College Basketball Nation: Marcus Denmon

He’s still trying to work out the logistics, knowing full well it will be about as popular as a summertime homework assignment.

But if Frank Haith has his way, when Missouri travels to Europe this summer, his players will leave their cell phones behind.

“We want them to be able to get to know one another, to really have a bonding experience,’’ Haith said.

[+] EnlargeMissouri's Frank Haith
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesMissouri coach Frank Haith will be adding four notable newcomers to his lineup next season.
With good reason. Stealing a page from the Fred Hoiberg handbook, Haith this season will add four transfers to his lineup, hoping that the express route to experience will help the Tigers' transition from the graduation of their three-headed heart (Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Ricardo Ratliffe).

Transfers are rampant right now in college basketball, with more players switching allegiances every year. Geography, playing time, coaching changes or stylistic loggerheads are just some of the reasons fewer and fewer people are being true to their school choice.

It doesn’t necessarily look good for the game, but the choices aren’t always for the worse. Hoiberg took his recollected talent to the NCAA tournament this season, ending a seven-year drought for Iowa State.

It can work.

At least that’s what Haith half hopes and expects when he adds Keion Bell (from Pepperdine), Jabari Brown (from Oregon), Alex Oriakhi (from Connecticut), and Earnest Ross (from Auburn) to the fold this year. All but Oriakhi spent this past season on campus, able to practice and watch the Tigers up close.

“I think it can be tricky, but the thing that was good for us, these guys got to see how last year’s team won,’’ Haith said. “They saw how chemistry played such an important role to our success.’’

Haith felt like he had little choice but to look for players unhappy with their current circumstances. Hired in April of last year, the class of 2012 was either spoken for or knee deep in its final choices. He knew he’d be losing the bulk of his team -- only a season-ending knee injury allowed Laurence Bowers to return in 2012-13.

So he rolled the dice, welcoming in two seniors (Bell and Oriakhi), a junior (Ross), and a freshman that lasted just one semester at his first stop (Brown).

All come to Mizzou for different reasons. Bell, who led Pepperdine in scoring the past three seasons, wanted a chance to showcase his game at a higher level; Oriakhi left because the Huskies are no longer eligible for the postseason thanks to an APR ban; Ross, Auburn’s leading scorer and rebounder, denied Tony Barbee’s assertion that theirs was a mutual separation, instead insisting he wanted to move on. Brown, a one-time top 30 talent, left after playing just two games for Dana Altman at Oregon.

It’s a unique blend of talent (Bell and Ross led their respective teams in scoring last season) and experience that most agree will help Haith keep things going at Missouri.

If, that is, he can get all the personalities to coalesce.

“We want all of our guys to have leadership skills, but obviously these new guys have to earn respect because they haven’t done it here,’’ Haith said. “Phil Pressey, he wants the role that Kimmie had last year -- to be the vocal leader. Laurence is more like Marcus, a guy who will lead by example. I think it is our job to help them find the right way to lead.’’

OMAHA, Neb. -- Quick thoughts from Norfolk State's 86-84 upset win over second-seeded Missouri.

Overview: As if George Mason and VCU weren't enough, another unlikely March hero has emerged from the state of Virginia.

Norfolk State -- a school of about 6,000 that had never appeared in the NCAA tournament -- shocked Final Four favorite Missouri before a sellout crowd of 16,843 fans Friday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha.

The victory marked the first time since 2001, when Hampton defeated Iowa State, that a No. 15 seed has defeated a No. 2 seed. Kyle O'Quinn scored 26 points for Norfolk State, which advanced to play Florida on Sunday for a trip to the Sweet 16. Missouri ends its season with a record of 30-5.

Trailing by two points with 2.8 seconds remaining, Missouri had a chance to win. Tigers guard Phil Pressey took an inbounds pass near midcourt, took a few dribbles and got off a decent look from 3-point range. The shot clanged off the side of the rim as the horn sounded, setting off a wild celebration by Norfolk State.

Norfolk State took the lead for good with 34.9 seconds remaining when O'Quinn snared the offensive rebound of a teammate's air ball and put it back in for an easy two points while being fouled. O'Quinn converted the ensuing free throw to make it 84-81.

Missouri's Marcus Denmon missed an ill-advised, deep 3-pointer early in the shot clock on the Tigers' next possession. O'Quinn got the rebound and was immediately fouled. He made one of two free throws to put Norfolk State ahead 85-81 with 16 ticks left.

Pressey, who was brilliant down the stretch for Missouri, made a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to pull Missouri within a point, 85-84. Rodney McCauley was fouled by Missouri, and he made the first of two free throws to extend the Spartans' lead to 86-84. O'Quinn snared the rebound on McCauley's miss, and a jump ball was called when O'Quinn became tied up with a Missouri player. O'Quinn missed both foul shots, and Missouri called a timeout to set up the final shot by Pressey, which was off the mark.

Along with his 26 points, O'Quinn added 14 rebounds for Norfolk State. Chris McEachin had 20 points. Michael Dixon (22 points), Pressesy and Denmon (20 points each) all had good games for Missouri.

Player of the game: O'Quinn is an absolute beast. He clearly outplayed Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe and was a flat-out warrior throughout the entire game. The 6-foot-10, 240-pounder has an exceptional shooting touch for his size and can handle the ball.

Key stat: Both teams were on fire Friday. Norfolk State shot 54 percent from the field, Missouri 52 percent.

Miscellaneous: Even though Omaha is somewhat close to Columbia, Missouri must have felt like the road team Friday. More than half the CenturyLink Center was filled with Kansas fans cheering for Norfolk State. The Jayhawks, Missouri's Big 12 rival, take on Detroit here later tonight.

