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Hoop M Nation

As we head into the light week of hoops precipitated by finals, it’s time to take stock of the caped crusaders and masked men who make up Missouri basketball.  Let’s go around the nation.

Dr. Impossible:  I don’t need to tell you that Marcus Denmon is playing at the highest, most heroic level we’ve seen from a Missouri guard in years, or that this team’s identity is coalescing around him.  I don’t need to point out that the Tigers certainly would have lost to Vanderbilt without him, or that they might also have dropped games against La Salle and Oregon absent his inspired play.  I don’t need to note that his steal and old-fashioned three-point play in the closing seconds against Vandy will stand as one of the most thrilling and unforgettable moments ever witnessed in a non-conference game in Columbia.  And I certainly don’t need to cram Denmon’s recent heroics into an overwrought narrative about the intersection of triumph and tragedy.  Instead, I’ll just reprint these words from Mike DeArmond’s Presbyterian game wrap-up from Sunday’s Kansas City Star

Marcus Denmon, speaking publicly for the first time since his cousin, Marion Denmon, died Tuesday night in Kansas City as a result of gunshot wounds, said he really had no choice over how to handle that heartache.

He had to play in Missouri’s game against Vanderbilt on Wednesday, a game Denmon wound up winning with a deflection, steal, lay up and free throw with 5.8 seconds left as the Tigers triumphed 85-82 in overtime.

"We were really close," Marcus Denmon said. "More like brothers. We grew up from kids together.

"But these guys are like my brothers, too. I just felt like they needed me here as well as my family. I’m sure that my cousin would want me to still be here playing."

Missouri coach Mike Anderson — hearing Denmon’s words after he scored 12 points and handed out four assists in the Tigers’ 70-55 victory over Presbyterian on Saturday — didn’t see any need to say much more.

"He even said it," Anderson said. "That says it all."

Captain Infinity:  With nine assists, two steals and no turnovers against Presbyterian, freshman point guard Phil Pressey recorded an infinite Ball Control Index score, and a plus-11 raw number (I wrote this before seeing that Bill made the exact same observation in Study Hall).  Is eleven the most combined assists and steals a Mizzou player has put up without a turnover since we started the BCI here at RMN?  I don’t know, but it is hereby declared the unofficial record.  Let’s start keeping track now.


The Banshee:  I am 99.4% certain that the voice I heard behind me in the UM System’s suite at Saturday’s game belonged to Marcheita Anderson, wife of Mizzou coach Mike Anderson.  Rather than relaxing with a glass of wine and indulging in the full spread of food, Mrs. Anderson was using her center court perch to work the refs and to encourage and admonish her husband’s players.  It will come as no surprise that this woman knows the game.  At an event earlier in the day, she explained her emotions during a game:  "I’m bad y’all. I just try to keep my language clean. It’s not me. It’s my alter ego. I’m gonna have to give her a name."  We just did.

Demolition Man:  I don’t want to name names, but one of Mizzou’s reserves played a few minutes to such comically tragic results against Presbyterian that I thought to myself "that guy’s a walking disaster today," which in turn led me to fondly recall Grace Jones’s unforgettable take on a song written and originally recorded by The Police:

Grace Jones - Demolition Man
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Opposition Research:  Two games on the grid this week, both at home.  The Tigers host Oral Roberts on Thursday, and then welcome Central Arkansas to town on Saturday night.  ORU stumbles into town at 4-5, coming off a 73-60 loss to Oklahoma, a game the Golden Eagles led by thirteen points in the first half.  Kansas City kid Dominique Morrison leads ORU with 17.3 points per game, but the Eagles have been hampered by the loss of Michael Craion, who is nursing a broken foot.  This isn’t the same ORU team that beat the Tigers at the buzzer last season in Tulsa.  Mizzou should cruise.


The most notable thing about Central Arkansas is that the Bears are coached by former Arkansas Razorback and NBA star Corliss Williamson.  Less notable is everything else.  Ken Pomeroy ranks Central Arkansas as the number 317 team in Division I and gives the Bears a 1% chance of winning this game.  And that 1% probably overstates things.


