Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats welcome the Missouri Tigers into Rupp Arena for only the third time in history. This is one of those games the Wildcats will be heavily favored to win, but so were the last two games, and both those contests took extra periods before the Wildcats could claim the W. Fortunately for Kentucky, this Missouri team is very, very young, has a brand-new coach in Kim Anderson, and may or may not have one of their better reserves, Montaque Gill-Caesar (who Kentucky was recruiting at various points) available because of a nagging back injury.
There have been many questions raised about Kentucky and their performance after the break, some of them justified and some not so much. Observers of college basketball often see very good, even great teams (and I’m not asserting greatness for Kentucky yet, by any means) have poor games, particularly in conference. For example, the 2011-12 team had narrow escapes at Tennessee and against Alabama at home. The 1998 championship team had close calls against Alabama and at Vanderbilt and LSU. The list goes on.
Having said that, Kentucky needs to find two things it seemingly lost during the Christmas holidays — their edge on defense, and a more efficient offense driven from the inside out. Kentucky’s recent two efforts have been outside-in offensively and the defense, while competent, has lacked the dominating pre-holiday feel.
Season so far for Missouri:
Season record: 7-8, 1-1
Missouri has had very little success against top 100 teams this season. They played the Illinois Fighting Illini and Oklahoma State Cowboys very close in non-home environments, and pulled the upset against the LSU Tigers in Columbia. It’s clear that the Tigers were beginning to play better as the season progressed, but a nagging injury to Montaque Gill-Caesar and the loss of Deuce Bello to academic issues led to an upset by the Auburn Tigers in Auburn Arena this past Saturday.
Kentucky and Mizzou have a very limited history, meeting only 6 times in history. The first game between Kentucky and Missouri was fairly recent, back in 1960, and the last time the two teams met in Rupp Arena, the game went into overtime and Kentucky emerged victorious.
|3||Johnathan Williams III||6-9||225||F||S*||SO||Memphis, Tenn./Southwind H.S.|
|23||Jakeenan Gant||6-8||207||F||S||FR||Springfield, Ga./Effingham County|
|12||Namon Wright||6-5||200||G||S||FR||Los Angeles, Calif./Pacific Hills|
|14||Keith Shamburger||5-11||170||G||S+||RS SR||Los Angeles, Calif./Hawaii|
|15||Wes Clark||6-0||185||G||S*||SO||Detroit, Mich./Romulus H.S.|
|44||Ryan Rosburg||6-10||264||F||MR*||JR||Chesterfield, Mo./Marquette H.S.|
|5||D'Angelo Allen||6-7||220||F||MR||FR||Dallas, Texas/Kimball H.S.|
|4||Tramaine Isabell||6-0||180||G||MR||FR||Seattle, Wash./Garfield H.S.|
|13||Montaque Gill-Caesar||6-6||215||G||MR||FR||Vaughan, Ontario/Huntington Prep (W. Va.)|
|2||Deuce Bello||6-4||198||G||R+||RS JR||Greensboro, N.C./Baylor|
|11||Jimmy Barton||5-9||160||G||R@||SO||St. Louis, Mo./Houston Baptist|
|42||Hayden Barnard||6-10||225||F||R+||RS FR||Aurora, Ill./Metea Valley H.S.|
|45||Keanau Post||6-11||270||F||R*||SR||Victoria, British Columbia/Southwestern Illinois C.C.|
|Ole miss basketball|
|+||Eligible transfer/red shirt|
|&||Injured, not available|
Source: University of Missouri Athletics
|Rank and Records||Mizzou||UK|
|Strength of Schedule||#23||#4|
|RPI Top 50||1-4||5-0|
Missouri Team Notes
- Missouri’s not a bad offensive team, but they are below average defensively for the season.
- Missouri has not been able to get to the line at all in SEC play, and they put their opponents on the line a lot.
- The Tigers are a good 3-point shooting team, but a poor 2-point shooting team.
- Mizzou turns the ball over too much at 20% of possessions.
- The Tigers take almost 35% of their shots from behind the arc.
- Mizzou doesn’t zone much, but they will be forced to do so against Kentucky.
- Despite Missouri’s anemic offensive rebounding, they may give UK trouble because of the poor defensive rebounding we have seen from the Wildcats lately.
Missouri Player notes
- Johnathan Williams III is the best player on this Missouri team. He is long, lean, and can make shots out to the 3-point line, even though he doesn’t shoot a high percentage out there, and is the team’s best rebounder. He does shoot a high percentage inside, but he is somewhat foul-prone.
- Wes Clark is the point guard, and a fine passer. He leads the team in assists and steals. He shoots 34% from outside.