Up next: Norfolk State will play Florida on Sunday for a chance to go to the Sweet 16. For Missouri, it's over. The next time we see the Tigers, they'll be official members of the SEC.

Previewing Omaha: Afternoon games

March, 16, 2012
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OMAHA, Neb. -- Here’s a quick rundown of what to look for in Friday’s afternoon games in Omaha.

No. 7 Florida (23-10) vs. No. 10 Virginia (22-9), 2:10 p.m. ET

Florida’s Billy Donovan and Virginia’s Tony Bennett may respect one another -- but when they run into each other during the offseason, it’s pretty obvious the coaches don’t compare notes.

While Bennett prefers a slower, muddier game with the score in the 60s, Donovan likes his teams to push the tempo and rack up as many points as possible. It’s a scenario that makes Friday’s Gators-Cavaliers clash one of the most intriguing matchups of the day.

“Our styles,” Virginia forward Mike Scott said, “are going to clash.”

That’s not all that separates these teams.

Florida -- which won the national title in 2006 and 2007 -- is making its 11th NCAA tournament appearance in the past 13 years. Virginia is in the field for the first time since 2007 and for only the fourth time in the past 16 years.

“Their players have all been here and done this before,” Bennett said. “Hopefully, [by] the first five minutes after the media timeout, we’ll have enough experience to play well.”

Even though Florida finished in a three-way tie for second in the SEC, the Gators’ season has been a bit of a disappointment. Donovan’s squad has defeated just four teams (Mississippi Valley State, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Florida State) in this year’s NCAA tournament. It enters Friday’s contest having dropped four of its past five games.

Still, with a lineup that features standout guards such as Bradley Beal, Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker -- as well as likely future NBA forward Patric Young -- Florida has enough talent to erupt at any time. But the Gators know that won’t be easy against a Virginia squad that has held all but two opponents to fewer than 70 points.

“This year we have seen every type of defense you can,” Boynton said. “With our offense, we can adjust to any type of defense.”

Even though it has a gaudy record, it’s not hard to understand why Virginia (22-9) received a No. 10 seed. Other than a Nov. 29 win against Michigan, the Cavaliers boast just one win against a team in this year’s NCAA tournament. That came in a 61-60 victory against NC State on Jan. 28.

Bennett’s squad is hoping to reverse that trend Friday.

“[Coach Bennett] just tells us it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” guard Sammy Zeglinski said. “We’ve been at the school five years. We’ve been waiting for this our whole career.”

Added Scott: “The celebrating is over. We’re here to work and win games.”

Players to watch:

Florida’s Brad Beal: One of the nation’s top freshmen, the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Beal averages 14.6 points and 6.5 rebounds. But he’s shooting just 32.9 percent from 3-point range.

Florida’s Patric Young: He’s still raw, but the 6-9, 247-pound sophomore has made tremendous strides in his first year as a starter. Young, who said Thursday he plans to return for his junior season, averages 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds.

Virginia’s Mike Scott: The first-team All-ACC selection is one of the most efficient offensive players in the country. The forward averages 18.1 points on 56.2 percent shooting. He makes 80.1 percent of his free throws and snares 8.4 boards per game.

No. 2 Missouri (30-4) vs. No. 15 Norfolk State (25-9), 4:40 p.m. ET

They were denied a No. 1 seed, but the Missouri Tigers may be the top team in the NCAA tournament in terms of confidence.

While schools such as North Carolina, Kentucky, Syracuse, Duke and Kansas all suffered losses last week, Frank Haith’s squad demolished its competition at the Big 12 tournament and is a popular pick to reach the Final Four.

“This is a senior-laden team,” Haith said. “We have had opportunities to lose focus throughout the year, but this team has been determined and resilient. I anticipate us having great focus Friday afternoon.”

Missouri certainly can’t afford to look past Norfolk State.

The Spartans defeated a Drexel team that many felt should’ve been in this year’s NCAA tournament. And they lost to Marquette by only two points back on Nov. 21. Norfolk State will be hard-pressed to stop Missouri’s four-guard offense, but its players didn’t sound all that intimidated by it Thursday.

“Yes, we’re going against better players from a different conference,” senior Kyle O’Quinn said. “But it’s not something we haven’t seen before. We’re comfortable going into the game.”

Missouri has won its past four contests by an average of 17.5 points. The Tigers are making 50.4 percent of their field goals, a mark that ranks third in the nation. The figure is even more impressive considering Missouri uses a four-guard offense, which means more outside shots.

Five Missouri players are scoring in double figures, led by Marcus Denmon with 17.6 points per game.

“We are hoping that our length will pose problems for them,” Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans said. “They have four great guards. We can post up a little bit, but we think that Kyle is our best chance of creating mismatches against them. Hopefully, he can kick it out to our shooters to make shots.”

Players to watch:

Phil Pressey, Missouri: The Tigers point guard is the key to Missouri’s four-guard attack. He’s one of the fastest players in the country with the ball in his hands. Although he’s a pass-first guard, Pressey can score when he needs to. The defensive standout led the Big 12 in steals.

Ricardo Ratliffe, Missouri: The 6-8 senior shoots an eye-popping 69.8 percent from the field. The Tigers’ guards get most of the attention, but Ratliffe is averaging a respectable 13.9 points and 7.5 rebounds as the only big man in Missouri’s starting lineup.

Kyle O’Quinn, Norfolk State: The 6-10 senior averages 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds. He’s scored in double figures in all but one game this season. He also averages 2.7 blocks.


