In what is sure to be an emotionally charged Mizzou Arena, the No. 8 Missouri Tigers (25-4, 12-4 Big 12) will look to end their first multiple game losing streak of the season against the Iowa State Cyclones (21-8, 11-5 Big 12). Tonight’s game is Senior Night for seven Mizzou seniors, and marks the final time the winningest senior class in Mizzou history will play on their home floor.
The past week has changed the makeup of Missouri’s season dramatically. They started the week tied with Kansas at the top of the Big 12, but after a lackluster performance at home against Kansas State, resulting in a 78-68 loss, they traveled to the infamous Phog Allen Fieldhouse and lost in heartbreaking fashion, 87-86 in overtime to their hated rival Jayhawks. Now that they can no longer win the Big 12 regular season title, they will have to put their focus to stay second in the standings in their final two games.
Iowa State, on the other hand, has been the Big 12’s surprise success, quietly winning over 20 games for the first time since 2001, and sit fourth in the Big 12 standings, only a half game behind No. 10 Baylor and one game behind Mizzou. They play those two teams in their final games of the season, hoping to move up in the standings.
The first meeting between the two teams was a tight contest in Ames on Jan. 11. The situation was similar to this time around. Missouri was coming off a loss to Kansas State, while ISU was looking to secure a statement win. The game was close throughout, with Mizzou eventually pulling out a tough 76-69 win behind a balanced scoring effort with six players scoring in double figures. The Cyclones have not forgotten their first game, and are looking to add to Missouri’s recent woes.
Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune says that Iowa State has “unfinished business” with the Tigers. ISU senior guard Scott Christopherson (12.1 PPG, 47.9 3P%) said in the article,
"“They [Missouri] are probably one of the top five or six teams in the country,” Christopherson said. “But we feel like we did some things in that game that gave the game away. So we are looking forward to going down there and correcting those mistakes.”"
The Cyclones, especially Christopherson, could look to the three ball to make up some scoring. This is a good matchup for the Cyclones, who shoot 38.3% from beyond the arc, while Mizzou is ranked last in the Big 12 in defending the three. However, Chris Williams, writer for the ISU blog Cyclone Fanatic, thinks it will take more than a couple threes for ISU to have a chance.
"Point is, if Iowa State wants to pull of this upset, the Cyclones will have to hit shots at a consistent pace. Missouri doesn’t have many “off” nights at home."
Williams is correct in saying that the Tigers are exceptional at home, earning a record of 66-4 in the past four years at Mizzou Arena. This is one of the reasons that the current group of seniors is responsible for the most wins out of any senior class in Mizzou history. The core group of forwards Kim English (13.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG) and Steve Moore (3.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG), guard Marcus Denmon (18.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG), along with walk-on guard Jarrett Sutton and injured forward Laurence Bowers have been on the roster for 102 victories. Fellow seniors forward Ricardo Ratliffe (13.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and guard Matt Pressey (6.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG) were on the team for two years, while forward Andrew Jones walked on from the football team for one season, but the three will also be honored for their contributions as seniors.
Once the pre-game festivities end, the real fun will begin. Iowa State has been sneaky good all season, and this game has a lot bigger conference implications than people may think. The Cyclones sit only one game behind the Tigers, and a victory for ISU would move them into a tie for second place in the conference. The Tigers would prefer to avoid that situation by keeping the Cyclones at bay in their final regular season matchup.
In the first game, all of Missouri’s players scored in double figures, except its scoring leader Marcus Denmon. This is primarily because of ISU’s junior guard Chris Babb (8.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG), who has been a defensive force for the Cyclones all season. Babb held Denmon to six points on 1-5 shooting in January, and will likely force the Tigers to find other sources of offense if he plays like he did earlier this season. Fortunately this hasn’t been much of a problem this season for the Tigers, who have four players who average 13 or more points per game. Players other than Denmon may have to step up and fill a gap if Babb can take Denmon out of the game offensively.
The Cyclones also have a trio of solid scorers in Christopherson, senior guard Chris Allen (12.4 PPG, 2.3 APG) and their jack of all trades sophomore forward Royce White (12.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 5.1 APG). ISU can do damage inside with White and outside with shooters like Christopherson. Mizzou will have to play a solid all-around defensive game to prevent ISU’s scorers from having big games.
Mizzou got a lot of production last game from its two big men, Ratliffe and Moore, who combined for 22 points and 17 rebounds in the first matchup. ISU’s Christopherson recognized in Williams’ Cyclone Fanatic piece that, although the Tigers implement a four guard lineup, Ratliffe is a key part to the Tigers’ game.
"“Ricardo Ratliffe is probably the most underrated big man in the country,” said Christopherson. “He’s a physical specimen. He does so many things as far as being able to set good screens and dive to the basket that open things up for their perimeter players.”"
Missouri will need to play a very balanced game, both offensively and defensively, in order to close out their home 2011-12 campaign. If they can defeat a solid Iowa State team looking to move up in the conference standings, they can send the most successful senior class in school history out of Mizzou Arena in style.