Phase 1 of the 2009-10 season is over for Missouri and now the real work begins.
The Tigers stand at 12-3 and are riding a season-high seven-game win streak into this Saturday’s Big 12 opener against No. 11 Kansas State. Missouri has built a 29-game win streak at Mizzou Arena and the Wildcats will pose the most serious threat to that streak since No. 5 Oklahoma came to Columbia late last season. The Sooners fell to a suffocating Missouri defense, something the Tigers will look to get going again after catching their stride at the end of nonconference play.
What do we take out of MU’s nonconference results? First off, the Tigers came away with a pair of convincing victories over major conference opponents Illinois and Georgia. The Tigers ran the Bulldogs ragged and forced 23 turnovers in the 89-61 win on Jan. 2.
But that game was played in Mizzou Arena, a home court Missouri has had no trouble protecting. What was more promising for MU was its win over the Fighting Illini in St. Louis on Dec. 23. For the first time this season, Missouri played extremely well outside the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena. Still, with stumbles at Oral Roberts and Vanderbilt, the Tigers need to prove they can show the same intensity on the road as they do at home, especially with a tough start to Big 12 play.
After hosting Kansas State, Missouri travels to No. 22 Texas Tech and Oklahoma before coming home against Nebraska. Looking even further down the schedule, a trip to Allen Fieldhouse to face No. 1 Kansas looms on Jan. 25. The sooner Missouri finds its footing on the road, the better off they will be in conference play.
But first things first: Kansas State will force Missouri to play its best basketball of the year if it hopes to keep its home court dominance alive. The Wildcats stand at 13-1 and are led by a pair of talented guards in junior Jacob Pullen and senior Denis Clemente.
Averaging 20.1 points per game and 3.6 assists per game, Pullen can shine on the other end of the court, too: his 20 steals leads Kansas State.
Clemente is second on the team with 14.1 points per game and leads the Wildcats in assists (59) and assists per game (4.2).
How the Tigers handle those two will go a long way in determining who wins this game.
The good news for Missouri is this game comes at the start of the conference season. With a win, confidence is built and maybe some momentum follows. If MU loses, there is plenty of time to make up for the setback.
Tip off will be at 1 p.m. and the game will broadcast on ESPN2.