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Quick thoughts from Missouri's 90-75 victory over Baylor.

Overview: Missouri's final season as a member of the Big 12 is officially its best. Kim English scored 19 points, and Michael Dixon added 17 to propel the Tigers to the conference tournament championship at the Sprint Center. Missouri will take a 30-4 record into next week's NCAA tournament, where the Tigers will likely be a No. 2 seed.

Baylor, which defeated regular-season champion Kansas in Friday's semifinal, fell to 27-7 and is expected to be a No. 3 seed next week. Saturday's loss to Missouri was the Bears' third of the season. Perry Jones III led Baylor with 16 points and 11 rebounds. The Bears made just 39.7 percent of their shots.

Missouri never trailed Saturday, and the score was never tied. Baylor trailed by as many as eight points in the opening half, when Missouri shot a blistering 53 percent from the field. The Bears pulled within two points twice -- 33-31 and 37-35 -- before intermission. But each time, the Tigers responded with points on the other end. Missouri opened the second half with a 13-5 scoring run that made it 56-42.

Baylor never got closer than five after that.

Turning point: The Bears made a slight threat in the game's waning minutes. Trailing 75-62, Baylor went on a 10-2 run to whittle Missouri's lead to 77-72 with 2:20 left. But the Tigers made their free throws after Baylor began to foul, and it wasn't long before the game was out of reach.

Key player: It's hard to pick just one for Missouri, as five Tigers scored in double figures. Along with English and Dixon, Phil Pressey, Ricardo Ratliffe and Marcus Denmon had 15 each. Such balance illustrates the versatility and well-roundedness Missouri has shown all season.

Key stat: Not many teams would've defeated the Tigers on a night when they shot 53.8 percent from the field and 80.6 percent (25 of 31) from the foul stripe.

Miscellaneous: It was a bit of an awkward moment when Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas presented the Tigers with the championship trophy about five minutes after the final horn. Neinas has been ultra-critical of Missouri's decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC. He was booed heavily.

The all-tournament team: Kim English (Most Outstanding Player), Phil Pressey (Missouri), Perry Jones III (Baylor), Brady Heslip (Baylor), J'Covan Brown (Texas).

What's next: Missouri is expected to open NCAA tournament play in Omaha, Neb., on Thursday. Most prognostications have Baylor going to Albuquerque, N.M., where play begins on Friday.


KANSAS CITY, Mo. - About 30 minutes before their tilt with Texas, the Missouri Tigers stood in the Sprint Center tunnel and loosened their legs.

A black curtain hanging from the ceiling kept them from watching the Kansas-Baylor game that was taking place on the court, but the Tigers didn’t need to see a scoreboard to tell who was ahead.

“Everyone always cheers when Kansas scores,” Missouri guard Phil Pressey said. “But when we were standing there, we didn’t hear any cheers for a long, long time. We knew they must be losing.”

Indeed, the game a whole city -- no, a whole nation -- wanted to see on Saturday will never take place. Kansas was upset in the Big 12 tournament semifinals, so instead of one last rendition of the Border War, Missouri will face Baylor for the title. Mizzou, who is making its last appearance in Kansas City as a member of the Big 12, shellacked Texas 81-67 in Friday’s other semifinal.

“I was a little shocked (that KU lost),” Missouri guard Michael Dixon. “But we weren’t too worried about who we were going to play. The only thing we care about is winning a championship. We’ll play whoever we have to play to do it.”

As good as Saturday’s title game could be - the Tigers and Bears both look like Final-Four contenders - the matchup certainly isn’t as sexy as the one that would’ve pitted Missouri against archrival Kansas.

All week long, the buzz in KC has revolved around the potential of the two teams meeting in the title game. Tickets purchased through scalpers would’ve cost in excess of $1,000. The Jayhawks and Tigers split the regular-season series, so Saturday’s rubber match might have been for eternal bragging rights. Missouri is leaving the Big 12 after this season for the SEC, and Kansas has indicated it has no interest in continuing the series.

[+] EnlargeRicardo Ratliffe
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireRicardo Ratliffe scored 18 points and added 14 rebounds and 3 blocks against Texas.
Missouri coach Frank Haith was asked if he hoped to play KU in the title game.

“That’s a really tough question,” he said. “No, I don’t care who we play, all right? We’re happy to be in the championship game. That’s all we’re going to concern ourselves with. It’s a great opportunity.”

And it’s one Missouri certainly deserves after one of the best seasons in school history. Friday’s victory over Texas improved the Tigers’ record to 29-4. Kim English and Phil Pressey scored 23 points each and combined to make 17 of their 23 field goal attempts. Ricardo Ratliffe added 18 points and 14 rebounds.

How good was Mizzou? The Tigers won on a night when leading scorer Marcus Denmon went 0-for-10 from the field.

“That’s a great example,” Haith said, “of a ballclub that’s a team.”

Kansas had been projected as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament before losing to Baylor. Now the possibility exists that the Tigers could become a No. 1 seed.

“That’s out of our control,” English said. “I’m not Joe Lunardi. I don’t know (what will happen). I have no clue. We’re just trying to win this Big 12 championship.”

To do that, Missouri will have to defeat Baylor for the third time this season. The Tigers escaped Waco, Texas, with a 1-point victory on Jan. 21 before throttling the Bears 72-57 last month in Columbia.

Missouri’s players said Baylor’s performance in its past two games has definitely caught their attention.

“They’re playing their best basketball,” English said, “at just the right time."

So, too, are the Tigers, who are hoping their final Big 12 tournament game in history is also their best.

