- Jason King
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few thoughts from Missouri's 87-58 romp over Notre Dame at the Sprint Center in the semifinals of the CBE Classic:
How it happened: Missouri was simply too quick, athletic and experienced for the Fighting Irish, who are incorporating some new pieces following the loss of players such as Ben Hansbrough, Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott. The Tigers beat Notre Dame down the court for a ton of easy baskets in transition and also forced 10 first-half turnovers. Notre Dame stuck around for awhile in the first half thanks to 18 points from Tim Abromaitis, who finished with a team-high 22. But a 10-2 run by Missouri stretched a 42-35 lead into a 52-37 cushion at intermission. It was never close after that. Notre Dame shot just 36 percent from the field under heavy pressure from Mizzou.
Star of the game: One season after earning All-Big 12 honors, Missouri’s Marcus Denmon is showing no signs of slowing down. Three-pointers, midrange jumpers, slashes to the basket ... the 6-foot-3 Denmon scored in every way imaginable Monday. Denmon went 9-of-11 from the field and made all but one of his seven foul shots in a 26-point effort. He entered the game averaging 18 points.
Also worthy of mention is Notre Dame’s Abromaitis, who was playing his first game of the season after serving an NCAA-mandated four-game suspension for playing in two exhibition games three years ago.
What it means: So much for the “transition” period that usually comes along with a coaching change. The Tigers looked as good as they did at any point last season during Monday’s annihilation of Notre Dame. It’s tough not to tip your hat to Haith, who endured a tumultuous offseason that included public ridicule over his hire, an NCAA investigation into possible rules violations during his time at Miami, and a season-ending injury to a star forward Laurence Bowers. It’s still too early to tell just how good the Tigers could be, as Notre Dame was completely outmatched physically. But at the very least this looks like a team that will pose a legitimate challenge to Kansas and Baylor for the Big 12 title.
Notre Dame is clearly in rebuilding mode and would be in a world of hurt if not for the presence of Abromaitis, who will contend for All-Big East honors. Notre Dame’s biggest weakness here was on the perimeter, where Missouri made it tough for them to penetrate or pass inside. Freshman Pat Connaughton and sophomores Eric Atkins and and Jerian Grant need to grow up in a hurry if Notre Dame has hopes of finishing in the top half of the Big East.
Up next: Missouri will play the winner of the Cal-Georgia game in Tuesday’s championship. Notre Dame will take on the loser. A Cal-Missouri matchup could certainly be entertaining, as both teams return the bulk of their rosters from last season.