Dallas Colleges: Ricardo Ratliffe
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.
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 (+12.1), 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.
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. Kansas 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.
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 Missouri 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. Missouri presents 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. Taylor 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.
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- They call it 10-for-14, a sort of masochistic shooting drill Marcus Denmon and Phil Pressey dreamed up in the preseason. The idea is simple: Make 10 out of 14 shots from seven spots on the floor.
The catch? If you don’t hit 10, start over.
Pressey rarely had to start over when the two Missouri guards got together for the preseason drill. Yet during games, Denmon often finds himself yelling at his point guard, practically begging him to shoot.
“Phil is just naturally a pass-first player,’’ Denmon said. “I’m always telling him to shoot. He says he hears me, but he doesn’t always shoot it.’’
Pressey heard the call against sixth-ranked Baylor, draining four of Missouri’s season-high 14 3-pointers in a 72-57 win that solidified both what makes the Tigers so special and what makes the Bears so exasperating.
For 25 games now, the critics and doubters have circled, railing about what Missouri isn’t. Mostly, the Tigers aren’t big and haven’t been since Laurence Bowers went down with a torn ACL before the season.
Perhaps now, with the calendar bearing down on March, with the Tigers owning a 23-2 record and not only jockeying for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament but also elbowing to earn the coveted St. Louis regional top spot -- and with three wins against top-10 opponents for the first time in 22 years -- it is time to finally discuss what Mizzou is.
“When Missouri is on, there is nobody in the country as good as them offensively in the country,’’ Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Nobody. Period. And they’ve been on a lot this season.’’
Drew, who could double as a presidential candidate in his endless effort to spin positive on his own flailing team, for once wasn’t trafficking in hyperbole.
Three weeks ago, Drew decided his longer and taller team would be better served if the Bears played man-to-man against Missouri. Ricardo Ratliffe went for 27 points, with his speedy guards slicing and dicing the flat-footed defenders.
This time, Drew went zone, figuring it would slow the Tigers down.
“At the end of the day, when you play Missouri, you have to give up something,’’ Drew said. “We decided to give up the 3.’’
It wasn’t tight after that. That four players scored those five 3s says everything about Missouri’s versatility.
That Pressey was one of them says even more. The sophomore can turn heads on one play and make people bang their heads on the next, a cat-quick guard who occasionally falls in love with the flair more than the finish. He was an offensive nonfactor in his previous two games, scoring just two against Kansas and five against Oklahoma.
The Tigers can and did win without him scoring, but when he does, he makes them that much better. With 12 in his pocket by the break, Pressey forced Baylor to honor his shot in the second and made the Bears pay -- by kicking the ball to Denmon, Kim English or Michael Dixon.
Asked how he would defend against his own team, Pressey wasn’t offering up any insight.
“I don’t know what I’d do,’’ he said with a smirk. “I can’t tell you what our weakness is. I’ll let you all figure that out.’’
Baylor, certainly, will be wondering for a while. In two games, the Tigers have left the Bears behind like roadkill, hitting them with two different styles yet two equally dominant wins.
And as much as this is about who the Tigers are, it is also an indictment of what Baylor is not.
Or more, what the Bears ought to be. Outside of Kentucky and North Carolina, there might not be a more NBA-loaded roster in the country. Yet in back-to-back games against their two biggest Big 12 rivals, the Bears have looked nothing shy of awful.
The Tigers and Jayhawks have outscored the Bears by an average of 12 points, scored 80.3 points and shot 53 percent. Against everyone else this season, Baylor is 15.9 points better, giving up only 60.5 points and 38 percent shooting.
The Bears have not just lost, but have been embarrassed by the Jayhawks and steamrolled by Missouri, leaving Drew to look for small slivers of a silver lining on a team that has too much talent to require so much searching.
Kansas’ Jeff Withey was the best big man on the floor last week. Steve Moore took the honors Saturday, outplaying, outworking and outhustling a big-boy lineup that includes Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy.
A game after his five-point APB showing against the Jayhawks, Jones scored four, shooting 2-of-12.
“Every night we depend on Perry Jones, so when he struggles, it hurts us,’’ Anthony Jones said. “We’re not the same team without him being Perry Jones.’’
Perry Jones is experiencing the burden of the anointed that is the reality of college basketball today. Drew is right when he says that “you are judged on your potential.’’ He’s also right that he has a fairly young team.