Video: Missouri's Marcus Denmon

March, 8, 2012
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Jason King with Missouri's Marcus Denmon following the Tigers' 88-70 victory over Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament. Denmon contributed 24 points and eight rebounds.


KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Thoughts from Missouri's 88-70 victory over Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.

Overview: Highly ranked teams often look sluggish and disinterested against inferior opponents in the opening game of a conference tournament. Not Missouri. The Tigers jumped out to a 23-6 lead Thursday and never looked back during an complete annihilation of an Oklahoma State squad it lost to earlier in the season.

Granted, the Cowboys were playing without injured star Le'Bryan Nash (wrist). But the freshman wouldn't have been enough to save the Cowboys in this one. Missouri's Kim English had 21 points by intermission and finished with 27. Missouri, which shot 59 percent from the field, also got 24 points from Marcus Denmon and 13 from Michael Dixon. Phil Pressey had 12 assists.

Keiton Page scored 22 points for Oklahoma State while Brian Williams finished with 21.

Turning point: With the score tied 6-6, Missouri uncorked a 17-0 run that included 10 points from English. Oklahoma State missed nine consecutive shots before Williams connected on a 3-pointer that made it 23-9. The Cowboys, though, never recovered and were down by as many as 29 points in the opening half. It was 49-24 at intermission.

Key player: English had the most points, but it was Pressey was the player who turned the most heads Thursday. Along with 12 assists, ESPN.com's Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year had 6 steals against the Cowboys. The Tigers are a special team when Pressey brings his "A" game. And even when he doesn't, they're still pretty darn good.

Key stat: Missouri might be glaringly undersized, but that rarely shows up on the stat sheet. The Tigers - who start just one player (Ricardo Ratliffe) taller than 6-foot-6 - out-rebounded Oklahoma State 40-20.

Miscellaneous: We'll talk plenty about Missouri in the coming days and week, but as for the obit on Oklahoma State ... give the Cowboys credit for continuing to improve during what could've been a lost season. Rotation players Reger Dowell and Roger Franklin both left the team before Big 12 play, and fourth-leading scorer J.P. Olukemi played just 13 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Nash missed the lpast five games with a broken wrist. Still, the Cowboys became one of just three teams to beat Missouri when they upended the Tigers on Jan. 25 in Stillwater. They also own wins against Iowa State, Texas and Texas A&M. This would've been a fringe NCAA tournament with a healthy, complete roster. Instead Oklahoma State ends its season with an overall record of 15-18, including a 7-11 mark in the Big 12.

What's next: No. 2 seed Missouri will play Texas in Friday's Big 12 tournament semifinal. The other semifinal pits fourth-seeded Baylor against Kansas, the top overall seed. Missouri is now 28-4 overall.

Highlights: Missouri 81, Texas Tech 59

March, 3, 2012
3/03/12
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Marcus Denmon drains five three-pointers in the second half and Missouri cruises to an 81-59 win over Texas Tech.

National POY Straw Poll: As close as it gets

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
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Anthony Davis, Thomas RobinsonUS Presswire/Getty ImagesKentucky's Anthony Davis and Kansas' Thomas Robinson are neck and neck in the POY race.
Editor’s Note: ESPN.com writer Jason King has wrestled with his POY pick all season on Wooden Watch. Click here to find out who's he picking as of this week.

It’s essentially a tie.

With some ballots for the varying National Player of the Year awards due as early as next week -- more on this later -- Kentucky freshman forward Anthony Davis and Kansas junior forward Thomas Robinson are within three points of each other in the latest ESPN.com Player of the Year poll, taken every two weeks over the last couple months of the college basketball season.

In my four seasons doing this poll, this is by far the closest ballot I’ve ever had -- and the closest it has ever been this late in the season. Of the 59 ballots received by actual award voters, Davis received 32 first-place votes. Robinson received 26. Overall, Davis leads Robinson by three points, 146-143, based on our voting system that allows three points for a first-place vote, two for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote.

It is for that reason that it would be unsurprising -- and at this point likely -- if Davis and Robinson either shared some honors or there was a split between the four major awards.

Here’s one reason: Each of the major awards has a different ballot due date. The USBWA ballot is due Sunday. The Naismith ballot is due March 9. The Associated Press ballot is due on Selection Sunday.

The Wooden Award, meanwhile, allows for postseason play to be taken into consideration with a later due date of March 19.

This means Davis, Robinson or even Michigan State senior Draymond Green, currently in third place, could make enough of a push to still change the race. A quick look at their numbers shows why:

  • Davis: 14.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 65.8 FG pct; 4.8 blocks per game.
  • Robinson: 17.8 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 53.1 FG pct; 36.4 3-point pct; 1.1 steals per game, 1.1 blocks per game.
  • Green: 16.0 ppg; 10.2 rpg, 45.6 FG pct; 40.7 3-point pct; 3.6 assists per game

Looking at tempo-free stats, courtesy of statsheet.com:

  • Davis: 137.6 offensive rating; 65.8 eFG percentage; 11.8 offensive rebound percentage; 22.3 defensive rebound percentage; 5.5 assist percentage; 2.8 steal percentage; 14.6 block percentage.
  • Robinson: 108.5 offensive rating; 53.6 eFG percentage; 10.7 offensive rebound percentage; 32.5 defensive rebound percentage; 12.7 assist percentage; 2.0 steal percentage; 3.8 block percentage.
  • Green: 108.8 offensive rating; 51.4 eFG percentage; 8.3 offensive rebound percentage; 26.8 defensive rebound percentage; 22.8 assist percentage; 2.8 steal percentage; 3.2 block percentage.

