Texas vs. #4 Missouri: Monday's Preview

    
January 29th, 2012

With the final month of regular season play just two days away, the focus turns to the resumes that teams have put together in hopes of being one of the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament. While Frank Haith's Missouri (19-2, 6-2) has no such concerns at this point the team they visit on Monday night isn't in the same position. Rick Barnes' young Texas (13-8, 3-5) need to improve their resume and soon if they're to return to the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns' best wins to date are home wins over Temple and Iowa State, and with a 12-1 record at home Texas is more than a tough out at the Erwin Events Center. 

Missouri last won in Austin in 2009, which isn't a bad streak when considering the fact that they would only play once a season before the drop to ten conference teams. Frank Haith's team has lost to Kansas State and Oklahoma State on the road with rebounding being a key factor, just as it was in their win at Baylor. Texas is a slightly better rebounding team when considering margin but they also allow teams to grab just over 13 offensive rebounds per game, which could be an issue with Ricardo Ratliffe (14.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg) averaging 2.9 offensive rebounds per game. 

Ratliffe leads the nation in field goal percentage due to the fact that he rarely attempts a shot more than five feet away from the basket. Texas will counter with a frontline that goes four deep but the most talented players are the least experienced. Seniors Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman share time with freshmen Jaylen Bond and Jonathan Holmes, and this four-man group averages a combined 22.9 points and 20.0 rebounds per game. If they can get Ratliffe in foul trouble the dynamic inside changes, because even though Steve Moore has made solid contributions there's a drop in production when Ratliffe is saddled with foul trouble. 

The problem for Texas lies on the perimeter, because even though they're talented the Longhorns lack experience when compared to the Tigers. Phil Pressey (9.8 ppg, 6.1 apg) is one of the best point guards in the country, and his playmaking ability will be a serious test for Texas freshman Myck Kabongo (9.9 ppg, 5.5 apg) on the defensive end. Pressey sets the table for Missouri's capable rotation of perimeter scorers, from leader Marcus Denmon to wing Kim English to sixth man Michael Dixon Jr. and those are just three of the benefactors. Texas calls on junior J'Covan Brown (19.7 ppg, 4.0 apg) to make big shots but while his decision-making has improved during his time in Austin there are still moments where he strays off the path.

Freshmen Shelden McClellan and Julien Lewis are averaging a combined 19.0 points per game and with the majority of Missouri's defensive attention likely being on Brown, at least one of these two will need to make an impact on the offensive end. Missouri boasts the better efficiency numbers on both ends of the floor, and that can't be the case for the Longhorns if they're to pull off the win. If Texas can also attack the offensive glass, as they enter with an offensive rebounding percentage of 39.7%, and cash in on some second-chance points they'll have a shot. Do that and get Ratliffe in early foul trouble, and it could be a good night on the 40 Acres.

Also of note are a pair of conference rivalry games, as Pittsburgh visits Morgantown to take on West Virginia and Penn hosts Princeton in an important Ivy League battle. Jamie Dixon's Panthers have won two straight games and with a healthy Tray Woodall at the point they're a much better team than the one that lost eight straight games. As for West Virginia they'll be looking to rebound from a tough loss at Syracuse, one marred by a missed goaltending violation in the final seconds of the game. Kevin Jones is one of the frontrunners for Big East Player of the Year at this point while their young guards have shown signs of improvement.

As for the Ivy League battle, Jerome Allen's Quakers remain undefeated in conference play (and tied with Harvard in the loss column) while Princeton is 1-1 in league play and needs a win to remain a major player in the race. Penn guard Zach Rosen has to be considered the best player in the Ancient Eight right now and classmate Tyler Bernardini is no slouch himself. Forward Ian Hummer and guard Doug Davis lead the way for the Tigers, who split their opening weekend of play with a loss at Cornell followed by a win at Columbia.

In the A-Sun Mercer visits Florida Gulf Coast in a key game for both teams, but moreso for Bob Hoffman's Bears as they're currently tied for the league lead with Belmont. Justin Cecil and Jakob Gollon lead a balanced offensive attack for Mercer, while Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson lead the way for FGCU, who also have one of the conference's better freshmen performers in point guard Brent Comer. Coppin State visits undefeated Norfolk State in an important MEAC battle and Southeast Missouri State looks to hold their two-game edge in the loss column for second place in the OVC as they visits a struggling Eastern Illinois squad.  

Top 25 Games
9:00 PM (4) Missouri at Texas (ESPN)

NCAA Division I Games
6:15 PM USC Upstate at Jacksonville State
7:00 PM Kennesaw State at Stetson
7:00 PM Princeton at Pennsylvania
7:00 PM Pittsburgh at West Virginia (ESPN)
7:00 PM Palm Beach Atlantic at UCF
7:00 PM James Madison at East Tennessee State
7:00 PM Morgan State at Hampton (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Western Carolina at Wofford
7:05 PM Mercer at Florida Gulf Coast
7:30 PM Jacksonville at Lipscomb
7:30 PM Maryland-Eastern Shore at North Carolina Central
7:30 PM Howard at South Carolina State
8:00 PM North Florida at Belmont
8:00 PM Southeast Missouri State at Eastern Illinois
8:00 PM Delaware State at North Carolina A&T
8:00 PM Coppin State at Norfolk State
8:00 PM Charleston at Samford
8:00 PM Austin Peay at Tennessee State
8:00 PM SIU-Edwardsville at Tennessee Tech
8:30 PM Prairie View A&M at Alabama A&M
8:30 PM Jackson State at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
8:30 PM Grambling State at Mississippi Valley State
8:30 PM Northern Colorado at Northern Arizona (FCS)
9:00 PM Texas Southern at Alabama State (ESPNU)