Dallas Colleges: Tim Hardaway Jr.
January, 20, 2012
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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.
The Tigers run a set-play, quick-hitting offense that features four guards around undersized big man Ricardo Ratliffe. Point guard Phil Pressey is almost impossible to stay in front of, and he is an elite passer who willingly gives up the ball. Pressey has a near 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and leads the team in steals with 37. The wings are among the best in the nation, with All-America candidate Marcus Denmon and the ridiculously efficient Kim English. English's transformation has been remarkable. Last season, his confidence was waning. This season, he seemingly cannot miss. His decisions have improved, and he is hitting more than 50 percent of his 3-point shots. Ratliffe is benefiting from single coverage in the post and the drop-offs from his teammates to shoot better than 77 percent from the field. The single-season record is 74 percent by Oregon State's Steve Johnson back when Ralph Miller was the Beavers' coach.
Jeff Moffett/Icon SMIMarcus Denmon is averaging 17.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for Missouri.
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.