With those numbers in hand, here’s the balance of this week’s poll, which had 59 participants:


Poll analysis:

-- A note: Ballots were due at 5 p.m. Tuesday, meaning Green’s 29-point effort against Indiana on Tuesday evening was not reflected in this polling.

-- Robinson was the only player on all 59 ballots. Davis made all but one ballot. For the first time in the history of the poll, one voter was so torn about his third-place vote that he asked the poll to split his third-place vote between Green and Canaan. The poll obliged, so a half-vote is taken into account for the first time in the four-year history of the poll.

-- After three polls with 17 players mentioned, only 12 players made this ballot. Those 12 players are from nine conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, MAAC, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Ohio Valley and SEC).

-- This is the closest of any poll in its four-year history. As stated earlier, this screams either a shared or split award when it comes to the four major national awards.

-- Three players (Marquette’s Jae Crowder, Iona’s Scott Machado and Duke’s Austin Rivers) made their first poll appearances of the season. Eight players -- West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie, Virginia’s Mike Scott, Missouri’s Ricardo Ratliffe, North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall, Weber State’s Damian Lillard, Siena’s O.D. Anosike and St. Mary’s Rob Jones -- dropped out of the poll.

-- Davis continued his rise. He moved from second to first -- and all the way up from fourth on the first two ballots -- and went from 112 points to 146 points. Green had the biggest move, however. While it didn’t show in overall points, Green moved from fifth to third and went from being on eight ballots in the third poll to 32 in this one.

-- Sullinger continued his fall. He dropped from third into a tie for fourth and from 26 points to 10. He and McDermott, at varying points this season, were as high as second in the poll behind Robinson.

So what comes next for the contenders?

-- Davis faces Georgia on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday and then is at Florida at noon Sunday.

-- Robinson faces Texas at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN on Saturday.

-- Green faces No. 11 Ohio State in his season finale at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday.

This is also where it gets tricky when it comes to voting. The USBWA won’t count any conference tournaments for the Robertson Awards. The Naismith will see the beginnings of the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten tournaments. The AP will be able to take into account the entirety of the conference tournaments and the Wooden will go through the entire first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

It’ll all make the rest of the player of the year race very, very intriguing.
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Outside Allen Fieldhouse, nearly an hour after the most memorable game in the venue's storied history, a black chartered bus with gold stripes and a Show-Me-State license plate idled in the parking lot.

One by one, each member of the Missouri Tigers basketball team walked past armed security guards and made his way toward the door. Matt Pressey stopped and signed items for autograph seekers, Michael Dixon hid his face beneath a gray hoodie and Marcus Denmon slouched in his seat as he peered through a tinted window.

Outside, first-year coach Frank Haith paced back and forth across the sidewalk, staring at the ground as he talked on his cell phone following his team's 87-86 overtime loss to Kansas. Eventually, the luggage compartment was shut. The bus engine gurgled and Haith climbed aboard.

At 6:27 p.m. central time, the Border War was over.

The driver's foot pressed a pedal and the Missouri Tigers were whisked away from Allen Fieldhouse and Lawrence, Kansas.

Forever.

For Jason King's full column, click here.
Dear Kansas people who get paid big bucks to make smart decisions,

Pardon my passion, but I just finished watching a basketball game that defined instant classic.

One overtime wasn’t enough. I wanted 12. This was the cliché game, the one no one wanted to end.

Ever.

Instead, Marcus Denmon’s too-late attempted buzzer-beater falls into the archives instead of the scorebook, the end of an era that doesn’t need to end.

I’m hoping maybe you watched it, too, and you’re sitting somewhere right now reconsidering your staunch refusal to continue your series against Missouri.

[+] EnlargeMichael Dixon
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerThe thrill of victory and agony of defeat on display Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse are reminders of why the Kansas-Missouri rivalry should continue.
Don’t get me wrong. I get it. You’re angry. You feel jilted. You’re the teenage girl with the pretty party dress, the mani-pedi, updo and the date who ditched you for the rich girl in town.

Why should you be the bigger university? Why should you fix the mess Missouri created by bolting to the SEC?

All legitimate questions.

I have another one: What do you gain by discontinuing this rivalry other than a hefty plate of spite?

You get to sit around a room, raise your brandy snifters and toast your ability to stick it to those deserters. And then what?

I’ll tell you what: A great rivalry dies, a rivalry that isn’t contrived by perceived slights, petty grievances or convenient geography.

It’s steeped in history -- real history.

And it’s about to be over because one school selfishly chased the money and the other stubbornly refused to budge. Now if that isn’t the essence of sportsmanship, well, gee, I don’t know what is.

No one wins here. Not either school's fans who grew up at the knee of their grandparents, inheriting their animosity like a cleft chin, widow’s peak or some other genetic trait.

Not the players, who will tell you they like nothing more than to play in pressure-cooker environments, who live for bragging rights games and the big stage.

And not the universities who, like it or not, are married in history by this epic rivalry.

Sure, each school will move on and survive. Kansas will remain in the Big 12 and maybe turn its ire down the road to Manhattan and Kansas State. Mizzou will join the SEC and cultivate some sort of rivalry there. Probably with Arkansas.

But it won’t be the same.

I saw it firsthand. Back when, the Penn State-Pitt football game was The Game in Pennsylvania. And then the Nittany Lions left for the Big Ten, pulling up stakes on the Panthers.

Michigan and Ohio State came along as good foils, but only because both were good, not because the hatred was reciprocal. The Buckeyes hate the Wolverines and vice versa.