- Keith Shamburger leads the team in minutes played and 3-point shooting at 42%. He’s Mizzou’s most efficient offensive player.
- Jakeenan Grant is the starter at forward, but D’Angelo Allen and Ryan Rosburg get most of the minutes in that spot.
- Namon Wright is a sweet-shooting wing player who makes 41% from three. he’s only shot two free throws all season, so he’s no a threat to score off the drive.
- Alex Poythress is lost for the season with a torn ACL.
- Montaque Gill-Caesar is doubtful tonight due to a nagging back injury
- Deuce Bello is expected to miss the game due to academics
Wes Clark vs. Andrew Harrison/Tyler Ulis — Clark is a good sophomore point guard, but he gives up significant size to Andrew. Andrew is likely to be able to take him to the basket in man-to-man situations, and is just as experienced as Clark.
Tyler Ulis is a good match-up for Clark, and Clark has a slight advantage due to slightly better size and experience.
Keith Shamburger vs. Aaron Harrison/Devin Booker — Shamburger is smaller than either Aaron or Booker, and that’s a 2-edged sword. Shamburger is likely to be quicker than either Kentucky player, and will be able to get out quickly in transition, but the size of the UK guards are going to hamper him when it comes to getting shots off from deep, where he thrives.
Defensively, Shamburger will be a pest, but he has a significant size disadvantage which will enable Kentucky’s guards to get shots off more cleanly.
Namon Wright vs. Trey Lyles/Devin Booker/Harrisons — Wright is a freshman wing with good size, and he’ll be able to force Lyles to the perimeter because he’s such a dangerous shooter. Lyles will have an advantange when it comes to shooting his midrange shot, however.
Wright is a good matchup for both the Harrisons and Devin Booker on the wing. Wright rarely attacks off the bounce, so that will help minimize a potential problem for Kentucky’ as both Booker and the Harrisons have had problems guarding slashers.
Johnathan Williams vs. Willie Cauley-Stein/Marcus Lee — Williams is Mizzou’s best player and most dangerous scoring threat. He is long, athletic, can run, jump and shoot with the best of them. He’s only a sophomore, but he has tremendous upside and will be Kentucky’s most important defensive task.
Both Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee match up well with Williams. WCS has the advantage of both maturity and better size, while Lee is probably more athletic. Williams will get points and rebounds, but they will be challenged.
Jakeenan Grant vs. Karl-Anthony Towns/Dakari Johnson — Grant is mainly a defensive specialist who focuses on trying to get easy shots around the basket. He’s only a freshman, and really doesn’t get more than about 15 minutes even though he starts.
D’Angelo Allen will see more time, and against Kentucky’s power forward duo, he is a bigger threat. Allen can score inside and out, and despite being an inch shorter is a bigger man who rebounds the ball better.
Both Mizzou forwards will be facing bigger, more athletic men. They will have a difficult time scoring on either of them inside. More importantly, they will have a very tough time defending the size of Johnson and the skill of Towns.
Montaque Gill-Caesar is one of their better perimeter scorers off the bench, but he’s expected to miss the game tonight. Ryan Rosburg gives the Tigers much needed size and rebounding, particularly offensive rebounding. Tramaine Isabell is an athletic guard who is very streaky, but can be a dangerous scoring option if he’s hot. Keanou Post was a starter last season and has great size, but is tremendously foul prone and has a hard time staying in games.
Kentucky’s bench is deeper and more talented, especially since most of them get starters’ minutes.
Missouri is an extremely young team, but they have been improving as the year progresses and have been gaining confidence. With Bello and Gill-Caesar out, the Tigers lose backcourt size (which is already lacking) and scoring ability that puts even more stress on the front court, which lacks quality, experienced players. The road figures to be a very tough place for Mizzou to pull an upset over a top 25 team, much less the #1 team in the land.
Kentucky, however, has not exactly been wiping out it’s opponents lately, having been forced to three overtimes in the last two games. Until Kentucky proves it can bring the kind of intensity and efficiency it had back before the break, every team must be given a puncher’s chance against them. On paper, Kentucky is vastly superior to Missouri and should win comfortably, but that’s also been true of it’s most recent two opponents, and as we know, that did not go according to Hoyle.
Missouri must be very efficient offensively and find a way to keep the Wildcats from getting a lot of paint touches close to the basket, as they are sure to try to do after having hoisted up 48 3-point shots in their last two games, drawing the understandable ire of John Calipari. Missouri is mostly a man-to-man team, but like every other team they have faced this year, expect quite a bit of zone. If Kentucky is as ineffective against the zone as they were in their last two games, you may get to see yet another close game. But I don’t expect that to happen this time.