March 4, 2009

Tigers tangle with top five Sooners

Missouri looks get back on the winning track when the fifth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners come to Columbia in a game for second place in the Big 12 Conference. Missouri is 24-and-5 and 11-and-3 in Big 12 play. Oklahoma is 26-and-3 and 12-and-2. Oklahoma leads the series 111-93, but Mizzou has a 59-31 edge in Columbia. has the preview:

Three Keys to the Game

Cover the Shooters: Most will point to the defense against Griffin as the key, but it is his supporting cast that has been big in many Sooner wins. Griffin will get his points every night. What the Tigers have to avoid is letting one of the other Sooners going crazy. In a five-point win over Purdue, Warren scored 22 and got to the free throw line 13 times. In a close win over Colorado, Tony Crocker hit seven three-pointers. In beating Oklahoma State, it was Austin Johnson that made five triples. So much of what the Sooners do comes off Griffin kicking the ball out to shooters. Missouri's perimeter defense has to be strong to give the Tigers a chance.

Battle on the Boards: Blake Griffin leads the nation in rebounding and his brother, Taylor Griffin, pulls down six a night. The duo is particularly good on the offensive glass, where 28.8% of their total rebounds have come. Missouri cannot allow the Sooners to get a lot of second-chance points, which is where Griffin really makes a killing. Overall, the Sooners average just a couple rebounds more per game than the Tigers. If Mizzou can compete on the boards the way it did against Kansas State last week, their chances go up significantly.

Speed it Up: Missouri always wants to run, but certain teams (like Kansas and Kansas State) are more equipped to handle a frenetic pace than the Sooners. Oklahoma is not a deep team at all. They will rely primarily on six players all night long. If the Tigers can run all night and push the game into the eighties, it should wear the Griffin brothers down and favor the Tigers. In conference play, only two teams have managed to break 80 against Oklahoma. Oklahoma State scored 81 in a loss while Kansas put up 87 in its win in Norman.

Official Prediction: This game does not mean much as far as the standings go. Sure, it would be nice to finish second, but no matter what happens, the Tigers and Sooners will be set to meet again in the Big 12 tournament semifinals. But from a momentum standpoint, this one is huge. Not only do the Tigers want to avoid back-to-back losses, but with a road trip to Texas A&M, which will be playing for an NCAA tournament bid, looming, Missouri could be staring at three straight losses to end the season if they drop this one. It may be going out on a limb, but we think the Tigers get it done here. Look for DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons to play inspired ball due to the combination of Griffin being in town and this being the final home game for the two senior forwards. Add in the Mizzou Arena rims that have been friendly to the Tigers most of the year and we'll call an 86-82 Tiger win.

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