Penn State? Eh. Missouri fans might learn to hate, say, Kentucky. But trust me, Kentucky fans won’t deign to hate you back.

So Kansas, I urge you to bury your anger and do the right thing. Play one game a year in Kansas City. Play it on campuses. Play it wherever.

There’s not a lot out there these days to convince people that college athletics is little more than the back-stabbing antithesis of collegiality. You can change that. You can be the bigger university.

Think about that.

You can be the bigger university.

Wouldn’t that be a helluva thing to laud over your most hated rival?

Sincerely,
Dana O’Neil


LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Here are some quick thoughts from Kansas' classic 87-86 overtime victory over Missouri on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.

Overview: Tyshawn Taylor made a pair of free throws with eight seconds remaining in overtime to lift No. 5 Kansas over archival and third-ranked Missouri. Mizzou had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but Michael Dixon took too much time and Marcus Denmon couldn't get off a shot as time expired. The game was one of the greatest in the history of the Jayhawks' historic venue, as KU came back from a 19-point second-half deficit to defeat its nemesis in what might have been the final regular-season meeting ever between the two teams. Missouri is moving to the SEC next season and Kansas has indicated it has no interest in continuing the series.

National-player-of-the-year candidate Thomas Robinson had 28 points, while Taylor added 24 for Kansas, which clinched at least a share of the Big 12 title for the eighth consecutive season. The Jayhawks, who have a two-game lead over the second-place Tigers, can claim the championship outright with a victory over Oklahoma State on Monday in Stillwater.

Denmon scored 28 points for MU and Ricardo Ratliffe added 22. Denmon's baseline jumper with 12 seconds left in overtime gave the Tigers an 86-85 lead before Taylor raced down the court and was fouled by Dixon, which led to the game-deciding free throws.

A three-point play by Robinson with 16 seconds left in regulation forced a 75-75 tie and sent the game into overtime.

"It wouldn't have been a disgrace to lose to a good team," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "But it's Missouri. You've got to win that game."

Star the game: Robinson took a huge step toward winning national POY honors with his 28-point, 12-rebound performance. Along with his clutch baskets down the stretch, Robinson also blocked a shot by Missouri's Phil Pressey as time expired in regulation.

By the numbers: Saturday's effort tied the largest comeback victory the Jayhawks have ever had at home — KU also rallied from 19 down in December 1995 to defeat UCLA. It was just three points shy of the school's biggest rally ever (22 versus Texas in 2007). ... Kansas improved to 15-1 at home against Mizzou since the formation of the Big 12. ... This was just the second time in the past 34 meetings of this storied rivalry that the game went into overtime. ... This was the fourth time these two schools have met while each was in the top 10. It was the first of those matchups that KU has won. ... Mizzou came awfully close, but no team since 2001 Iowa State has beaten Kansas twice in the regular season.

What this means for Missouri: Considering the atmosphere and all that was at stake, Missouri played as well at Allen Fieldhouse as any opponent in recent memory. The Tigers' mental toughness was unbelievable against a team that has won 90 of its past 91 home games. Mizzou wasn't at all affected by KU's deafening crowd. The Tigers hit big shot after big shot to maintain the lead until the final seconds of regulation. Their performance is a credit to the senior leadership of veterans Dixon, Denmon, Ratliffe and Kim English -- and first-year coach Frank Haith. This is a Final Four-caliber team.

What this means for Kansas: KU has accomplished one of the most underrated feats in college sports by winning an eighth consecutive Big 12 title -- especially considering this was supposed to be Self's worst Kansas team. The Jayhawks lost four starters from last year's Elite Eight squad. In the waning minutes Saturday, the Jayhawks had a walk-on (Conner Teahan) on the court, along with a Loyola Marymount transfer (Kevin Young) who averaged about 8 points a game at his previous school. Kansas also won without much of a contribution from center Jeff Withey, who turned his ankle in the opening half and hardly played after intermission. More important to Kansas fans is that the Jayhawks will have bragging rights again -- and perhaps forever -- on their most hated rival. Kansas leads the all-time series 172-95.

What's next: Kansas plays at Oklahoma State on Big Monday, while Missouri hosts Iowa State on Wednesday.
It’s the game of the weekend.

If you’re a true college basketball fan, you have to find a way to see Mizzou-Kansas on Saturday afternoon.

This could be the end of the rivalry.

The Big 12 title is at stake. A Missouri victory would put the Tigers and Jayhawks in a 13-3 tie for the first place. A Kansas victory would give the Jayhawks a slice of the Big 12 title for the eighth consecutive season.

It has a pair of serious national coach of the year contenders in Frank Haith and Bill Self. Allen Fieldhouse will go crazy.

The Tigers won the first game 74-71 on Feb. 4, but the Jayhawks have been the better team since that game.

So how can the Tigers beat the Jayhawks for the second time this season? It won’t be easy. The Jayhawks look like a Final Four team right now. And the Tigers are coming off a 78-68 loss to Kansas State.

Missouri won’t have a chance if it’s struggling from the 3-point line. In the first game, the Tigers were 10-for-22 (45 percent) from beyond the arc.

That was a crucial factor in Missouri’s victory. The Tigers hit shots -- really Marcus Denmon hit shots -- because they put in the work to free their best shooters, proven in this sequence from the first game (starting at the 1:22 mark).

Michael Dixon is dribbling the corner as the play unfolds. Kim English sets a hard screen that frees up Denmon on the right wing.

