After a hard-fought win in Ames over Iowa State Wednesday night, the Tigers return to Columbia to face the Texas Longhorns on Saturday afternoon.
Despite being regarded as one of the elite teams in the Big 12 for many years under head coach Rick Barnes, the Longhorns struggled out of the gate, and had trouble finding the style of play that would give the team the most success. With many new faces playing big minutes, Texas struggled away from Austin early on. They lost their only two neutral site games to mediocre Oregon State and North Carolina State teams, and were ousted by North Carolina and Iowa State in true road games. In fact, the only road game won by the Longhorns was at UCLA, a team that had completely fallen apart when the two teams met in early December.
But in recent games following their loss to the Cyclones in their Big 12 conference opener, the Longhorns seemed to back off from their normally aggressive, up-tempo style of offense and began focusing more on their defensive mindset. And in the two games since their trip to Ames, the Longhorns held each opponent to under 52 points, and as a result, picked up relatively comfortable victories over Oklahoma State and Texas A&M at home. In addition, the Longhorns had failed to score at least 69 points only once in 14 games leading up to their recent home stand, but averaged only 59.5 points per contest in the two wins.
The Longhorns are led by junior guard J’Covan Brown, who averages over 18 points per game. However, Brown has struggled from the field in recent games, as he has made just four of his last 17 field goal attempts. But Brown is a game changer, and has the ability to dictate the tempo of the game all by himself.
After a statement win for Mizzou over Iowa State, the Tigers are sure to have regained any confidence that might have been lost in their defeat at Kansas State last weekend. But for how well the Tigers played as a team Wednesday night, they would like to get their most dangerous weapon in guard Marcus Denmon back on track. While 6 of the 7 players who stepped on the court for Mizzou scored in double figures against the Cyclones, Denmon never got into a rhythm, making just one of five field goals and finishing with 6 points. Even though he didn’t light up the stat sheet, it was obvious that Fred Hoiberg’s squad centered in on preventing Denmon from getting open looks. As a result, more opportunities were opened up for players besides Denmon, and the team took advantage.
Back on their home court for the first time in nearly two weeks, expect the Tigers to come out with a lot of energy. If they can force the Longhorns into playing at the pace of the Tigers, it will be tough for Texas to hang around for a full 40 minutes, especially on the road, where they have struggled all year.