Sunday, February 20, 2011

Missouri survives wild week in Big 12

With the Big 12 Conference more or less going mad last week, Missouri (21-6, 7-5 in Big 12 play) kept chaos a handful of points away in wins over the league’s worst teams. Kansas State shocked rival Kansas, then No. 1, and Nebraska pulled perhaps an even bigger stunner against the object of the Huskers’ loathing, the then-No. 2 Texas Longhorns. Throw in a Texas Tech win at Baylor without their best player, and it was quite a shakeup week for the Big 12.

It wasn’t comfortable or pretty for the Tigers, but Missouri managed to avoid joining this list of upset victims. The Tigers played bad-bordering-on-indifferent defense in a home game against 11th-place Texas Tech, outscoring the Red Raiders for a 92-84. Then, last Saturday, Missouri finally picked up its first Big 12 road win of the year, winning 76-70 at last-place Iowa State.

Missouri turned the ball over 16 times against the Cyclones, who for their part committed 14 turnovers in what was a pretty sloppy game. But road wins are rarely pretty or easy, and for Missouri prior to Saturday they had simply been rare, so the Tigers and their fans will take it. Several trends were reversed with the road win. Instead of being called for more fouls and shooting fewer free throws, as often happens to the road team, Missouri was called for 16 fouls to Iowa State’s 21. The Tigers shot 24 free throws; the perimeter-oriented Cyclones shot nine.

Marcus Denmon scored 25 points in the Tigers win over Iowa State. It was a big week for both Denmon, who scored his 1,000th career point in the win over Texas Tech, and Kim English, who scored his 1,000th point with he second point at Iowa State.

And speaking of milestones, the Iowa State win was the 1,498th win in Missouri men’s basketball history. With four tough games remaining, there’s a chance the Tigers will be going for No. 1,500 in the season finale against Kansas at Mizzou Arena.

There’s a better chance they get it before then. After hosting the talented-but-inconsistent Baylor Bears at home on Wednesday, Missouri has two road games against teams battling to get into the NCAA Tournament.

First is Saturday’s trip to Manhattan to play Kansas State. The Wildcats surged onto the good side of the tournament bubble with the win over Kansas, and this game will be another chance for the hungry Wildcats to burnish their resume with another quality win. Fortunately, Missouri has got the first Big 12 road win out of the way, but it will be tough to beat the resurgent Wildcats, who have won four of five through Saturday, in Bramlage Coliseum, the “Octagon of Doom.”

The game at Nebraska will also be tough. Nebraska’s slow-it-down approach is often tough on Missouri’s up-tempo style, as Husker coach Doc Sadler is 6-5 against Missouri coach Mike Anderson. However, Missouri clearly has more talent than Nebraska, so this is an opportunity for another road win to improve the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament seed.

The Tigers’ win over Iowa State was their third in a row. These wins all came against teams that are 4-8 or worse in Big 12 play, but they do give Missouri a boost heading into the challenging final two weeks of the regular season.

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