(Denmon scored 29 points and went 6-for-9 from the 3-point line in the game. The Jayhawks had to shadow him, and they’ll have to stick with him Saturday too.

He hits the big shot at a crucial juncture.

But this play showcases Missouri’s versatility and perimeter potency.

After English sets the screen, he’s open at the top of the key. Had Denmon been stuck on that play, he could have easily found English (46 percent from the 3-point line) as a second option.

English, Denmon and Dixon shoot 36 percent or better from beyond the arc.

It’s quite simple. If Missouri’s shooters find more success from the 3-point line, they will put the Tigers in a position to get their second win of the season against the Jayhawks.

Bilas previews Missouri-Kansas showdown

February, 24, 2012
2/24/12
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When and where: Saturday (CBS, 4 p.m. ET), Phog Allen Fieldhouse (Lawrence, Kan.)

The setup: Kansas and Missouri are coming off less than stellar performances. The Jayhawks won an ugly game against Texas A&M, while the Tigers are coming off perhaps their worst conference game of the season, a home loss to Kansas State. But in a happy place or not, this game is not for those who are ready to play. This game is for those who are prepared for a fight. Saturday at the Phog will be the Big 12’s top two scoring teams, with Missouri leading the league in scoring (73.7) and second in field goal percentage (48.1) in conference play, while Kansas is second in scoring (73.5) and leads in field goal percentage (48.4).

Kansas leads the Big 12 in scoring defense (60.8) and field goal percentage defense (38.1). It also tops every Big 12 team in scoring margin (+12.7), perhaps the most important indicator of a team’s strength and efficiency (and, predictably, a metric that is completely ignored by the RPI). Missouri is second in the league in scoring margin (+7.0) but is a shaky fifth in the Big 12 in scoring defense (66.7) and dead last in the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense (46.9).

Kansas leads the league in rebound margin (+5.7 to Missouri’s -1.0), blocks, assists and steals. The Jayhawks might not be deep, but they are rock solid. The Tigers might not be deep, but they are dynamic and fearless. This is one of the great games of the season, with a chance to be a memorable spectacle. The sport needs more matchups like this one.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Denmon
Jeff Moffett/Icon SMIMissouri guard Marcus Denmon is fearless when going to the rim.
Neither team can rely on significant bench production. Kansas, in my judgment (and as reflected in The Bilas Index), is the better team because the Jayhawks have size and the ability to get the ball inside for higher percentage shots and more opportunities to get fouled. If you recall from the first meeting, KU seemed to have the game in its win column with three minutes to go and an eight-point lead. But the Jayhawks made a couple of mistakes, and the fearless Marcus Denmon made Kansas pay for every one of them, willing Missouri to the home win.

After the game, I was walking down the hallway to the locker rooms and passed Kansas star Tyshawn Taylor using the wall to hold himself up. Anyone who believes these players don’t care is simply incorrect. They care deeply, and Taylor showed how much he had invested in that game. He was mentally and physically spent, devastated about the loss.

That game was incredible in its solid play. Both teams shot better than 50 percent from the floor, a rarity in today’s bump-and-grind games. Missouri hit 10 3-point field goals and more than doubled the Jayhawks in free throw attempts. One thing is certain, the Jayhawks cannot get a bagel from Jeff Withey and expect to win, even at home. In Columbia, Withey played 23 minutes and did not score, grabbing four rebounds.

After that first game, it was clear that Kansas and Missouri are capable of reaching a Final Four and could win the whole thing with a good draw and some good fortune. KU is probably better suited for it, because of its inside strength and ability to get the ball inside and get to the free throw line. Missouri will cause problems because of its style differences and the matchup problems it poses, but the Tigers are vulnerable to a lot of teams on bad shooting nights.

Tigers' stud: Denmon. The diminutive wing guard put on a show with 29 points and 9 rebounds against Kansas, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range. Late in the game, Denmon carried the Tigers, and this was after a prolonged shooting slump. He is afraid of nothing and is a difficult cover because he can score in transition, off the catch or the bounce and drives the ball with a relentless attitude. Denmon’s play would add up to a Big 12 Player of the Year honor in most seasons, but he just happens to be in the Big 12 with Thomas Robinson this year.

[+] EnlargeThomas Robinson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKansas' Thomas Robinson had 25 points and 13 rebounds in the first meeting against Missouri.
Jayhawks' stud: Robinson. A legit national player of the year candidate, Robinson has been magnificent all season long. He never takes a game off, and his only real issue is his penchant for taking a perimeter shot or putting the ball on the floor when he should simply lock down his defender in the post and take him apart. Robinson had 25 points and 13 rebounds, but five turnovers, in the first meeting. He was doubled but hit 11 of 17 shots.

Tigers' wild card: Ricardo Ratliffe. He is having a magnificent season and has missed so few shots that he is closing on a national record held by Oregon State star Steve Johnson. Ratliffe is always surrounded by four guards, but Kansas was able to frustrate him, holding him to six points, four rebounds and only five shot attempts. On the floor, Ratliffe usually plays off of his guards, but Kansas did a good job of closing him down and attacking him, putting him into a position to foul. Ratliffe has to give Missouri a presence and be productive in Lawrence.

Jayhawks' wild card: Withey. The transfer from Arizona has blossomed since the Mizzou game, averaging 16.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 5.4 blocks per game in the past five outings. Withey has the ability to be a game-changer, blocking shots, rebounding and finishing. The Tigers present some difficulties for him because he has to guard Ratliffe and can be drawn away from the basket for ball screens. He needs to stay out of foul trouble and be productive. Missouri served him up his only bagel of the season, and Kansas needs something out of him.

