Running out of reasons to doubt Missouri as a contender

0 Comments

Any intelligent college hoop fans wrote off Baylor as a title contender earlier this week. The No. 6 Bears just don’t have it, that special something associated with title teams. Saturday’s 72-57 loss to No. 4 Missouri provided the latest examples.

Baylor (21-4) killed Missouri on the boards, but couldn’t muster any defense on the Tigers and had another no-show game from potential NBA lottery pick Perry Jones III. It might make the Sweet 16 or even the Elite Eight – it’s still better than roughly 335 teams out there – but that’s it. If you’re looking for a Big 12 contender, look to Kansas or Missouri.

So let’s talk Missouri, shall we?

The Tigers (23-2 overall, 10-2 in the Big 12) didn’t get much from forward Ricardo Ratliffe: six points on 3-of-9 shooting, eight boards, one block and three turnovers. Yet they didn’t need their lone inside player to have a good game in order to pull away from Baylor, one of the game’s tallest teams.

That happens when you can’t miss from outside.

Missouri made 14 of 28 from beyond the arc, and it wasn’t just leading scorer Marcus Denmon, either. He hit 4 of 8. Phil Pressey was 4 of 7. Kim English hit two. Super-sub Michael Dixon hit four. That kind of scoring balance – who do you focus on along the perimeter? – and consistency something that’ll be crucial in March when the Tigers start to play in Domes and unfamiliar settings. If one guy’s off, another carries the load for a bit.

Because with Missouri – like the nation’s other guard-heavy teams in Duke and Florida – it really is all about the offense.

“When Missouri is on, there is nobody in the country as good as them offensively. Nobody. Period,” coach Scott Drew said. “And when I mean on, is when they’re making their 3s. So you have to hope they’re not on. They’ve been on a lot this year.”

The defense is OK. The Tigers don’t press as much as they did during the Mike Anderson era, which is probably a good thing when you’ve got a team that passes and shoots like this. Do just enough on defense so the offense can carry the load. But don’t mistake the Tigers for guys who just jack 3s.

No team fares better inside the arc (57.1 percent) mostly because guys like Pressey and Dixon can get into the lane, then find a cutting teammate (usually Ratliffe) for an easy bucket. Also, they don’t commit turnovers. The depth isn’t an issue – you get plenty of TV timeouts during the Big Dance – unless there’s serious foul trouble. But Missouri doesn’t commit many fouls by design.

Still, there are some reservations about this team, just like pretty much any team out there that isn’t Kentucky, Syracuse or Ohio State. (And even those three aren’t that much better than everyone else.) Better defensive teams will come along.  A bad-shooting will happen, probably when they have to play in a dome.

But it’ll be fun to be along for the ride with these guys. Any team that’s this good on offense is a viewer’s treat.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.