Hoop M Nation

Can you smell it?  Conference play is in the air.  Let’s go around the nation.

 

Old Domination:  It seems like ages ago now, but it has been less than a week since Mizzou’s thorough destruction of Old Dominion.  I’ll confess that I thought that the Monarchs, with their heady mixture of size, experience and talent, had a great shot to hand Mike Anderson his first non-conference loss ever at Mizzou Arena.  But, as we know, I’ve been wrong before.

There’s no need to rehash the game; Bill already did that

Instead, let’s try to figure out what it means.  First, it confirms that this team is really, really good.  Even though Missouri looked sluggish early in the season against lesser opponents, once the competition got tougher, so did the Tigers.  Falling behind Georgetown by 18 in the first half was the he best thing that has happened to this team.  Since that moment, the Tigers have been one of the nation’s elite teams.  They got staggered and they responded.  That’s a great sign.

They’ve also figured out what to do when they need a bucket – give the ball to Marcus Denmon or Michael Dixon.  With two players fully capable of driving and finishing or stopping and popping, Missouri has become remarkably difficult to defend.  Baylor and Kansas State have shown what happens when you only have one guard you can trust.  The Tigers have two who are getting it done every game, and more who can beat you on any given day.

 

One negative we’ve learned is that the Tigers’ big men can fade like an old AM signal.  One minute they’re powerful, the next they’re gone.  Still on a positive note, against Illinois – the biggest and best front line they’ve faced so far – Ricardo Ratliffe, Laurence Bowers and Justin Safford all scored in double figures, with Ratilffe and Bowers combining for 14 rebounds.  I still don’t know how they’ll hold up against teams with two tough and talented post players.  But luckily, there aren’t many of those teams on the schedule.

 

After they beat North Alabama (a Division II opponent; the game won’t count toward their RPI), the Tigers will stand 14-1 entering conference play at Colorado on Saturday.  The last two times Mizzou started a season with a mark that good or better, the Tigers reached number one in the polls during the season and won the conference title.  The first came in 1981-82 when they began the season 19-0, and the second was 1989-90, when the Tigers ultimately stretched their record to 21-1.

 

It’s time to dream a little dream.

 

Get out the broom:  It’sanother sweep of weekly awards.  Marcus Denmon is the Big 12’s player of the week and Matt Pressey(!) is the league’s top newcomer.  Raise your hand if you foresaw the elder Pressey winning a weekly award this season.

Non-conference All-Big 12:  With the conference season upon us, it’s time for one man’s opinion on who have been the league’s best players in the non-con (in case you’re confused, that one man is me).

 

Marcus Denmon, guard, Missouri (17.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.0 stl, 51.8% FG, 50.6% 3FG, 85.4% FT).  I’m preaching to the choir here, but Denmon has been part-Melvin Booker, part-Zaire Taylor this season.  He’s been dominant nearly all the time, but especially in the most crucial moments, as the folks at Vandy and Illinois can attest.  And though the game didn’t turn out the way you wanted, watching Denmon trade haymakers with Georgetown’s Austin Freeman may have been the best action delivered in any game in the country this season.  He’s in the top seven in the league in six traditional individual categories, and is averaging 1.50 points per shot.  I’m not picking a non-conference player of the year, but if I were, Denmon would likely be the choice.

 

Marcus Morris, forward, Kansas (15.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 60.5% FG).  The best, most dependable player on the league’s top team, Morris is the perfect collegiate post player.  Too small to leave for the NBA after one or two years, but too skilled for his peers.

 

Jordan Hamilton, guard/forward, Texas (19.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 45.8% FG, 41.2% 3FG).  With wins over Illinois, North Carolina and Michigan State, Texas has already built a high-quality tournament resume, and the Longhorns have done it on Jordan Hamilton’s back.  The lanky sophomore wing is a matchup nightmare, an adept outside shooter who can also take smaller defenders down to the block.

 

Alec Burks, guard, Colorado (19.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 50.6% FG).  The Buffs’ sophomore wing is once again showing off his high-efficiency offensive game, making half his shots from the field and sinking six free throws per contest.  After losing three of its first five games, Colorado has won eight of its last nine largely due to Burks’s efforts.  And though everyone knows that Burks is CU’s top offensive option, no one can stop him.  He has scored at least 15 points in twelve of the Buffs’ fourteen games to date.

 

Marshall Moses, forward, Oklahoma State (17.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 56.8% FG).  The biggest surprise on the list is Oklahoma State’s undersized senior power forward, who has nearly doubled his scoring output from a year ago.  At 12-2 on the season, Oklahoma State is playing a bit above expectations, and much of that has to do with Moses’s consistent production.

 

So you’re saying there’s a chance?:  Kem Pomeroy ran a simulation of the Big 12 race 10,000 times.  Missouri won it 342 times, fourth most in the league.  Kansas, with 8352 wins, is the slight favorite.  In looking at Pomeroy’s various conference projections, it’s remarkable to see how often one team wins a league more than 60% of the time.  Typically, I’m of the mind that if you can take a team or take the field, you take the field.  These projections turn that on its head. 

Random facts from the record books:  While doing some research for another piece, I found that the Big 12 record for field goal attempts by a player in a game is the 36 hoisted by Clarence Gilbert in Missouri’s four-overtime win over Iowa State on January 13, 2001.  Tied for second at 31 attempts is Gilbert’s teammate Kareem Rush from that very same game.  I’ll be there’s not another record quite like that in any other conference in the land.

 

While in the same place, I stumbled across this monstrous anomaly.  If you ever want to convey to future generations how good Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant were in college, tell them this:  Entering this season, Big 12 freshmen had scored 30 or more points in a game 42 times.  Beasley and Durant combined for 24 of them.

 

Required reading:  Pat Forde minces no words in taking Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury to task over his handling of Renardo Sidney.

And finally . . . :  You’re Bucknell, you’re down one point to Richmond with 1.7 seconds left, and you’re 94 feet from the bucket.  What do you do?  You do your best Christian Laettner impression, that’s what you do.

 

 

 

 

 

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