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Hoop M Nation

It seems like ages ago that the Tigers last played, but they still managed to pack a lot of living into the past week, with one loss you’ll always remember and one win you’ll gladly forget.  Wanna make sense of it all?  Let’s go around the nation.

Marcus O RLY-us?:  Mizzou hoops sports information director Dave Reiter delivers the tweet of the week: "What a week for #Mizzou's Marcus Denmon. 15-19 FGs, 8-11 treys, 46 total pts, 23.0 ppg and 7.0 rebounds per game. 22 total treys in 7 games."  


I mentioned this Friday on my award-winning performance on The Closers (it hasn’t won any awards yet, but that seems like a formality at this point): Marcus Denmon is becoming Melvin Booker, or something very much like him.  Booker’s scoring averages in his first three seasons: 8.3, 11.6 and 15.8 points per game.  Denmon’s through the seventh game of his junior year: 6.0, 10.4, 16.4.  The comparison isn’t exact.  Denmon plays off the ball more than Booker did, and takes (and makes) considerably more of his shots from three-point range.  But from their size to their demeanor to their ability to take the ball to the hoop or to stop and pop, the two players have lots of similarities.


Denmon is currently shooting 56.4% from three-point range and averaging a ridiculous 1.67 points per shot (his points per shot number is exactly the same as Kemba Walker’s, who, as noted below, is having some kind of year).  Will those numbers stay sky-high?  Probably not.  But Missouri has already played roughly one-fifth of its full schedule.  We have a pretty fair sample size, and it cuts across all kinds of venues – the convention center weirdness of Cancun, the home cooking of Mizzou Arena, the NBA-style backdrop of Sprint Center, the old-school hostility of Oregon’s McArthur Court.  In other words, it’s not a fluke.  Marcus Denmon is for real.


How soon I forget:  With word that Denmon and Ricardo Ratilffe had been named the Big 12 player and rookie of the week, respectively, I wondered when the last time two Tigers had been so honored simultaneously, assuming it was a once-in-an-epoch event.  So I asked Dave Reiter.  His answer?  It last happened less than a year ago, when Kim English and Michael Dixon earned props for their efforts against Illinois and Austin Peay.  



Heartbreak Hotel:  Maybe it’s a case of time healing all wounds, but I’m at a loss to come up with a non-conference, non-postseason loss that caused as much existential pain as Tuesday’s loss to Georgetown.  The overtime loss to Gonzaga in Seattle in December 2003 might qualify, and the 71-70 defeat in the Braggin’ Rights game ten days later might, too.  But those games now are mostly remembered (by me, at least) as part of one long, continuous free fall.  I don’t mean to wallow in the misery, but can anyone remember another November/December game with as much sting?


When you’re not, you’re not:  I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the way Georgetown scorched the nets from the free throw line and the three-point arc last Tuesday.  Which makes the stats from their next game (against Utah State on Saturday) all the tougher to take:  2 of 9 from the arc, 20 of 27 from the line.


Missile Defense:  Missouri’s last three opponents have torched the Tigers from three-point range, making 31 of 68 attempts (45.6%).  Some of that, undoubtedly, is chance.  But some of it is sub-standard defense.  During Mike Anderson’s tenure, one of the hallmarks of Mizzou’s halfcourt D has been the ability to recover.  Even when the Tigers double-teamed a player, they moved like mercury to find open shooters when the ball was passed out of trouble.  But the current lineup doesn’t close out as quickly as Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller did.  And until they find a way to do so, expect to see opponents drop treys at a higher rate than in the past.


Opposition Research:  Vanderbilt comes to Columbia on Wednesday, presenting what should be the toughest non-conference test on Norm Stewart Court this season.  The Commodores stand 7-1 on the year, with their best win coming against North Carolina in Puerto Rico.  Vandy’s top scorer so far has been 6’4" sophomore guard John Jenkins, who is averaging 18.6 points per game.  Jenkins’s shooting percentage is actually down pretty substantially from a season ago, but he is making a living at the free throw line, having already made almost as many uncontested shots as he did all of last year.  Still, Missouri has players who can guard Jenkins.  The tougher matchup may be 6’11" center Festus Ezeli, who has tallied 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in the season’s first few weeks.  Sophomore forward Jeffery Taylor (12.1 ppg) is another dangerous player.  Expect the Tigers to do their best to get (and keep) the ball out of Jenkins’s hands.  Ken Pomeroy has this game as all but a tossup (his model has Mizzou winning 56% of the time or by a 77-75 score).  Speaking of Commodores, this was the $#!& in my youth:



Saturday brings Presbyterian to town, and the Blue Hose are an enigma.  They lost by just nine at Kansas State, and have posted wins against Princeton, Western Kentucky and VMI.  But they’ve also been blown out by Vanderbilt and Bucknell on their way to a 3-5 record.  Al’Lonzo Coleman, a 6’7" center, has been Presbyterian’s most productive player, but Mizzou has too much – too much size, too much depth, too much talent – for this game to stay close for long.  Still, the Blue Hose have made 41.3% of their long-distance shots so far.  Missouri needs to shore up the perimeter defense to ensure an easy victory. 


Holy Moses:  One of the Big 12’s breakout stars this year has been Oklahoma State senior forward Marshall Moses.  Known over his first three seasons as an interior workhorse, Moses has blossomed into the Cowboys’ go-to scorer, a role solidified on Saturday when he posted 30 points and 18 rebounds in a double-overtime win over La Salle (which is now 0-3 against the Big 12, and 5-0 vs. the rest of the world).  Currently second in the Big 12 in rebounding and fourth in scoring and field goal percentage, Moses has positioned himself to contend for all-conference honors, something few would have imagined six weeks ago.


It keeps getting worse:  After opening the season with wins over Coppin State, North Carolina Central and Texas Southern, Oklahoma has dropped five straight, most in ugly fashion.  The most recent effort against Arizona saw the Wildcats shoot 55.8% from the field and 66.8% from the arc, record 20 assists against just 10 turnovers, and out-rebound the Sooners by 13.  Oklahoma currently ranks 205th in the nation in points per game, and 243rd in rebounds.  Jeff Capel’s job shouldn’t be in jeopardy yet, but it’s hard to sustain that kind of ineptitude and maintain any kind of employment.  It seems exceedingly unlikely that the Sooners will win many games this year, but it’s incumbent on Capel to get them to play hard.  He can’t afford to lose this team.  Last year, he got a team with talent to play poorly.  Now he needs a team without talent to play well.


Required reading:  Baylor is recruiting an eleven year old, and Ballin’ Is a Habit is nonplussed.  


Messed around and got a triple double: I know I write about Kemba Walker every week, but as long as he puts up numbers like the 24-point, 13-rebound, 10-assist effort against UMBC on Friday, I’m going to keep doing it.  It has been a long time since a guard has dominated the game nationally like Walker has done over the past three weeks.  You know how good Austin Freeman was against Mizzou last Tuesday?  Walker has been that good in each of the past six games.  


It’s pronounced "KY-ree", Mr. Mister:  I’ve previously slobbered all over collegiate newcomers Jared Sullinger and Terrence Jones in this space, but the new Greatest Freshman of All Time (G-FAT) is Duke point guard Kyrie Irving.  Irving’s 31 points (on 8 of 12 shooting) in a nationally televised game against Michigan State is how legends are born.  He may join Walker in the All-America backcourt.


Give Me Liberty (to shoot until my arms fall off): Norm Stewart once said "We’ve got a lot of shooters, but we don’t have many makers."  And it hardly breaks any ground to note that you’d like your high-volume shooters to make shots at an average-or-better rate.  As of yesterday, Liberty’s Evan Gordon had tried more three-point shots than anyone in the nation, but was connecting on just 32.5% of his attempts (and that’s after going 5 for 8 on Saturday against Winthrop).  But that doesn’t even make him close to the worst high-volume shooter in America at the moment.  In fact, five of the other top twenty volume shooters are currently connecting at a lower rate, none lower than Howard’s Dadrian Collins, who has made just 22.1% of his 68 attempts, which is more than half of his team’s tries.  I haven’t watched Howard, so I can’t tell you for sure that the chuck-and-duck style is why the Bison have lost their last seven games by double figures, but I have a sneaking suspicion.   


Quote of the Week:  "I've made mistakes, I clearly did, but what I was hoping for was that some other dumbass would get on the front page and take me off the hook.  I miss Lane Kiffin.''  Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl.  


And Finally . . . :  I got the holiday spirit, and I’m here to share it.