Don’t Forget Mizzou
They’ll be ready for Georgetown tonight.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
You’d think with its rather memorable and unique “Fastest 40 Minutes” style, Missouri would be the last team to be flying under the radar this early in the season. Maybe it’s because Mike Anderson’s 5-0 squad hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet this season (the Tigers defeated a solid La Salle team in the final of the Cancun Challenge last week), but those 40 minutes might be more underappreciated than anything right now.
Mizzou came into the season as a popular Big 12 contender/Final Four sleeper, but even when you’re one of the young season’s undefeated teams and ranked No. 8 nationally, if you’re not entered in one of the made-for-TV holiday pre-season tournaments (Maui, Orlando, Coaches v Cancer, P. NIT, etc…) it’s really easy to get swept under the rug.
They might have been forgotten after only a couple of weeks of basketball, but Missouri has weapons at every position, and incredible depth that makes their exhausting style even more deadly. While Mike Anderson has a fleet of gazelle-like athletes recruited and trained to trap, pressure, smother and fluster the offense for an entire game, the opposition rarely has the stamina or the bench to hold up for 40 minutes of suffocating defense.
While Anderson might not have scheduled the toughest first five games out of the gate, the Nolan Richardson disciple recently emphasized every early season game’s importance in solidifying what needs to be his team’s strength: “I think that’s what you’re trying to learn in the early nonconference schedule, the different mixes and guys that are going to play well and just trying to get the right combination because the most important component of our team is our bench.”
Missouri’s strength may be in its numbers, but the Tigers could potentially have a special season because of skilled players at the top of the rotation like Marcus Denmon, Kim English, and rebounding machine Ricardo Ratliffe. Anderson’s bench could get even deeper during the spring semester if prized recruit Tony Mitchell finally gains his eligibility.
The first true test of Missouri’s season and the team’s first chance to make a national statement will come tonight at 9 p.m. ET when the undefeated No. 16 Georgetown Hoyas visit the Sprint Center in Kansas City. It’s not exactly your granddad’s Princeton offense (no one — not even Princeton — runs it like Pete Carril used to), but watching John Thompson III’s systematic approach face off against the organized chaos conducted by Mike Anderson should be wild.
Though this is easily the hardest competition the Tigers have faced thus far, I think Mizzou has the edge in this one. It’s harder for a more methodical team like the Hoyas to successfully speed themselves up than the other way around, and no matter how much scouting Georgetown has done, it will be a challenge for JT3 and his staff to prepare their players for the physical and mental fatigue that tends to set in around the 10-minute mark of the second half vs. Missouri. (In preparation for Cornell’s first-round match-up with Missouri in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, to simulate the Tigers’ pressure defense, our scout team pressed with eight players at a time).
This terrific post-game quote from La Salle coach John Gianni sums up, in a deliciously odd yet effective way, Missouri’s discomforting style of play: “It reminds me of the old Loyola Marymount quote that when you get a few baskets against their press and you’re running and the game is fast, it’s like eating ice cream. Players love to play fast, they love to get some easy baskets, but try to eat ice cream for 40 minutes straight. You’re going to get sick. You can’t do it.”
While I might accept the man’s ice cream eating challenge, I understand Giamatti’s general point. I seriously doubt Georgetown is going to plan on participating in Missouri’s track meet, but the Tigers will frequently give you easy baskets and at the same time trick you into thinking you’re as athletic as they are. Horrible mistake.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.