We all got what we wished for when Missouri took down Memphis last night in rather impressive fashion, saving us from playing a team that appeared to have the perfect mix to send UConn packing. Instead, the Huskies will face a Tigers team whose offense is like Memphis on Ritalin and has a defense that is one of the best in the country in forcing turnovers. Awesome.
To get a better idea of what we're in for on Saturday (4:40 p.m.), Ross from the fine Missouri blog Rock M Nation was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. (You can read my responses to Ross' questions here.)
Missouri seems to have come out of nowhere this tourney, at least to us easterners. How has Mike Anderson done it? And is this the start of something big?
Undoubtedly it's a surprise to those unfamiliar with Missouri, but as conference play progressed, Missouri showed signs that it could play with any team in the country if the team was on its A-game. Mike Anderson has done it by doing a fantastic job mixing his veterans with seven newcomers. After the embarrassment of last season -- on and off the court -- the fresh blood was exactly what the program needed and Anderson did a phenomenal job of finding the right balance of new and old.
I don't know if this is the start of something big in the grand scheme of things, because it's going to be next to impossible to replace DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence next year. But in the Mizzou basketball perspective, it's huge. After everything this program had been through, people were wondering if Mizzou fans would ever love their basketball program again. One year later, the bond between the fans and this team is undeniable. In addition to having all this success, it's a fantastic group of guys and one of the easiest to pull for in the country.
How were the Tigers able to shred up Memphis’ vaunted D and out-run the team known most for an up-tempo style?
Quite honestly, I'm still not sure. But the difference between Missouri and almost every team they play is balance. Missouri gets scoring from every single position on the floor. Missouri may lack a go-to scorer, but because of that, you can't single any one player out. Memphis may have spent all of its preparation trying to prepare for Carroll or Lyons or Kim English, and then what happens? Lanes open up for J.T. Tiller to have a career high.
The reason Missouri can outrun Memphis and any other team in the country is depth. Would you rather be running with seven men like Memphis did, or with 11 like Missouri does on a nightly basis?
Read more from Ross after the jump.
What are Missouri’s strengths? Weaknesses?
I've touched on Missouri's biggest strength already: depth. The Tigers keep legs fresh, which is of absolutely paramount importance in the Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball system. That depth and freshness parlays into Missouri's other biggest strength: ball security. Given the high pressure system, Missouri is well known for taking the ball away, but what's impressive is generally how secure Missouri is with the ball in their hands. Not many high pressure teams handle the ball with Missouri's effectiveness.
Missouri's biggest weakness is on the boards though. In the second halves against Marquette and Memphis, it seemed like 6'8" forwards were getting three or four consecutive chances to finish at the rim, and I fully expect UConn to obliterate Mizzou on the boards.
The Tigers’ bench looks pretty deep. How important is it to the team’s success and running its fast-paced offense?
I pretty much answered this question in previous answers. Mizzou's depth is everything. There's no way in hell Missouri's starting five matches up with UConn's starting five. The hope is that Missouri's Top 11 can play with UConn's Top 7-8 and eventually wear them down.
Missouri wins this game if...
UConn looks unwilling to deal with Missouri for 40 minutes. A lot of teams look like they want no business with Missouri (watching Blake Griffin flat out quit in Columbia was beautiful). If UConn fails to protect the ball and doesn't land the first blow in the game, the Huskies could be in some trouble. This Mizzou team is young - the longest you let them stick around, the more they being to believe.
Missouri loses this game if...
UConn shows up like it did in the first two rounds. Make no mistake, I don't think Mizzou -- much less anybody in the country -- can beat the UConn team that showed up in those rounds. Protect the basketball, finish in the lane, crash the boards and hope Mizzou's deep range game isn't on absolute fire, and UConn is headed to Detroit.
Finally, do you know if Ricky Clemons ever ended up watching that episode of Roots?
If nothing else, I assume he won the argument. (Too soon?)