There are rivalries and there are rivalries. But some would tell you there is nothing like the Border Showdown rivalry between Kansas and Missouri in basketball. And they would be right.
It’s been quite a few games, even years, since Kansas has gone into a conference roundball tilt with its tiger-like border-rival Missouri with the Jayhawks facing a must-win scenario.
Don’t get me wrong. Kansas and Mizzou have engaged in many big games over the years – 263, to be precise, over a 104-year span. What’s different about tonight’s game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence is, Missouri won’t be the only team fighting to stay in the Big 12 title race.
I’m sure the Tigers (18-5, 4-4), ranked 15th nationally last week, would much rather have this game played in Columbia, where they are unbeaten in 14 games this season. MU will have that chance, of course, when the two teams reunite at the Tigers’ home building on March 5 in a national CBS telecast. But first coach Mike Anderson and his third-place team in the Big 12 have to endure the “Phog” (a.k.a. Allen Fieldhouse, named after legendary Jayhawk coach Phog Allen), where, speaking of streaks, Missouri has gone down to defeat 11 times in a row.
The position Kansas finds itself in entering tonight’s Border Showdown is somewhat of a paradox. The Jayhawks are 21-1 (7-1 in the conference) and ranked second in the nation behind unbeaten Ohio State. Sitting right behind the Jayhawks, though, is Texas, which upset Kansas on the Hawks’ home hardwood just two weekends ago, rendering KU its lone loss of the season and snapping its remarkable 69-game home winning streak in the process.
Texas (20-3, 8-0) has already faced the toughest part of its schedule and sits 8-0 atop the conference standings halfway through the conference schedule. The Longhorns’ win in Lawrence was the only matchup between Texas and KU this season. Therefore, the Jayhawks can ill afford another conference loss, which even KU coach Bill Self said most likely would be irreversible as well as Texas has been playing.
Tonight’s “Big Monday” contest on ESPN is also of high importance to Missouri. The Tigers are 18-5 on the season, but only 4-4 in the Big 12. Even though their chances of winning the conference are virtually nil, third place is theirs for the taking as closely bunched as most of the conference teams are so far this season. Anderson’s team can’t afford many more losses if it hopes for a high seed in the Big 12 postseason tournament and a good seeding in the NCAA March Madness field.
Both Kansas and Missouri come into tonight’s game on a high note. Both posted easy wins over the weekend by wide double-digit margins: Kansas by 20 on the road at Nebraska, 86-66, and the Tigers at home by 16 over Colorado, revenging a road loss by the same margin to the same team in the conference opener in January. Five Missouri players scored in double figures.
One interesting aspect to watch for in tonight’s KU-MU matchup is which team will blink first at the speed at which the game is expected to be played. Missouri is well known for using its bench depth and speed to create chaos on the court and force its opponents into costly miscues. The Tigers’ defense creates a lot of the team’s production at the offensive end.
As talented and athletic as the Jayhawks are, perhaps their biggest weakness this season is converting consistently on transition breakouts and playing under control when the tempo of the game accelerates to a frenzied pace. The concern for Self and second-ranked Kansas is this is exactly the scenario that Missouri wants to establish.
“We botch up more two-on-ones or three-on-twos than any team around,” Self said after his team’s win on Saturday at Nebraska. “We’ve gotta get better at that because those are the easiest scoring opportunities. You get five of those a game, you gotta come away with 10 points. We’ve come away with three or four,” he said.
KU’s scoring leader, forward Marcus Morris, knows first-hand the intensity that Missouri brings every game on the basketball floor. “They’re like little gnats that won’t leave the kitchen when you leave the dishes in there,” he told Kansas City Star reporter J. Brady McCullough. Morris went on to day, though, that he didn’t think any team could press the Jayhawks for 40 minutes and not get burned. That assumption certainly will be tested tonight.
5 things to watch for in this game
- Josh Selby, KU’s talented freshman guard who is averaging 12 points per game in Big 12 play, is listed as “probably doubtful” for tonight’s game because of a stress reaction in his right foot. The Jayhawks could miss these valuable points off the bench.
- Forcing and finishing on turnovers will play a huge part in determining the outcome of this game.
- Missouri must do a good job of defending the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson inside if the Tigers are going to win this game. MU’s Laurence Bowers will play a key role for Missouri in carrying out this assignment.
- Allen Fieldhouse is not a good place to be looking for your first conference road win of the season if you are Missouri.
- Missouri may have the edge in backcourt play, but Kim English, Marcus Denmon and freshman Phil Pressey are going to have to make the most of this advantage against a better-than-good Kansas defense.
For more information:
Big 12 Conference official website
Additional Kansas City area sports coverage & commentary
glowbass.com college basketball rankings
AP, ESPN/USA Today top 25 college basketball polls