Tigers' X factor: Kim English. The senior sharpshooter scored 18 points in the first meeting and has the ability to draw a bigger defender and take him away from the paint. English has been smart about his shot selection and has done a great job defending and laying his body on the line, which he did not do as well last season. English is a respected player and has been an important part of Missouri’s success. Unless English has a productive outing, I am not sure the Tigers can win in Lawrence.

Jayhawks' X factor: Taylor. The senior point guard has had a tremendous season. We spend time talking about his turnovers, but there is no way Kansas is among the nation’s top five teams without Taylor and his stellar play. He is averaging 16.5 points, 5 assists and is shooting better than 47 percent from the floor. In Big 12 play, Taylor is third in the league in scoring and fifth in assists. With his speed, ability to get to the rim and improved shooting, Taylor is a tough player to shut down.

Key stat: Paint scoring. Both teams can score in the lane and get close-in shots, but they do it differently. Kansas pounds the ball inside, hits the offensive glass and gets a ton of high percentage shots that give the opponent a chance to foul. Missouri also gets a lot of paint touches but by dribble penetration and off turnovers. The team that wins the paint will win the game.

And the winner is: Kansas. The Jayhawks have to feel like they let one get away at Missouri. Kansas will pull out a win and claim the driver’s seat toward its eighth straight Big 12 title, 75-70.

Player of the year straw poll update

February, 15, 2012
2/15/12
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With a month left before the NCAA tournament begins, there is a legitimate race for the National Player of the Year.

Kansas junior Thomas Robinson, the leader in the first two ESPN.com National POY straw polls, is getting a major challenge from Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis.

And in the Year of the Versatile Forward, it makes sense. College basketball hasn’t seen a year of top big men like this since 2009, when the top three finishers for the Wooden Award and the top four for the Naismith Award were all forwards and centers.

In that year, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin ran away with both awards, blowing by Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair, Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet and the 2008 Wooden Award winner, North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough. The top college guard that season, Davidson’s Stephen Curry, had a standout season but his team ended up in the NIT.

That season did have a lot of talented, well-known guards, led by Curry, UNC’s Ty Lawson, Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks, Memphis’ Tyreke Evans and Arizona State’s James Harden. All were in the final ballot of that season's straw poll.

As for this season, the top six vote-getters in this week’s poll were forwards, and 12 of 17 players mentioned by the 54 pollsters who responded were forwards or centers. Players like Michigan State’s Draymond Green and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, now among the best players in the nation, were freshmen during that 2009 season and are now in this straw poll as seniors.

For those who missed the first two polls, here’s a recap of how it all works: Each pollster sends us their top three. A first-place vote is worth three points, a second-place vote worth two and a third-place vote worth one. Every voter is granted anonymity. Every voter has a voice in at least one of the four major college basketball player of the year awards: Wooden, Naismith, Associated Press or Robertson (the USBWA award).


Poll analysis:

-- For the third straight ballot, 17 players were represented. They come from 11 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Sky, Big Ten, MAAC, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Ohio Valley, SEC and West Coast). Just one school, Missouri, had multiple players on the ballot -- Denmon and Ratliffe.

-- Four players are making their first ballot of the season -- Johnson-Odom, Canaan, Anosike and Rob Jones. Five players dropped off from the second ballot: UNC’s Harrison Barnes, Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins, Maryland’s Terrell Stoglin, Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Miami (Ohio)’s Julian Mavunga. In addition, the poll had its first returning player after being knocked off the ballot. Denmon was in the first poll, off the second and returns for the third.

-- The biggest mover was Davis, who jumped from fourth to second. Even more so, he went from being on 16 ballots to 47 ballots and from 30 points to 112 points. He also went from four first-place votes to 20. McDermott had the biggest drop, falling from second to fourth and from 70 points to 15.

-- In what is shaping up as a two-man race, only Robinson and Davis received first-place votes. On the second ballot, seven players received first-place votes: Robinson, McDermott, Sullinger, Davis, Kevin Jones and two players completely off this poll -- Barnes and Jenkins.

-- Player on the poll who should be getting more attention: Scott. This is the second poll I’ve mentioned this. His statistical numbers might not be as strong as others, but he consistently faces opponent double-teams and the exceedingly slow pace the Cavaliers play at limits Scott’s possessions to put up huge numbers.

-- Three players not in the poll who should get more attention: Iona guard Scott Machado, who continues to be one of the nation’s top passers, averaging 10 assists a game. Iowa State forward Royce White, while not putting up monster numbers, has been the key cog to the Cyclones' attempt to make a run at the NCAA tournament and is a matchup nightmare for any team facing him. Syracuse guard Dion Waiters, who while being the Orange’s sixth man, has been a major reason for their success averaging 12.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists in just 23.7 minutes -- minutes much lower than any other contender. Three of the four players mentioned here two weeks ago ended up in this poll. The other was Seton Hall’s Herb Pope.

So what comes next? Here is a look at the next two weeks for the main contenders.

-- Sullinger has three marquee games that could give him one last push. He’ll be on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET Saturday against rival No. 19 Michigan, then faces elite big man Meyers Leonard and Illinois on Feb. 21 and No. 17 Wisconsin on Feb. 26.

-- Davis faces Ole Miss on Saturday, goes to Mississippi State on Feb. 21 and then faces Vanderbilt on Feb. 25.

-- Robinson has a major statement game on Feb. 25 against Missouri as well as three games against three teams at the bottom of the Big 12: Texas Tech (Saturday), Texas A&M (Feb. 22) and Oklahoma State (Feb. 27).

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