Tigers with a huge hole in the middle. Considered a fringe top-25 squad at the beginning of the season, the loss of Bowers could have easily sunk Missouri.
So how in the world are the Tigers currently #3 in the rankings, with a 24-2 overall record and an excellent shot at the Big-12 title? They’re doing it with, quite simply, the most balanced and effective offense in the nation.
They’re eighth in the nation in points at 80.3 a contest, and third in the nation in field goal percentage with 50.1 percent makes on the season. They’re 17th in assists per contest at 16 a game, and only give up 10.8 turnovers a contest, seventh best in the nation. And perhaps most impressive is their scoring differential – with their 80.3 scored a contest, they give up just 64.0 points a contest, a difference of 16.2 points. That’s third best in the NCAA, behind just Kentucky and Ohio State.
It’s hard to show just how effective Missouri’s offense in statistically, because the beauty of it is that it’s so dang beautiful to watch. Coach Frank Haith has done a great job working with a very talented group of guards and wings that win, despite having a lack of size in the middle. The Tiger’s ball movement and spacing, and overall willingness to pass and find a better shot, is absolutely top-notch.
Missouri has four players who score in double figures, led by senior guard Marcus Denmon who averages 17.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals a contest while averaging 46 percent shooting and 40 percent from downtown. Next is senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe, the Tigers’ lone force in the paint, who averages 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds on an absolutely ridiculous 73.4 percent shooting.
Next is senior guard Kim English, who averages 13.6 points on 50 percent shooting and 46 percent from downtown, and junior guard Michael Dixon who notches in 12.5 points and 3.0 assists on 47 percent shooting. The Tigers top four scorers all shot better than 46 percent from the field—further proof of their absolute offensive dominance. Sophomore guard Phil (Flip) Pressey rounds out the top five, scoring 9.8 points on a slightly low 40.8 percent shooting, but he makes up for it with 5.9 assists and 2.2 steals a contest.
And yet, again on paper, their lack of size in the middle really SHOULD hurt this team. After all, they are in a conference with both Kansas and Baylor, both of whom have big men who will go in the lottery of the 2012 NBA Draft (Thomas Robinson from Kansas, Perry Jones from Baylor). How do they manage it?
Simply, they just outscore the other team. They’re going to give up points in the middle (Robinson had 25 points and 13 boards the first time these teams met, but Jones averaged just 6 points and 5.5 boards on 31 percent shooting) but their stellar guard play continues to win it for the Tigers. They’re 3-0 against Kansas and Baylor so far this season, with one contest left in Kansas against the Jayhawks that will likely decide the conference regular season title.
How long can they keep this up? It seems every time Missouri is doubted, they come up even bigger than before. Even if they hadn’t lost Laurence Bowers to begin the season, a 24-2 record would be dang amazing—without him, it’s utterly unbelievable. There hasn’t been a better coaching job done this season than the one that Frank Haith has been doing, and the Tigers continue to prove you cannot count them out.