Missouri returns to Allen Fieldhouse with timing that can only be categorized as, “unfortunate.”
October 2019 was a more hopeful time for Missouri Basketball.
The Tigers were entering year three of Cuonzo Martin’s tenure having come off an expected rebuilding year in 2018. A strong recruiting class of Tray Jackson, Mario McKinney and Kobe Brown signaled that things were headed in the right direction. The addition of mid-major star Dru Smith was going to stabilize a young roster. Why not use all of that positive energy to do what so many had been clamoring for and resume the Border War?
When Cuonzo Martin announced, “It’s back,” the reaction amongst Tiger fans was met with general enthusiasm. After all, Kansas was embroiled in the midst of an NCAA scandal and Missouri had nowhere to go but up from the Kim Anderson years. Two paths that diverged in 2012 were meeting again with the rare occasion of Missouri having an arguably more positive outlook.
Then, of course, the ensuing two years happened. The disappointing 2019 season. COVID-19. The NCAA sitting on its thumbs. Bill Self’s lifetime guarantee of luxury toupee maintenance. Losing to UMKC (again.)
After two years of anticipation, it’s hard to imagine how things could’ve gone more downhill for the Tigers since the announcement. As if by some witches’ hex, the announcement was a harbinger of disaster, cresting with a first-round NCAA exit in 2021 before another steep plunge into the valley of apathy.
I don’t mean to be such a downer, I truly don’t. Despite Missouri’s wayward trail, I’m glad the two schools are playing again. If nothing else, it adds some juice to a season that has been squeezed dry of hope so quickly. Missouri fans may be feeling healthy amounts of ambivalence, but even the most jaded True Son wants nothing than to see Kansas lose at the hands of their Tigers.
That may be a lot to ask of this year’s team, but so what? Sports are dumb and can be wildly unpredictable, so let’s enjoy reveling in some nostalgia.
MIZ-FKU. Feels good, doesn’t it?
Note: These starting lineups are projected.
Players to Watch
The top tier of Kansas’ roster was designed in a laboratory to make Mizzou fans miserable, and you can’t convince me otherwise. It starts up top with Kansas City native Ochai Agbaji, one of the nation’s top players who, somewhat infamously, never received an offer from MIssouri’s staff. He’s a two-way powerhouse with a sweet stroke and strong defensive skills who plays a lot and won’t hurt his team in any meaningful way — you think the Tigers could use a guy like that? Representing the strong anti-Missouri presence is Christian Braun, who plays in the mold of his brother, but at a higher level. He’s a springy defender who’s strong around the rim, but with a jumper Missouri will have to respect. Columbia, Mo. native DaJuan Harris (see, I told you it was brutal) acts as the Jayhawk’s primary point guard, though struggles to take care of the ball or put points on the scoreboard. Arizona State transfer Remy Martin has been a strong addition during his time in Lawrence, giving Self a guard who can rebound on defense and shoot well in a secondary role. Senior David McCormack is Kansas’ usual bruiser down low, ranking with the best in the country as an offensive rebounder. He’s not nearly as efficient as a shooter, but he’s a beast to deal with in the paint on defense.
No one outside of the starting five plays more than 29 percent of the available minutes, but Bill Self isn’t afraid to roll deep with his bench. Seniors Mitch Lightfoot and Jalen Coleman-Lands bring veteran leadership to the support staff, Lightfoot as a tenacious defender (who can easily be put in foul trouble) and Coleman-Lands as a shooter. Sophomore Jalen Wilson has yet to find his shot but is an elite rebounder and can draw fouls around the rim. Joseph Yesufu provides backup point guard without too many turnovers. Freshman Bobby Pettiford has snatched some available minutes as a score-first lead guard who excels when he can find his shots at the rim. His fellow freshman KJ Adams and Zach Clemence will get some spot minutes too, both providing Self with excellent rebounding depth and some defensive value toward the back end of the roster.
When Missouri has the ball…
What to Watch | Can second chances save the day?
Kansas is having a, “jack of all trades, master of
none,” season on defense, locking up passing lanes at an elite rate in exchange for mediocre numbers across the board. That shouldn’t matter much against Missouri’s lethargic offense, but the Tigers should be able to execute their one strength: offensive rebounding. Mizzou struggles to take advantage of their second chances in any meaningful way, but they’ll need to if they want to stun Allen Fieldhouse. Perhaps they sell out on the offensive glass at the risk of getting beat in transition? Trevon Brazile getting up to speed could play a factor.
When Kansas has the ball…
What to Watch | About that rim protection…
It would be the stretchiest of stretches to say that Mizzou’s rim protection has been stout in 2021, but the Tigers have displayed a penchant for blocking shots and causing mayhem around the rim. That strength will be heavily tested against the Jayhawks, who enter Saturday as one of the nation’s elite shooting teams from two-point range. On average they’re a shorter team than Missouri, so the Tigers should have some sort of advantage physically. That shouldn’t matter too much if the Jayhawks’ stable of strong guards and wings are able to get to the rim at will. For Missouri to disrupt Kansas’ flow, they’ll need to create some havoc in the paint.
Kansas 82, Missouri 62 | Mizzou hasn’t won in Lawrence since 1999, when Norm Stewart was conducting his swan song. In the ensuing 22 years, the Phog has been a hall of nightmares for even the best Tiger teams. Asking this year’s squad to break that curse is like asking a baby to fix the busted plumbing.
This college basketball season has already proven that anything is possible — just ask Dayton, who took down these same Jayhawks on a neutral floor despite being not much better than Missouri. But in reality the opening of the Border War revival should be about not getting embarrassed, something KU will be loathe to oblige. Only the Tigers’ most complete effort of the year will stop this from getting ugly in a hurry.