(Missouri Basketball App) -- There's no doubt remaining, the Big XII is a two-horse race. Missouri demonstrated on Saturday they wont be leaving anything up to chance. With a dominant second half, the Tigers calmly dispatched visiting Baylor and firmly asserted themselves atop the conference standings. Better yet, Mizzou has completed the checklist required of any team hoping to go the distance in the NCAA tournament.
This list is of my own devising, so certainly don't take it as gospel. While there's plenty of statistical analysis that could expand each category, for the sake of brevity, I'll keep it simple.
What you need:
A leader- Every team needs someone who can bring them back from the brink. A player that, when the game is slipping, can take the ball and stop the bleeding. Most importantly, when the game is on the line, everyone in the arena can know they're getting the ball, but they'll still win you the game.
Missouri's answer: Marcus Denmon.
Denmon went quiet for a stretch in the middle of the season, but triumphantly returned with 29 points and 9 boards in what was one of the greatest individual efforts in recent memory against KU. Two nights later against Oklahoma, he refused to let the Tigers slip, pouring in 25 to assure the W. He has established himself as a premiere scorer, and possesses a will to win that can change a game.
A great sixth man- The best starting five in the country can take a team a long way, but eventually there will be an answer. A championship team needs a wildcard. Someone who can come off the bench and give an opposing defense fits. They may go unnoticed all tournament, but more often than not, they show up and win a game when all other attempts have been stalled.
Missouri's answer: Mike Dixon Dixon is the wildest of wildcards. He is the ultimate high risk high reward player. When he forces the action, he can be an impulsive turnover threat. But when he gets even the slightest traction, he cuts through defenses like a hot knife. Ask Texas just how hard he is to stop if he smells blood in the water. With Manic Mike, a whole new element can be introduced to the board; and more often than not, the chaos that ensues gives Missouri a window that they never fail to exploit.
A major inside threat, or a cadre of shooters- Teams need a go-to source of points. When the shots aren't falling, they need to be able to dump it inside for some surefire scoring. Or, if the trees are just too tall, they need to be able to pour it on from the arc, forcing a defense to spread the floor and open up driving lanes.
Missouri's answer: Ricardo Ratliffe and friends Missouri doesn't really have either. What they do have is variety, and adaptability. Ratliffe isn't a premiere big man. He is a great scorer, and one of the more athletic front court players in the country. When he's not watched like a hawk, he can rack up points in a hurry. But without him, points don't get scored much inside. That's where Missouri has a better safety valve than most. If the middle is clogged, there are always four guards ready and willing to unleash a salvo of jumpers. Shooting 38% from beyond the arc, Missouri can confidently rely on three pointers to help carry the load if Ratliffe is in trouble. What's more impressive, the two strategies work in concert, not competition.
Possession Creation- The ability to create additional possessions is critical if you want to make a deep run. While the most common device is rebounding- something Missouri isn't strong at- there are a few other ways to make this happen.
Missouri's answer: turnovers and offensive fouls. It's not that Missouri can't rebound- they almost always outperform their expected rebounds- it's that they do other things better. The Tigers have 221 steals on the season. The have forced 393 turnovers. In addition, they have taken 51 charges this year. A whopping 23 of those have come from Kim English- you know, that 6'6 guy matched up with seven footers. So, while rebounding has proved a challenge for the undersized squad, they have found creative ways to make up the difference. Lastly, the Tigers are fourth in the country in assist to turnover ratio (1.52), meaning they don't waste those extra chances.
The Jordan Complex- Great talent can take a team to the finish line, but if that's all they have, a squad rarely crosses it first. Ask Derrick Rose and the 2008 Memphis team. Ask the 2007 Ohio State Buckeyes. Premiere players are one element, but without that ferocity- that unwillingness to accept defeat, they will almost always fall to the team that wants it more.
Missouri's answer: Tiger Nation and the last chance at glory Frank Haith is writing his history one win at a time. Missouri is writing it's final chapter in the Big XII. The seniors are capping their run as the winningest class in school history. And the fans are showing the nation their university deserves respect at every turn. Missouri has proven that no deficit is too big, no big man is too tall, and no amount of doubt will slow their charge. They refused to bow to basketball royalty. They refused to grant vengeance to Baylor, and they will refuse to exit without leaving everything they have on the hardwood. Their will may not guarantee victory, but it won't be the reason they lose. They will not fall for lack of passion.
So as the Tigers hurtle toward their February 25 date with the Jayhawks in Lawrence, and their chance to claim the outright Big XII title, they have no questions left to answer. For now, the Tigers have proven themselves ready, and the only thing left to do is finish strong.
-- JJ Bailey, Missouri Basketball App