Sunday, January 9, 2011

Colorado stuns Mizzou, two big games ahead

The temptation as Missouri began Big 12 play was to look at the Tigers’ first two games, at Colorado and home against Nebraska, and assume Missouri could ease into its conference schedule. Colorado entered last Saturday’s game with four losses (including setbacks at Harvard and San Francisco). Missouri won as many conference games last year (10) as the Buffs have the last three years. The Tigers had won eight straight against Colorado. I mean, it’s Colorado, right?

Wrong. This Colorado team is improved, led by Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, and provided a lesson for Missouri that all conference road games are treacherous. The Buffs kind of out-Missouri-ed Missouri, running up and down the court en route to a stunning 89-76 win over the then-No. 8 Tigers.

Colorado’s 10 turnovers were the fewest Missouri has forced all season. In recent meetings, Missouri has destroyed the Buffaloes with their athleticism and pressing style. On Saturday an avalanche of Colorado fast-break points forced Missouri to abandon the press and settle into a half-court zone defense. Naturally, given how this game went, Colorado buried a three in its second possession against the zone.

Colorado got 36 points from Burks to spring the upset. Maddeningly for Missouri fans, he is from Grandview, Mo.

Missouri (14-2, 0-1 in Big 12 play at week’s end) still has 15 games with which to have a fine conference season (the Tigers lost their conference opener on the road before the 2009 Elite Eight run), but a pair of telling games loom ahead after the Wednesday home game with Nebraska.

On Saturday, Missouri has its first big-time conference game of the year, at Texas A&M (noon on ESPN2). The Aggies are the one Big 12 team that Mike Anderson has not defeated in his time at Missouri (0-4). The Aggies (14-1, 1-0 Big 12) pummeled struggling Oklahoma on the road to open conference play and should be ranked in top 15 for the game with Missouri. They have won at least 24 games and made the NCAA Tournament second round in each of coach Mark Turgeon’s three years in College Station. Tiger fans should also be aware Turgeon played at Kansas.

This clash is followed by a Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 17) home game with Kansas State (4:30 p.m. on ESPN). The Wildcats battled through a difficult nonconference schedule and some off-court issues to a 12-4 record at week’s end. Like Missouri, Kansas State lost its conference opener on the road, albeit a more respectable defeat at Oklahoma State in the historic and rowdy Gallagher-Iba Arena. In a race to catch their object of mutual hatred, Kansas, the Tigers and Wildcats will both need this game extra badly after already dropping a league game.

Both of these games will be early indicators of what this team is capable of. One is a road game they need to steal after already dropping an away contest, the other is a stern test of Missouri’s ability to protect its home court advantage.

I thought heading into conference play that if Missouri could go 7-1 in home Big 12 games and 5-3 in road conference games, the resulting 12-4 record would mean a very good seed for the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament. After Saturday’s loss, getting to 5-3 on the road is a big mountain to climb with trips to Texas, Texas A&M, Gallagher-Iba (OSU) The Phog (Kansas), and the Octagon of Doom (Kansas State) yet to come.

But, only one game into Big 12 play, the Tigers can overcome last Saturday's loss to Colorado, starting with these two big games.

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