For the first time all season, the Mizzou basketball team faced a top 25 team on the road yesterday when they traveled to the “Octagon of Doom” in Manhattan, KS to take on the Kansas State Wildcats. And despite passing every test with flying colors up until this point, the Tigers were never able to get into a rhythm, and were hampered by persistent foul trouble all game long as the Wildcats rolled to a relatively easy 75-59 win. Coming into the season, the two biggest concerns facing the Tigers were their lack of depth, as well as their lack of size. But through their first 14 games, the Tigers asserted themselves as one of the top 10 teams in the nation by playing aggressive but disciplined defense, and by spreading the the ball around the court. This matchup, however, was a completely different story.
The Wildcats looked like the quicker and more physical team, and the Tigers rarely got the ball into the paint on offense, while allowing Kansas State to work inside on nearly every possession. In addition, Tiger fans witnessed Ricardo Ratliffe’s first bad game of the season, as the big man was in foul trouble from the opening tip. He didn’t fouled out, but was only on the court for 14 minutes, attempted (and made) just one shot, and corralled just one rebound. And when he finally got into the scoring column early in the second half, he was promptly given a technical foul for taunting, and found himself back on the bench.
But Ratliffe didn’t deliver the only shaky performance. With a stagnant offense and little separation from the Wildcat defenders, the Tigers struggled just to find good looks. Guard Kim English, who came into the contest leading the nation in three point shooting, never established himself, as he took just five shots in 35 minutes of action, and scored all 8 of his points once the game was a blowout. In the end, the trio of Marcus Denmon, Matt Pressey, and Mike Dixon ended up taking the lion’s share of the team’s shots. The trio took a combined 35 of the team’s 49 attempts, and connected just 13 times. In an offense where spreading the ball around is imperative, the Tigers repeatedly found themselves stuck in bad places on the court and could not get off good shots. In addition, the Wildcats weren’t afraid to leave the Tigers’ worst shooter in Matt Pressey open, and he was frequently the only open man late in the shot clock.
While this game was hard to watch for Tiger fans, it is important to remember that it is just one, and that there was no way that this team would have gone undefeated in the first place. Games like these are bound to happen over the course of a long season, especially in a grueling conference like the Big 12 that features many hostile road environments. Also, since the loss brought out the weaknesses of the Tigers for the first time, head coach Frank Haith and his staff now have the chance to directly address these problems to the team and continue to improve. Next, Mizzou travels north to Ames, Iowa, where they will take on a much improved Iowa State Cyclones team. Under the direction of Fred Hoiberg, the Cyclones have jumped out to a 12-3 start, and are 2-0 in conference play with wins over Texas and at Texas A&M. Iowa State is a hot team playing with a lot of confidence and a fan base that believes they belong with the elite teams of the conference. As a result, Tiger fans can expect this mature and experienced group to refocus themselves in the coming days and be prepared for their next tough road test when they battle the Cyclones. If Mizzou can do so while getting back to the style of play that led them to an undefeated start to the season, their confidence will go right back up, just in time for the grind of conference play.