March 7, 2009

Tigers vs Aggies: Round One

Missouri looks to lock up the second seed in next week's Big 12 tournament and possibly earn a share of the league title as the Tigers travel to College Station on Saturday afternoon. Missouri is 25-and-5 and 12-and-3 in Big 12 play. Texas A&M is 22-and-8 and 8-and-7. PowerMizzou.com has the preview:

Three Keys to the Game

Speed it Up: The Aggies do have more depth than many teams in the Big 12 as 11 players have played at least 17 minutes in a game this season. But the Aggies have six players averaging 25 minutes or more (Missouri has only two) and have cut the rotation as the season has gone on. But the issue here isn't so much the depth as the style of play. Again, nobody has scored 80 on A&M all season long. Nebraska is the only other Big 12 team that can make that claim. Missouri has hit that mark 17 times this season. They have won all 17. If Missouri gets this game into the eighties, or even the mid-seventies, their chances go up significantly.

Defend the Three: The Tigers have given up twenty fewer three-point shots than any other team in the Big 12 this season. Mizzou is allowing opponents to shoot only 31.3% from beyond the line. No other team has held opponents under 33%. Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year candidate J.T. Tiller deserves much of the credit for that stat, along with backcourt mate Zaire Taylor. The exploits of Josh Carter were mentioned above and he and B.J. Holmes both rank in the top ten in the league in three-point accuracy. Still, the Aggies have made more threes than only Colorado and Texas this season.

Take it Away: Turnover margin is a stat more often mentioned with football than hoops. But perhaps no number has been more important to Missouri's season. The Tigers get seven more turnovers than they give away each game, far and away the best in the Big 12. Mizzou has forced 584 turnovers by the opposition. Only Kansas State is within 100 of that number in the league. Meanwhile, Texas A&M ranks ninth in the league in turnover margin. The Aggies commit the third-fewest turnovers in the league, but they also force fewer than any team except Colorado. If the Tigers can turn this category into a lopsided advantage, they should win the game.

Official Prediction: There are two major factors in favor of the Aggies here: First, they're at home. The Aggies are 16-and-2 at Reed Arena with wins over Texas, Arizona and LSU. Only Oklahoma and Kansas State have won in College Station. Second, they're playing for a tournament bid. But that factor could have been somewhat mitigated thanks to Texas Tech. When the Red Raiders beat Kansas in the Big 12's biggest upset of the season, Missouri's hopes for a share of the conference title got new life. The Jayhawks don't tip off until Missouri and A&M should be just about finished, so the Tigers will go into the game with hopes of a shared crown still alive. In addition, Missouri is coming off of its most complete effort of the season. Carter is the one Aggie who seems to be able to take over a game and lift his team to victory. But his biggest strength (outside shooting) has also been Mizzou's biggest strength (perimeter defense). We'll take Tiller and Taylor to slow down Carter, Holmes and Donald Sloan and wear out the Aggie big men. Missouri clinches the second seed with a gritty 72-67 win.

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