But Kentucky is a fairly young team with an awful lot of anointed players, and the Wildcats are toting the burden with aplomb.
Baylor, instead, is caving under it. The Bears are, barring a miracle, all but eliminated from the Big 12 race.
And instead of picking up steam, they are picking up doubters.
That’s just the opposite of Missouri. With every passing game, the Tigers are silencing the critics, showing that while they might be unorthodox, they are no less effective.
This is the Show Me State, after all.
1. Kansas: Bill Self said Saturday’s 69-66 victory at Texas was his team’s best win of the season. Not because the Jayhawks played particularly well against the struggling Longhorns, but because they found a way to grind out a victory in a tough road environment. Kansas is 36-7 in Big 12 road games in the past five-plus seasons.
2. Missouri: Ricardo Ratliffe scored 27 points in Saturday’s 89-88 win at Baylor, but many of those came on easy baskets against the Bears’ soft interior defense. The bigger story was the performance of point guard Phil Pressey, who had 18 points, seven assists and six steals in the Tigers’ most impressive victory of the season.
3. Baylor: Saturday’s 89-88 loss to Missouri was more lopsided than the final score indicates. The Bears were outscored 14-0 on second-chance points in the first half, when they were out-toughed and out-hustled in the paint by the undersized Tigers. The Bears trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half. Perry Jones III has a nagging ankle injury that has limited his performance the past two games.
4. Iowa State: Success in its next three games (at Texas and at home against Kansas and K-State) would go a long way toward improving the NCAA tournament hopes of a Cyclones team that is 14-5 overall and 4-2 in league play. Juco transfer Tyrus McGee had six 3-pointers in a 20-point effort in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech.
5. Kansas State: The Wildcats have won their last two games (against Texas and Oklahoma State), but their free-throw shooting has been abysmal. Frank Martin’s squad has made just 44 of its last 79 attempts from the foul stripe (55.7 percent). Center Jordan Henriquez has been suspended indefinitely.
6. Texas: The Longhorns are improving, but it hasn’t shown up in the win column. Texas’ last two losses (to K-State and Kansas) have come by a combined seven points. Freshman guard Sheldon McClellan is averaging 15 points in his last two games.
7. Texas A&M: Billy Kennedy’s team got a huge confidence boost when it defeated Oklahoma in overtime Saturday in College Station. It may be short-lived. Three of the Aggies’ next four games are against Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State. Khris Middleton, who is regarded as Texas A&M’s top player, missed most of Saturday’s game after bumping knees with a teammate and is questionable for Monday’s game at Kansas.
8. Oklahoma: The Sooners have a huge chance to regain some momentum when they host Baylor on Tuesday. Forward Romero Osby is averaging 17.3 points in his last three games, but he may have trouble against the Bears’ size and length. Upcoming road games at Kansas State (Saturday) and Kansas (Feb. 1) won’t be easy.
9. Oklahoma State: The undermanned Cowboys turned in an impressive performance before losing at Iowa State on a buzzer-beater last week. Saturday they fell at home to Kansas State for their third straight loss. Missouri visits Stillwater on Wednesday. The Cowboys are 9-10 overall.
10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are 0-6 in Big 12 play, and their losses have come by an average of 17 points. Billy Gillispie’s squad averages just 63.1 points per game. The biggest question the rest of the way will be whether Texas Tech can get a conference win. Its best chance may be at home against Oklahoma State on Jan. 31.
WACO, Texas -- Here are some quick thoughts from Missouri’s 89-88 victory over Baylor Saturday at the Ferrell Center.
Overview: Marcus Denmon’s free throw with four seconds remaining proved to be the difference in No. 5 Missouri’s victory over third-ranked Baylor. Denmon’s foul shot gave the Tigers an 89-85 lead. A 3-pointer by Baylor’s Brady Heslip at the buzzer didn’t matter. Ricardo Ratliffe scored 27 points for Missouri, which led by as many as 12 points late in the second half before Baylor made a run late in the game. Missouri shot 54 percent from the field, forced 19 Baylor turnovers and outrebounded the bigger, longer Bears 27-24.
The Tigers are now 18-1. Baylor dropped its second straight and fell to 17-2.
Turning point: Missouri used an 11-2 run to stretch a 60-58 lead to a 71-60 cushion midway through the second half. Ratliffe scored eight points during the march.
Star of the game: Ratliffe’s 27 points came on 11-of-14 shooting. Point guard Phil Pressey played one of his best games as a collegian with 18 points, seven assists and six steals. Freshman Quincy Miller scored a career-high 29 points for Baylor. Pierre Jackson had 15 assists.
What the win means for Missouri: This was one of the most impressive road wins by any college basketball team this season. Missouri had an excellent game plan that led to loads of open looks for the Tigers. Frank Haith’s squad has done a tremendous job of bouncing back from a Jan. 7 loss at Kansas State. Missouri is a legitimate top-5 team and is good enough to win a national championship.
What the loss means for Baylor: The Bears’ chances of their first conference title took a major hit. Baylor’s inability to rebound against an undersized Missouri squad was alarming. This team needs to get tougher -- fast. Scott Drew also needs to think about tightening his rotation.
Up next: Baylor travels to Norman to take on Oklahoma Tuesday. Missouri plays Oklahoma State Wednesday in Stillwater.
For full coverage of all the top matchups, check out Weekend Watch.
No. 5 Missouri at No. 3 Baylor (1 p.m. CT, ESPN):
Missouri: The Tigers might have the quickest lineup in college basketball. Frank Haith's guards have been very efficient, and have made much better decisions on offense and defense this season. Missouri can still fall into some "chuck and duck" habits, which worked well under Mike Anderson but does not fit with the style favored by Haith.
Baylor: The Bears are big, long, athletic and deep along the front line, and have one of the most talented frontcourts in the country. Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller, Anthony Jones and Cory Jefferson provide the bodies and length to overwhelm a smaller team on the glass and the defensive end.
Before the season, I was one who questioned the Baylor guards and whether the Bears would be able to improve ball security. Last season, Baylor turned the ball over at a very high rate. Turnovers are still an issue, but this team is much better with the ball. Guards Brady Heslip, A.J. Walton and Pierre Jackson are far better than I anticipated, and Jackson is a game-changing talent. He has the ability to guard the ball, see the floor with terrific vision and play with a fearlessness that allows his teammates to do their jobs without worrying about his.
Key players: Denmon and Jackson. Denmon scratches in just about every category for the Tigers and is an attack guard. Denmon excels in transition, and Baylor can afford to put Walton, Jackson or a defender with more size on him. Denmon is a very good defender but might have some issues matching up with bigger Baylor players. Jackson is incredibly strong and athletic, and has the ability to guard Pressey and Denmon. If he can stay out of foul difficulty, Jackson has the ability to change the game with his pressure and steals. On the offensive end, Jackson is a potent scorer, but he is also a fabulous passer. He will get a lob dunk from deep for a teammate; you can bank on it. However, he also has 64 turnovers to go with his 98 assists.
Key shooters: Heslip and English. Heslip transferred from Boston College and has a really quick release. He has hit 51 3s, by far the most on the Baylor roster, and is shooting 47 percent from 3. English is shooting better than 50 percent from deep, and his stroke is pure. He has hit 45 3s in only 88 attempts.
Key bigs: Ratliffe and Perry Jones III. Ratliffe plays off his guards very well but must avoid fouls to be able to stay in the game. Without Ratliffe, Missouri can get overwhelmed on the glass. Jones is a special talent. He needs to be assertive and dominate his matchup. No player on the Missouri roster can guard him.
Key stat: Turnovers and rebounding. Baylor should own the backboards but also has to get to long rebounds, which will be an issue in this game. Baylor turned the ball over against the pressure of Kansas and needs to take care of the ball against the pressure brought by Missouri. Pressey's initial ball pressure will be key.
Who wins: Baylor is coming off a loss and playing at home. How the Bears guard the 3-point line will go a long way in determining this one. Expect Baylor to play some man-to-man in addition to some zone. If the Bears take good shots and limit Missouri in transition, I like the Bears to win. Baylor 74-70.
No. 7 Kansas at Texas (3 p.m. Saturday): Kansas is playing at such a high level that the Jayhawks would have to come down a few notches if they’re going to lose at erratic Texas. The Longhorns don’t have the strength to deal with Thomas Robinson. I’d be surprised if Kansas loses this game.
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