Missouri, the seventh-ranked team in the country — one of just four unbeaten teams in college basketball, meets No. 23 Kansas State on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in Manhattan, which creates two questions that will be answered: How will the Wildcats respond from a 67-49 loss at No. 14 Kansas on Wednesday? And how will they match up against a team that, in many ways, plays the opposite style of them?
The Tigers are 14-0. They have just seven scholarship players, but six of them are highly skilled. They lead the country in field-goal percentage offense, free throw shooting, assist-to-turnover ratio, scoring margin and rank third nationally with 86.2 points per game.
Missouri plays a four-guard, one-big lineup, and they shoot better than 40 percent from 3-point range. So here’s the interesting dynamic: How does K-State, a team that plays with size and a physical nature, match up against a team full of quick, skilled players who are smaller in stature?
“It’s a difficult (matchup) for us but it’s going to be difficult for them too,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “Whatever team impacts the game to their strengths to the best of their abilities is gonna win. If our size can pressure them by pressuring the rim, whether it be through post-ups, fouls, offensive rebounds, things of that nature, then the size becomes an advantage.”
The Tigers, under first-year head coach Frank Haith, are beating teams by an average of 26 points per game and possess one of the best backcourts in basketball. But perhaps the biggest asset the Tigers have is experience, led by five seniors who know the ropes of the Big 12.
“They’ve got guys that have been through it,” Martin said. “Phil Pressey (a sophomore) is a real, real good point guard. When you put a talented point guard around so many highly-skilled seniors, it’s a difficult task.”
Marcus Denmon leads the Tigers in scoring, averaging 18.8 points per game, while Kim English, a 6-foot-6 senior, is scoring 15.9 points per game, including connecting on 55 percent of his 3-pointers. Phil Pressey averages six assists per game and has just 29 turnovers this year, a 2.93 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“Phil is gonna get them into their stuff,” Martin said. “When he plays well they’re usually gonna win and win comfortably. The advantage they have that is on a night where he’s maybe not as good as he can be, (Michael) Dixon can do it, English can do it, Denmon can do it. That’s the advantage when you have four highly-skilled guards and three of them are seniors.
Ricardo Ratliffe, the one big guy Missouri starts, averages 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, gives Missouri five guys who are threats to score, and do so in different ways.
“Ratliffe, for a big, is very skilled, so they’ve got five highly-skilled basketball players on the floor at all times,” Martin said.
The Wildcats have a depth advantage, going as many as 10-deep, so they will look to wear the Tigers down.
But ultimately, Martin said it comes down to who plays to their strengths better. K-State’s strength is rebounding and defense. Missouri’s is taking care of the basketball and making shots.
“We’ll give it a run on Saturday and we’ll see what happens,” Martin said.