A Star is Born:  Iowa State junior guard Scott Christopherson helped the Cyclones make it through the night on Friday at in-state rival Iowa, as he buried seven three pointers on his way to 30 points in ISU’s 75-72 win.  Christopherson has made 59.3% of his three-point shots thus far, and is attempting nearly six of them per game.  Without a proven interior presence (though freshman forward Melvin Ejim has been terrific), and with a talent deficiency against most high-major teams, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has given his budding junior star free reign.  And when it comes to three-point shooting, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.


Less than Jake:  K-State’s pre-season All-American Jacob Pullen hasn’t been bad by any stretch, but he hasn’t been the dominant player that all expected.  He leads the Cats in scoring by a wide margin, but his points, shooting percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage are all down from a year ago, and his turnovers are up a bit.  He also leads the team in assists by a mile, where last year he was second to Denis Clemente.  With Clemente gone – and without a dynamic scorer and playmaker to replace him – an immense burden now falls on Pullen.  He has to get his own shots while also facilitating for others.  It’s no big shock that he’s a bit less efficient than a year ago.  And it also shouldn’t be a shock that Kansas State, as a team, seems a bit less formidable.  The Cats still have a big, rugged front line, but without Clemente (and without production from Wally Judge, who is away from the team indefinitely to tend to personal issues), it’s hard to see how they’ll play at the same level that got them to the Final Four’s doorstep a season ago.  They could really use a quality win right about now.  With previously vanquished foes Virginia Tech and Gonzaga mired in losing streaks, K-State’s best win to date appears to be the game they eked out at Washington State (KSU led by just two with ten seconds to play).  The Cats play a near-road game against Florida at the Orange Bowl Classic on Saturday, and then return for a near-home contest against UNLV at the Sprint Center a week from today.  K-State needs to win both games to reclaim the swagger they had in the offseason.  Anything less than a split will be cause for a major reassessment of the Wildcats’ potential.


More from Moses:  Last week, we marveled at how Oklahoma State’s Marshall Moses has blossomed into a full-fledged go-to guy.  He kept it up this week against Tulsa, going 12 for 12 from the field (including a three-pointer) in the Pokes’ 71-54 win. 

Here He Comes:  Kansas uber-freshman Josh Selby has finished his NCAA-mandated suspension and will hit the court for the first time on Saturday when the Jayhawks host Southern Cal for an 11:00 am tip.  Jeff Goodman bucks conventional thinking with a smart take on the challenge Kansas will face when Selby hits the floor.

A series of mistakes:  The withering silence you hear is the reaction to this year’s Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series, and no one was more aggressively indifferent to the event than the Big 12 and Pac-10, which neglected to promote the "event" in any appreciable way or to construct it in a manner designed to hold the public’s attention.  In case you don’t know – and, honestly, why would you know? – the event consists of twelve games between the leagues’ teams (every Big 12 program plays once, while two Pac-10 teams play twice) intended either to prove or not prove one conference’s basketball superiority over the other.  Rather than play the thing over three days on the ESPN networks (like the ACC-Big Ten Challenge), the B12/P10HS (I don’t even have the enthusiasm to write it out anymore) spans four weeks, various networks and mind-boggling tip times (Big 12 fans saw games that started at 10:00 pm local time).  Though there is one game left to play (Oklahoma State plays Stanford on December 21, ten days after the penultimate contest in the series), Texas A&M wrapped the whole shebang up for the Big 12 on Saturday with a 63-62 win over Washington, the league’s seventh win.  The whole thing goes away next year, apparently because the Pac-10 doesn’t want it to continue.  I think the Pac-10 speaks for all of us. 

Required reading:    Draft Express notes thefreshmen who make NBA scouts salivate, and Luke Winn has the lowdown on the freshmen who fit. Meanwhile, Rush the Court checks in on the Big 12, and includes Marcus Denmon on its list of six player of the year candidates, and also looks around the country at contenders and pretenders.

Quote of the week:  "You can slowly see him emerging as a leader. He's talking a lot more, and guys are listening. You have to earn leadership, and he's earned it."  Mike Anderson on Marcus Denmon.

And finally . . . :  For the past couple of decades, I’ve believed that the greatest traditional coupling of hoop and holiday is the Braggin’ Rights game, but it can’t top this: