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The University of Texas men's basketball team (17-3, 5-0) will play host to the Missouri Tigers (17-3, 3-2) in what could be a must-win for Mizzou if they want to stay in the race for the Big 12 regular season title. Game tip is at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday evening at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.
The Tigers enter Saturday 4-2 against the KenPom Top 50, with quality home wins over No. 20 Vanderbilt, No. 40 Nebraska, and No. 46 Kansas State, as well as a neutral floor victory over No. 17 Illinois. Missouri suffered losses to No. 21 Georgetown in Kansas City and No. 29 Texas A&M in College Station. The Tigers picked up their third loss in Boulder, to No. 59 Colorado. Missouri's sole win on an opponent's home floor came against No. 115 Oregon, an 83-80 Tigers win.
As usual Missouri is playing Mike Anderson's trademark running, 40-minutes-of-hell style of play. Their games average nearly 74 possessions per game, the 10th fastest tempo in the country, and they've already had five games that went 80 or more possessions in regulation. The Tigers push in transition and press all over the court.
This year's Missouri ball club features eight regulars who average 16 or more minutes per game, and two more who average about 10. Only one player averages more than 25 minutes per game (junior guard Marcus Denmon, who averages about 30). By way of comparison, the Longhorns have four starters who average 30+ minutes per game--Jordan Hamilton, Cory Joseph, Gary Johnson, and Tristan Thompson.
Analysis and keys to the game after the jump.
1. Defend the three pointer, transition included. Through five Big 12 conference games, Missouri is averaging 21 three point shots per game. In their loss at Colorado they hit just 4 of 16, but have shot 35 percent or better in each of their four games since, including a 10-25 showing at A&M (an overtime loss) and 8-19 against Kansas State (11 point win). Missouri isn't overly-reliant on the three (just 31% of their shot attempts are from beyond the arc), but their chances of picking up a road win Saturday are a lot better if they can hit 10 threes like they did at A&M. It won't be easy, as Texas' opponents are hitting just 28.6% of their three point attempts, sixth-best in the nation.
2. Play even in the turnover battle. This is one of those obvious statements that wouldn't normally merit its own key to the game, but with Missouri, this is where the game is won and lost. The Tigers rarely turn the ball over (17th best nationally) and are fantastic at forcing opponents to turn it over (14th nationally). That's why Missouri, just an average offensive rebounding team, has succeeded in averaging 7 more shot attempts per game than their opponents. Texas shouldn't need any reminders about the consequences of that happening; in their only home loss of the year, to UConn, the Huskies got off 16 more shots than the Longhorns did.
3. Get to the free throw line. The Tigers aren't a hack-tastic team, but Missouri has struggled most this year when opponents are getting to the stripe. A&M was only able to overcome the 10 three pointers by Missouri because they shot 38 free throws, to Missouri's 19. Texas has done a very good job during its current streak in both getting to the line and making them. It'll help slow down Missouri if they can do so again on Saturday.
4. Don't get lost in the tempo. The danger with playing a Mike Anderson team is the difficulty in not having the game dictated to you. They press. They run. They do things, TO you. That can be unsettling (which is the point), and can cause you to get away from the things that YOU do. There's nothing wrong with Texas taking advantage of transition opportunities, but we don't want a helter-skelter game, either. We're perfectly capable of running a good bit, and we can handle pressure defense, but there's a fine line between playing well in an up-tempo game and playing Penders ball. If our guys start jacking jumpers all over the place, I'll be concerned.
5. Control Michael Dixon. I've been impressed with Missouri's sophomore point guard Michael Dixon, whose quickness presents a lot of problems for opponents. Obviously, this is an important assignment for Dogus Balbay when he's in the game, but I worry a little bit about our other guards' ability to handle Dixon's quickness. I'll be watching closely to make sure we do a good job with team transition defense. Dixon will make us pay if we don't, and I'd like to see us deny him the outlet pass to buy a couple seconds and let our defense set.
Prediction: Missouri has three legit outside shooters in Marcus Denmon, Kim English, and Michael Dixon, and we'll have ourselves a real challenge if those guys are feeling it. Mostly, though, this is the kind of opponent that will test our ability to do well a few specific things within our own control. Things like denying Dixon the ball and getting back in transition. Not getting caught up in the tempo -- sloppy turnovers, too many jumpers, not attacking the defense to get to the line. Not hamstringing ourselves with avoidable foul trouble.
What makes Mike Anderson's teams so effective is that pressure and tempo are things that you have to deal with. Constantly. And that often makes it that much harder to focus on those other things -- not fancy or difficult things, but the basic stuff teams need to take care of to win games. We've been tested a lot of different ways this year, and for the most part handled it well. This will be a new kind of test, and though I'm especially optimistic because we're drawing Mizzou at home this year, it'll be very interesting to see how we handle this particular challenge.
Given the home floor advantage and enough time to prepare specifically for what Missouri wants to do, I like the winning streak to continue. I forsee a difficult shooting night for Missouri, and a Texas offense that really seems to understand what good shots look like, and how to work together to get them. Texas 76 Missouri 67