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March 4, 2011
KU aiming for outright title
No. 2 Kansas (28-2; 13-2) held up its end of the bargain by defeating Texas A&M to secure at least a share of the Big 12 title. Kansas State took down Texas earlier in the week to give KU the chance to win its seventh straight championship. Saturday, the Jayhawks travel to No. 24 Missouri (22-8; 8-7) for a chance to win the conference outright. There's no better way to end the season than a rivalry matchup between the two border foes.
What Kansas was able to accomplish Wednesday in winning a seventh straight title is nothing short of amazing.
It has yet to gain the national attention, partially because it has become expected and would be more of a shock of KU was to miss out on winning the Big 12. Still in a major conference which annually includes a handful of ranked teams, the Jayhawks are making history which may never be topped again.
As if Wednesday's game wasn't important enough, the seniors, Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar, and Mario Little said goodbye the only way they knew how; with a win. The game itself wasn't the prettiest of the year for Kansas, but the slow, ugly pace of the game was something they needed to play through.
By the end, it became the exact type of game KU will likely see in the NCAA tournament. The Jayhawks are so talented offensively, 98-percent of teams in the country would be doing themselves a disservice to try and run with KU. Taking a page out of Texas A&M and Nebraska's book is the recipe for at least keeping pace with Bill Self's team.
Saturday, slowing down the pace won't be in the cards when Missouri and Kansas face off in Columbia, MO.
The Tigers are second in the league in scoring and topped the 80-point mark against the Jayhawks just weeks ago. Kansas eclipsed 100, which means the season finale has the makings of another offensive outburst. Both teams need a victory but for vastly different reasons.
For the first time all season, Kansas had a full roster on Wednesday against the Aggies. Throughout the season, the Jayhawks have always had at least player missing either due to injury or because of an off-court issue.
If there is a time of year when a coach needs his full complement of players, it would be now. It's hard to complain about Kansas at this point. They still aren't the best defensive team Bill Self has ever had, but they might be among his best offensive units.
Self isn't so stubborn that he is forcing his team to do something they just aren't suited for, and this team simply isn't a lock-down defensive team. Instead, he asks them to put forth 100-percent effort on that side of the ball while letting them use their seemingly endless offensive capabilities to run teams out of the building.
The one concern for KU is whether they can get stops late in the game with the score tied or they are trailing. The Jayhawks really haven't had to come back often, and the game where they have been behind by any significant margin, they have lost, which was only twice.
Saturday, KU should expect the Tigers to play as good or better than they did in Lawrence during the first meeting.
Missouri struggled mightily in its loss to Nebraska earlier in the week, but the Kansas is game is a different beast altogether.
If the Jayhawks can play the same efficient offense they have all season and ramp up the defense to keep MU from putting up as many points as the first meeting, it could be a great day for Kansas and result in an outright conference title; something which seemed impossible just two weeks ago.
Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris have played exceptionally well all season, but Kansas will need a better effort from Thomas Robinson than what they have seen over the past couple of games. Considering he is returning from a minor knee injury, it's not surprising Robinson is on the slow road back, but in order for Kansas to be at its best, Robinson needs to contribute off the bench.
G - Elijah Johnson (Sophomore, 6-foot-4, 195 pounds)
G - Tyrel Reed (Senior, 6-foot-3, 193 pounds)
G - Brady Morningstar (Senior, 6-foot-4, 185 pounds)
F - Marcus Morris (Junior, 6-foot-9, 235 pounds)
C - Markieff Morris (Junior, 6-foot-10, 245 pounds)
Bench: Josh Selby, Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, Mario Little
Missouri has become somewhat of an anomaly. At home, they are virtually unbeatable, but on the road, they are just 1-7. It's scary how good Mizzou can be, yet they don't seem capable of sustaining their best performance for more than a game.
Marcus Denmon has been their best offensive player throughout the year, but doesn't take nearly enough shots. Mizzou also seems to get away from the style of play they are famous for way too easily.
Against Kansas the first time around, Missouri was nowhere near the same in its defensive effort and pressure, something which makes the Tigers so unique and hard to prepare for.
Maybe it was because they were on the road in a tough environment, but the Tigers aren't nearly as effective if they aren't in the game defensively. While they likely won't serve up 100 points to KU again, the Tigers are facing one of the best offensive teams in the country and should be concerned with the offensive output KU is capable of.
What Mizzou seems to be missing most is former guard JT Tiller, a player who wasn't the most explosive to come through their program, but was willing to do the dirty work and lead the team on the defensive end of the court.
Offensively, the issue the Tigers have specifically against Kansas is the lack of bodies in the low post. If Phil Pressey isn't hitting NBA-range three-pointers, the Tigers just don't have the bodies to compete inside. They become purely a perimeter team.
Ricardo Ratliffe has been a welcome addition for the Tigers, but often battles foul trouble and will have his hands completely full with the Morris twins.
If MU is to record a major victory to end the year, they will need another outstanding offensive performance and will have to find a way to slow Kansas down. The Jayhawks are efficient in the half court and in transition, MU's pressure can also come back to bite them because KU is so good at breaking the press.
If Mike Anderson and his team can find the balance between the two on the defensive end, hit open shots and play efficiently on offense, they can easily walk away with a big victory of their rival.
G - Phil Pressey (Freshman, 5-foot-10, 168 pounds)
G - Marcus Denmon (Junior, 6-foot-3, 185 pounds)
G - Kim English (Junior, 6-foot-6, 200 pounds)
F - Laurence Bowers (Junior 6-foot-8, 210 pounds)
F - Ricardo Ratliffe (Junior, 6-foot-8, 240 pounds)
Key Reserves: Justin Safford, Michael Dixon, Matt Pressey, Steve Moore
The Edge: Kansas
After the loss to Kansas State, the Jayhawks have gone into tournament mode. They have looked as good as they have all year and seem to have more of a focus. There is no question the game against Missouri will be among the toughest of the year, but if KU can stay focused and realize what they can achieve by walking away with a win, they should be able to take out the Tigers.
Conversely, Mizzou is a talented and has the chance to make a real statement heading into the postseason, particularly after disappointing loss to Nebraska earlier in the week; another road debacle which has hurt the Tigers all year.
MU would be better served to try and run and score with the Jayhawks, unlike most of their opponents, and hope KU has an off night shooting. If the game is slowed down at all, the Tigers simply don't have the horses to compete with Kansas in the half court.
Regardless of the outcome, it has the making of being a classic border showdown between the two programs.
KU - 87
MU - 83